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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 >>

Difficulties for millworkers during the Great Depression are alleviated by the New Deal

Cline remembers one mill company, which, instead of paying compensation to an injured employee, gave him a lifetime job. Injuries were just one of the troubles mill employees faced: Cline was just a boy when the Great Depression hit, but the resulting work stoppages and layoffs hurt mill workers, especially those unable to provide their families with an adequate diet. The result was sometimes pellagra, a disease caused by vitamin deficiency. Life improved for mill workers when new laws in the early 1930s limited the work day to eight hours.

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:
Can you talk a little bit about the Depression in the late 20's and 30's and what that was like for the folks in the mills?
PAUL CLINE:
You'll have to get somebody that was there. That's a little bit before my time. Mr. Hardin and them could tell you, but I could hear how it was. Back in them days, it's locally owned companies. It wasn't like it is now, but it was hard work. They had old machinery that run by belt drives and things, it wasn't speeded up. They making more cloth right now on one loom than they got on a dozen back then. See, they couldn't run, them belts'd slip off and the whole thing slip off. They'd have to put the belts back on. It'd break up there, and they'd have to get somebody to fix the belts in them big old claws. Them belts has down and killed people. I know over at Monaghan years ago, before they got the motors on, it cut a fellow's arm off. They give him a life time job. He's dead; he stayed there till he died. Instead of suing them, they just give him a life time job. He been in there and worked with one arm. Back in them days, in the 20's, I was just a kid. I's just born in '21. That fellow over there at Poe Mill is ninety years old probably could tell you.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Do you remember your father and mother ever talking about being out of work during that time?
PAUL CLINE:
Yeah, I know when they was out of work. When that Depression hit, they's out of work. A lot of people was out of work. Mill's running a week and stopping a week. The first time I ever heard of curtailing-that's what they call curtailing is stopping off-I was living there at Monaghan mill over here, I was going to school. I was eight or nine years old when that crash hit, 1929, I was eight years old. They's fixing our front porch-companies owned the houses then-I heard them say they was going to curtail. I don't know what they's talking about, I ran around and asked my mother. I said, "What is it they're going to do? Said the mill's going to curtail." Said, "The mill's going to be off next week." I thought that was something. My dad'd be home, you know, didn't realize it. But later on, boy, things got tough. During that time, my sister was married and working there-Agnes. They laid off one of the family. One in a family could work-not two, just one, so somebody else. That's the fair way to do it. The head of the family could work. Laid my sister off and my brother-in-law worked. Then they'd run a week and stop a week, and they went three days a week and stopped a week. That was a rough time. That's where a lot of that pelegra come in. Wasn't getting a balanced diet.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Do you remember people having pelegra?
PAUL CLINE:
Sure, they just didn't get the B vitamins. They didn't eat right. Eat fat back meat and gravy and biscuits and some pinto beans. That's about all you had to eat and you's lucky to get that. That's not no good diet.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Would you remember enough to have an opinion about whether that pelegra happened more among people who were in the mill villages or living on farms or. . . .
PAUL CLINE:
It was mostly the people on the mill villages. It was all over, I guess, in a lot of places, but mostly it was in cities-not only in the mill villages, in everywhere else, unless you had money to buy it. There wasn't no money floating around then. They cut wages. Some of the domestic help was making five dollars a month. Some of them making four and five dollars a week at the mill-fifty-five hours. That's the reason people say, you could buy fat back. They'd get it for a nickel a pound. We didn't have to buy it, we raised ours. We didn't have to pay, because we always kept something to eat. We had chickens.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Were there some mill villages where you couldn't have a garden?
PAUL CLINE:
You could have a garden if you have a place big enough. They didn't say nothing about it. They didn't care. You had to get out there and make you one. My daddy made one that wouldn't be no bigger'n this right along in here. Wasn't bigger than that, just so we could get maybe two rows of beans, some tomatoes and things like that, some potatoes. Always raised something. He had a green thumb. I believe he could throw some seeds out there on that highway out there, and it would grow. Things begin to get better in 1933 when the NRA come in. I could remember the eight hour law coming in effect. Everybody had to work so many hours and be off in the evening. Then they put on the second shift. They'd have Saturdays off. You used to work till dinner time on Saturday. People just didn't know what to do with theirself and they raised wages. They had that old saying, song of Roosevelt's, "Happy Days Are Here Again," well, it was. Far as I know, to me, the President got us out of a hole, back in them days, put people to work.