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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Roy Lee and Mary Ruth Auton, February 28, 1980. Interview H-0108. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Violent union groups raid work sites

Auton does not care much for unions. He remembers groups known as flying squadrons that would storm work sites and rough up workers. He calls unions "crazy mobs" and does not think that they do a great deal for their members.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Roy Lee and Mary Ruth Auton, February 28, 1980. Interview H-0108. 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

A while ago I was telling you about when I started in the hosiery business, and then I got paid off up at Newton because I was talking to that union man a minute. So they just done me a favor. I went to Burlington and found me a good job that paid a lot more money.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you get involved with the union at all when you went to Burlington?
ROY LEE AUTON:
No. I'll tell you, I seen so much of that mess around here that wasn't a union. Now that's the only union man that I seen that I knew to be a union man, though. There was a bunch in Gastonia that called theirselves the Flying Dragons?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Flying squadrons?
ROY LEE AUTON:
Yes, flying squadrons. And that wasn't a durn thing but a crazy mob.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you see them?
ROY LEE AUTON:
I've seen a bunch of them. They'd stop at a mill, and a couple of women would go in to a woman that was at work and grab her dress and jerk it up over her head. And while she was trying to get it back down, they'd push her to a door or window and throw her out. And there was a good many hurt like that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
The flying squadrons would come to a mill and …
ROY LEE AUTON:
Oh, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
There were women in the squadrons?
ROY LEE AUTON:
Well, I wouldn't call them "women" or "ladies." There's better words to use on people like that. Looked like a bunch of durn drunks to me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did they do that?
ROY LEE AUTON:
I don't know. They didn't have no organization, so what could you look forward to? And there was several killed over to Gastonia. And some mills they closed down and never did open back up, and people darn near starved to death.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was this during the 1934 general strike that went through the whole Piedmont?
ROY LEE AUTON:
It was in the thirties, in about '33 or '34.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where were you that you saw a flying squadron?
ROY LEE AUTON:
I've seen them come through here and Newton, too.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What mills did they go to?
ROY LEE AUTON:
I know they stopped at Carolina. I don't know if they stopped at Union or not. And they went to the glove mill in Newton. And down in Gastonia, I was actually scared to go through that town.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know people that were working down in Gastonia during all that?
ROY LEE AUTON:
No, but I was younger then, and I went to Gastonia quite a bit. But they just about made a ghost town out of it for a long time. But they said that Albert Campbell was a preacher and he was leading it. And I seen him, but he made out like that he wasn't in it. But he was raised right here in Maiden; I knowed him. So whenever I see a man not over twenty feet from him that I knowed for fifteen or twenty years, why, it's kind of hard for him to lie out of it to me. Of course, he didn't tell me, but I was down at the Carolina Mill when he was down there and walked all around.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was he down in Gastonia at the time?
ROY LEE AUTON:
Oh, yes. That's where he was living at the time.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He came up here with the …
ROY LEE AUTON:
Oh, they'd have cars and trucks loaded, maybe five hundred, and they'd just go to a mill and just take over.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did any people in the mills around here go out on strike when they came through? Did they join them?
ROY LEE AUTON:
No, they didn't join them. They got out of the mill; if they didn't, they'd put them out. [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
So they did succeed in closing some of the mills down around here.
ROY LEE AUTON:
Some of them never did open back up. My brother-in-law lived down at Carolina. They went out till after they left, and they went back in and started back up. And they went to a glove mill in Newton, and this old boy that run it had his pistol in his hand, and he said he'd kill the first s.o.b. that took over the switch. They was going to cut the power off. And he said, "If it has to be cut off, I'll cut it off." And he cut it off, and after they left he started back up.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was that the superintendent or the owner?
ROY LEE AUTON:
He was the owner, Robert Macon Yount. That was a pretty bad time, though. If there was any sense to it, it would have been different. But there wasn't no organization to it; it was just a disorganized mob, about like the Ku Klux Klan and those Communists were over in Greensboro.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Have you ever been in a place where there was a good, well-organized union local?
ROY LEE AUTON:
Oh, yes, I've been in them, but I've never worked under a union, and I don't think I ever would if I lived to be two hundred, from what I seen back in the thirties. But I know that in the better places, like these car factories and things, it helps the working people out. And they've tried to get in a lot of hospitals, and in a big hospital it might be right. But in a small place it don't work, because it just makes enemies among friends, is all it'll amount to in a little place. And I've seen them fight down there at Gastonia. You know, somebody wanting to work, and he'd start to cross the picket line, and I've seen two and three fists against one's head at the same time, just because he was wanting to work. Start to cross it, why, a bunch dive in on him and just beat the devil out of him.