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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 >>

Sense of community in the mill villages and among the workers

In the mill villages, the Thompsons remember that people looked out for each other, lending help, money, or other assistance when another person needed it.

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:
We talked briefly a little while ago about the mill village, and you indicated it was a pretty close-knit community.
MARY THOMPSON:
It was. Everybody just about knowed everybody else.
CARL THOMPSON:
Just like this one was down here before it closed down. See, it wasn't but just two or three blocks.
MARY THOMPSON:
They are close-knit. Usually, if somebody gets down and out and needs help, there are always people ready to help.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How would you help one another?
MARY THOMPSON:
If they was down sick, they'd cook food and carry it to them, or any way that they ever needed help, they'd all get together and help. The mill people was good to help, too, if they knew somebody needed help.
CARL THOMPSON:
There was a row of houses up here burnt down, and they lost all their furniture and all. And the very next day, they went through the mill with the papers and said, "You know, So-and-so's house got burnt up up here, and they lost everything they had. Do you want to give them a little something?" Well, I don't think a hand turned them down. They'd give them a dollar or two dollars, five dollars. And they must have had a hundred dollars.
MARY THOMPSON:
People misses a whole lots by not having community, too, like that, because I believe it made you more secure or something. But now you're scattered; you work maybe a little one place, then work way over yonder, and you don't get close to nobody, I don't think.
JIM LELOUDIS:
And these people you saw every day. You lived with them, and you worked with them.
MARY THOMPSON:
And went to church with them. So it's kind of a close-knit family. And I think people misses a lots by that. I know, we don't have neighbor… The doors was always open, you know. There wasn't no such thing as burglars then. And even at night, half the time didn't have the doors shut. Sometimes they'd shut them; sometimes they wouldn't. If they did, they just had a little old thumb latch [Laughter] that you could shake open if you wanted to. And daytime, they didn't even have that on. If neighbors wanted to come in and borrow something, they'd come right on in your house. And here you don't even have no neighbors. If somebody gets sick, you don't even know it. I even had a woman, her brother or her daddy, one, died over here one time, and I seen the wreath over there. The first time I knew that there was a death over there. The woman right out here has been living there for years, and she went to the hospital here the other week. And she come out and come down here and told me she had been in the hospital. I didn't even know she'd been in the hospital. Didn't even know she was sick. You don't know the people much. I don't know; if you need them, it might be that you could call them. I know I'd do anything I could for any of them. They don't bother you, but you don't bother them, either.
CARL THOMPSON:
They're not neighborly like they was back then.
MARY THOMPSON:
No. Then you didn't think nothing about somebody coming on in your house, if they wanted to come visit. Children come in and out. But nowadays it's different. Everybody wants privacy. It's more lonesome, too, especially as you get older. [Laughter]
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did people ever take up collections to help people make up their wages when they were sick?
MARY THOMPSON:
Yes, if they'd been sick a long time they would take up… They'd help them in every way they could. My daddy worked at Union Bleachery one time, and we went to the Baptist church up there. And if the family head was out a week sick, the next week they'd give him a pounding.
JIM LELOUDIS:
What's that?
MARY THOMPSON:
Bring food in, all kinds of food. Fruit and vegetables, canned goods. They'd give him a big pounding.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did they do things like that in the villages you lived in?
MARY THOMPSON:
Our church does it sometime, if we know anybody that needs it, but they're not as good to help as they used to. But once in a while a family gets down and out and they'll hear of it and they'll have you bring something to church and they'll give a pounding to somebody. But that's few and far between now. They don't do things now like they used to.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did that carry over into your work? Did people help each other when they got behind?
MARY THOMPSON:
Oh, yes. Of course, in my job nobody could help you. I know one time, though, I was working there at Slater, and I fell and broke my arm, right in my elbow here. And I was in a cast, and I could draw all of my warp—I could draw through the drop wires and the harness—but when it come to the reed you had to hold it different, and I couldn't hold it and draw a reed. And one of the women would always come and draw my reed for me, and I'd draw on her. Of course, I couldn't put out as much work as she could because I had to save one hand, but she'd let me work over on hers, and she'd draw my reed for me. And I wasn't out of work but a week. Of course, I had a child to support, so I had to work, but, you see, I had a broken arm. So if it hadn't been for the woman's helping, I couldn't have worked. My hand was in a sling three months, and they helped me that long. So, you see, they was always good to help you. Very seldom I had to call on anyone, but that's one time I was certainly glad that people was good to help then. But as far as coming and helping me when I was able to do it, nobody couldn't help you work; you had to do your own work. But as far as I know, that's the only time I ever had to have help. But there's lots of times people has to have help. But they were good to help.