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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eva Hopkins, March 5, 1980. Interview H-0167. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Hard-working, Christian mill employees defy the common derogatory stereotype

Hopkins recalls that her husband had a good reputation as a mill overseer and that the employees were generally hard-working, Christian people. Mill workers have been stereotyped in later years as ignorant, poor, and dirty, but most of the early mill workers were from relatively wealthy families who lost their wealth during the Civil War.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eva Hopkins, March 5, 1980. Interview H-0167. 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

LU ANN JONES:
Were there often conflicts between overseers and the people they were overseeing?
EVA HOPKINS:
Not him, no, because he's very easy to work for. Everybody that's ever worked for him-he's been overseer for thirty-two, thirty-three years or more-no one that I've ever talked to that has ever worked for him said they had never worked for anybody they'd rather work for. He's real easy going, he's real fair to the help. He could see their point of view as well as his. He worked with the help. He didn't work against them. He didn't work just for the company, he worked with the people. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
LU ANN JONES:
The mill village was isolated. You hear that people called cotton mill workers lintheads and that type of thing. What was your response to something like that
EVA HOPKINS:
Nobody ever called me that. Nobody ever called me a linthead. My response would have been . . . I don't think I'd want to put it on tape because I had been told, some of the people, some of them were just "crummy," to put it, I don't know no other way to put it. But most of the people were real nice people. They were honest, hard-working people, working for a living. During the Depression when I came up-I don't know too much about it except what my mother said back when she was a girl growing up in the mills-when I came along, most of them were all trying to better themselves, the people that I worked with. You find a few, just a few that they just didn't care how they looked, or how they carried themselves, or what they did, or what people thought of them. They were just kind of trashy, some families were. That's what gave the cotton mills, a lot of people thought of them as all being that way, which they weren't. There were a lot of fine people that worked in those mills that I worked in. A lot of good Christian people, fine honest hard working people that tried to better themselves and have something where the children would be better, have better jobs and things.
LU ANN JONES:
Why do you think that happened, that sort of flip-flop, that now looking back, you have this image of a cotton mill worker that wasn't there then?
KENNETH HOPKINS:
[comments that cotton mill work did not have the stigma now attached to it when his parents were working in the thirties] I'm not sure, really. I think it is just like most people tend to think of working class southern people anyway like something out of Tenessee Williams. They're greasy-headed, they wear white socks, they're rednecks, and all like that. A lot of people don't realize that when the mills first came to Charlotte, in particular, a lot of these people in 1900 or so, a generation or two back, had been very wealthy landowners, and had lost just about everything they owned in the Civil War.
EVA HOPKINS:
That's just like my grandfather.
KENNETH HOPKINS:
So there were a lot of rural folk that came in to work in the mills that were reduced to dirt farmers. But you had the "crummy" if you want to call it even in factories, or even at the hospital. There are people who are very well dressed, and there's people who look tacky. I know from talking to older relatives, especially on my daddy's side, that his mother worked in the mill and supported all of them because his father was in the First World War. From what I understand, she was a very fancy dresser. She liked nice clothes, and she could sing very well. They would go around singing for people. They had a lot of interests. She could read and write very well.