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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Paternalism in the mill villages

The Thompsons talk about how paternalism functioned in the mills and the surrounding mill villages.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. 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

JIM LELOUDIS:
Did your bosses ever object to people going to the Holiness revivals or to the Holiness church?
MARY THOMPSON:
No. Some of them didn't ever go to no church theirself, but they didn't object to you going. In fact, several of the bosses belonged to the Baptist church.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How about the mill owners? I wondered if they got bothered when the Holiness revivals would set up.
MARY THOMPSON:
No, they didn't care. I don't know about Mr. Poe. He was living. He started the Poe Mill. And then after he died, his son was the owner of the Poe Mill. And they lived over there between the village and town, on James Street. We used to go over there. They were very nice to us. But I don't know what church they went to, but there didn't nobody object to… In fact, they helped keep up the churches.
JIM LELOUDIS:
What did they do to help the churches?
MARY THOMPSON:
They paid their money into the churches, and then if they needed painting or any work done, they'd send people out from the mill to have it fixed. The church didn't have to pay to have it painted or repaired or anything; the mill company seen that the churches was kept up.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did they ever have much say in who would be the minister or what he would preach?
MARY THOMPSON:
No, they didn't have anything to say in that. It was voted through the church. No, they didn't try to dictate to the churches at all. But I don't know what church they went to. I really hadn't ever thought nothing about it. I don't even know whether they went to a church or not. But I do know that they did keep up our church. Over here at our church, Highland Park, Johnson in Highland Park give thousands of dollars to our church and the Presbyterian Church, give land for both churches, and the Methodist church up yonder. And they helped do repair work and all, too. See, the mill villages always did help keep up the churches that was on the mill villages so that the people would have churches to go to.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Why do you think the companies were so eager to support the churches?
MARY THOMPSON:
I think it was because they knowed they'd be better workers and better people if they had churches.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How so, better workers?
MARY THOMPSON:
Because people that's living right is not out getting into trouble. And if you go to church and read the Bible, you know that you're supposed to work. And I really think they knew that people would be better workers and better people, wouldn't have the trouble with them. I don't know; I never heard them say so. I really don't know, but I imagine that was it. But they even used to have a schoolhouse down here at Highland Park. We had a schoolhouse at Poe Mill, too.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Was that part of the Parker School District?
MARY THOMPSON:
No, it was the Poe Mill Elementary School. We went to school there. It was about middle ways of the village, so everybody could walk easy. And then when we went to Parker High School, we could walk over there or either ride the streetcar or bus. But the Parker High School didn't have anything to do with the village, but the Poe Mill School did. And it burnt down one time, and the mill built it back.
JIM LELOUDIS:
You said if you went to church, you knew you were supposed to work. Did they preach about work very often in the church?
MARY THOMPSON:
No, it's just in the Bible that people is supposed to make their living by the sweat of their brow. They preached that.
JIM LELOUDIS:
You said they might have been concerned about people misbehaving. What happened if somebody in the village drank too much or something like that?
MARY THOMPSON:
If they got to giving trouble, they fired them and made them move. But that happened very seldom. I know that people has always looked down on the mill village, but really they was pretty decent people on the mill village, ones that we associated with. I do know that they would get shut of them pretty quick if they was too rough. If they was causing any trouble or giving disturbance or anything like that, they'd just fire them at the mill and get shut of them.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did they police the mill any at all?
MARY THOMPSON:
Oh, yes. They had policemen at the mill. Every mill had their own policemen.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did they ever come around and inspect the mill houses to make sure that you were keeping them up or anything like that?
MARY THOMPSON:
No, not that I know of. They didn't ours.
CARL THOMPSON:
They would in the mill, but they never did the houses. They'd come around and inspect in the mill.
MARY THOMPSON:
If anything went wrong in your house, you reported it down at the mill and they'd send somebody out to fix it.