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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Edward Cline, November 8, 1979. Interview H-0239. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working at a cotton mill was "almost like slavery"

Working at a mill was "almost like slavery," Cline recalls in this excerpt as he remembers his family's struggles during the Great Depression. Mill employees worked long hours under intense scrutiny, often in stifling, windowless rooms. The mill owner was unwilling to offer his employees any comforts, Cline remembers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul Edward Cline, November 8, 1979. Interview H-0239. 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

ALLEN TULLOS:
Let me go back and get this; when your grandfather moved in from Tennessee, was he married and his wife was alive, and they both came?
PAUL CLINE:
Yeah. All the family came.
ALLEN TULLOS:
But she didn't work at the mill?
PAUL CLINE:
No, she didn't work. It kept her busy cooking for the whole family. They didn't give them but a hour for dinner. You had to work from six to six. Then it was from sunup to sundown. Soon as it got light enough, they could go start them looms up before they had electric lights. They start them up, and in the summertime, it don't get dark till about 9:00, so them's long days. Then they'd run till dinner time on Saturday.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did they run those looms before they got what they call the automatic looms?
PAUL CLINE:
Oh yeah.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Do you remember anything about the early kinds of looms? What your mother or father might have said or what your grandfather might have said about how those looms worked?
PAUL CLINE:
My grandfather died when I was just a baby. You might interview some more of these people around here that might know. Since 1938's when I worked. They's a lot of people you can interview around here in our association that worked in different places. Some of them a whole lot older than I am that can tell you a whole lot more, like that Mr. Wood up there.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you ever hear your parents talk about the conditions?
PAUL CLINE:
Yeah, I heard them talk about it. When that Depression hit, they cut wages. They weren't making anything, and I heard my daddy say, "I just don't see how in the world I'm going to make it if they cut wages any more." If you made a bad roll of cloth, they'd dock you for seconds-maybe fifty cents or a dollar. Well that's a dollar out of your paycheck and that hurt. Then you bought your coal and wood through the company. You had a wood stove and burnt coal in the fireplace. When you wasn't making just a little bit, maybe a man's got a big family, it was a struggle. You had to knuckle under. It was almost like slavery. They tell you what to do, you couldn't do this and you couldn't do that. They tried to run your life-tell you what to do outside the mill. You had to kind of watch what you done. Like Mr. Wood says, if a man wanted to take a drink of liquor or drink some beer back in them days, that man found out about it for him. That's just like slavery, you didn't even have no free time. That was before my time, but that's the way it used to be. They thought they owned you. It's not like that now, but it's almost as bad. About this time, now, the only thing that I can think about these mills now-I don't mean it to sham them-the only difference that it is now and a penitentiary, you can go home at night. They got them things bricked up, you got a fence around, and they got a guard there. That's it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Do you remember when they first bricked up the windows?
PAUL CLINE:
Oh yeah, I remember when they bricked them up.
ALLEN TULLOS:
When did they start doing that?
PAUL CLINE:
That was back in the 40's, late 40's. They said they wanted to put in air conditioning, but it was a long time before they did. I know'd it to be one hundred ten (degrees) on the second shift where I worked. You get so hot in there, you nearly stifle to death. Then they start blowing off all that stuff. You sweating, stick on you. Just like that picture there; that's the way it is.
ALLEN TULLOS:
A lot of that equipment they put in there for humidity wasn't really for the workers. It was really for the cloth and the. . . .
PAUL CLINE:
It was for the company's benefit. They didn't put anything in there for your benefit. They had one water house for a great big weave room. Maybe you's way on one lower end, you had to go way back the other end. One water house and one water fountain.