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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 >>

Child labor and child abuse at a textile mill

Cline remembers children in the textile mills in this excerpt. While parents protected their children from whippings by others, some "second hands," or sub-foremen, punished unruly kids with a unique kind of torture: hanging them by their heels out the mill's windows. Mill workers could do little in response, since those that spoke up lost their jobs. These kind of conditions motivate mill workers to try to ensure their children do not become mill workers themselves, a possibility for today's children because of improvements in education and opportunity.

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:
You mentioned once earlier about the children being in the mills and somebody giving them a whipping.
PAUL CLINE:
Sure, my aunt and uncle (3) They'd go tell his granddaddy and his daddy.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What would that be about?
PAUL CLINE:
Well, just goofing off how kids'll do. Playing around, they'd get to playing, and they was supposed to be in there working. They go tell him and daddy'd whip them. Afraid they'd fire them, you know. They wouldn't make but ten cents a day. I got a uncle down there that's eighty-four years old. He'll be eighty-five if he lives till Christmas, cut his leg off. One that's got his hand cut off. He said they used to stick the kids out with their heels, hold their heads out and stick them out the window, said, "I'm going to drop you if you don't behave yourself." That actually happened.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Who would do that?
PAUL CLINE:
Some second hands in the mills back years ago. Hold them out there and say they was going to drop them. They just threaten them, but what if they had a dropped one of them. Take them with their heels, little old kids, with the heels and say, "If you don't go to work, I'm going drop you." That's the way they done. Now my uncle down there said he's seen it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did the second hands or the overseers ever whip the children themselves or. . . .
PAUL CLINE:
No, no, that's something they didn't do. If they did, somebody'd get their head cracked. That's one thing about those people back then, they didn't let nobody else whip their children. You don't go around whipping other people's children. You go and say tell their daddy if they done something wrong. You better watch out, he'll whip you! But back in them days, people stuck together, mill folk did. We's poor, we's humble, and we's honest.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Sometimes the second hand or the overseer would step out of line, and the mill people, there would be kind of a line drawn. They would know what they couldn't
PAUL CLINE:
We didn't have a leg to stand on. They could do what they wanted to. Course they didn't beat you or nothing like that, second hand, but they could do what they wanted to. They could fire you if you's five minutes late, or if they didn't like the way you combed your hair, anything like that. If they wanted to put their girlfriend on the job, they'd fire you and put them on there. You didn't have no say-so back in them days. You had to knuckle under. The way it is now, if you work with them, they can't throw you out of your house because they don't have houses now. Peoples now is waking up, getting more educated, and the younger generation is not going to the mill. My brother's raised two children and he sent them through school when he died. One of them teaches at Greenville Tech. She went to the University of South Carolina. The other one had a scholarship for Vanderbilt University to play football, graduated from Parker High. But brother got sick, and he had to come on back, but he went on back to Peaberry College and studied different places. He's in real estate. Said, "I don't want you in that mill." My sister Agnes has got two children, a boy and a girl. One of them's a nurse at Furman, and the other one works for Bell Telephone, puts in business phones.
ALLEN TULLOS:
At the time when you and your sisters and brothers coming along, your parents, did they ever say anything like they didn't want you to work in the mill?
PAUL CLINE:
Well, they didn't say it, there just wasn't no other jobs available. You either worked the mill or . . . if you want to make any money, you had to work the mill unless you got a job at a grocer. It wasn't like it is now. That's all it was.