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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Living and working in mill villages

Snipes discusses living conditions for cotton mill workers living in Bynum, North Carolina, during the 1930s and 1940s. In addition to describing how people living in the mill villages dealt with such day-to-day realities such as obtaining water and disposing of garbage, Snipes argues that most people living and working in mill villages were kin.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BRENT GLASS:
Well now, on the village people didn't own their homes, did they?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
No sir.
BRENT GLASS:
Now what would they be rented for?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Fifty cents a room a week: a three-room house a dollar and a half a week. I believe they've gone up to seventy-five cents now.
BRENT GLASS:
Was there indoor plumbing in those houses?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
[Laughter] No sir. No water, plumbing or nothing.
BRENT GLASS:
Where would they get their water from?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, I've known for years and years they toted it from a well right there. But since they built this new water plant about twenty-five or thirty years ago they got a spigot up and down the street. Then if you wanted to pick it up at the street and run you a pipe in the house, some of them done it on their own. But they run it up the hill; I think there are seven or eight spigots up and down the hill.
BRENT GLASS:
Where would this other well be? The first one?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
The first well was right there in the mill yard down there. I believe they stopped that up. Now this is filtered water now. That at that time was an old well; there weren't no filtered water. Then there was a big well right yonder right in front of where that pick-up is right over. I think they've got a plank laying over it there—I mean, they've got a cement cap over it. But I've toted water from there and toted water from that house up there from that well, and all around here. They furnished plenty of water for us. Of course they didn't use no big site of water.
BRENT GLASS:
What about trash? Where would people dump their trash?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
They didn't have none; weren't no garbage in the Depression. I never seen a garbage can on the hill 'til money got plentiful [Laughter] a few years ago. Never seen what a garbage can was.
BRENT GLASS:
They never threw out any garbage?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
No sir, they didn't have no garbage. Now, boy, Howard, John and Charlie, I expect they're pulling down doubling $2,000 a month hauling garbage: a thousand or twelve hundred apiece hauling garbage.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, how about streets? What were the streets like in the village there? Were they paved streets?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
No sir. I don't know when from around the church, around there, when that was blacktop (maybe twenty years ago, maybe about '55 or somewhere along there). But up until then it was for twenty-five years just dirt.
BRENT GLASS:
Were the people who worked there mostly families?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Born and raised here, the majority of them. Now this floating crowd, the people that would get fired somewhere, would come here.
BRENT GLASS:
Were there many transient people?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir, there were some a'going and coming all the time. Some wouldn't stay a week. Now you take, there was a boy about…. This mill now they're signing up for unemployment: letting them sign up to work two days, and sign up for unemployment. There was a man worked here about two or three years ago, moved and left here and had a full-time job. He came back here two weeks ago and got himself a job here so he could draw unemployment. [Laughter] He left a full-time job and come back here and took two days a week in unemployment. [Laughter]
BRENT GLASS:
What do you think about that?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
I can't see that. I can't see that, can you?
BRENT GLASS:
[Laughter] No. Well, the families who worked there, did everyone pretty much know one another at the mill?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir. Well, when we first come here many or all of them were kinpeople: the Abernathies, all the Abernathies and the Durhams. There was three sets of Durhams at that time, and there was a gang of Abernathies: Connie Abernathy and John Abernathy and Will Abernathy and Henry Abernathy, all brothers. Their old father was the nightwatchman before them. And the Tillmans and the Durhams. There was Corrie Durham, his family, Ernie Durham and her family, Mr. Manley Durham and his family. They were just family connected: Atworth Abernathy, she was a Tillman. Abernathy over across the road yonder, they were all in the family, born and raised here.
BRENT GLASS:
How about the supervisors? Where were they from?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
They were all in the family, mighty near.
BRENT GLASS:
So people got along with the supervisors pretty well?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir. Well, they were scared not to.
BRENT GLASS:
Nobody ever threatened to quit if things didn't get better?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
No sir. They was afraid to. [Laughter]