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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George R. Elmore, March 11, 1976. Interview H-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Regional differences between mill workers

Elmore describes mill employees recruiting workers from the North Carolina mountains for mill work. Mountain people were a bit rougher than townspeople, Elmore thinks, but they were also good and proud, and did not get into trouble until generations after their arrival.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George R. Elmore, March 11, 1976. Interview H-0266. 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

BRENT GLASS:
Let me ask you something. You mentioned to me trainloads of people coming into Cramerton when the mills were starting to expand. Do you remember that?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Well, they said that old man Charlie Armstrong, he was reared down there and lived with my grandfather. And he was quite a promoter. I don't think he had had more than a fifth or sixth grade education—and that at a country school. And they said he could hoot and holler right down at the corner in Gastonia along about 1914-15-16, and holler a time or two; and by five o'clock he'd have a new cotton mill organized. I don't think the man ever could accumulate any wealth, but he had control of three or four cotton mills. 1915-16 on into '17 in that area, they built mills galore. I don't know how many were built in Belmont, and they expanded twice in Cramerton on that mill. Then of course they built that weave at Cramerton much later than that, along in the twenties. But Gastonia, I don't know how many mills… All that south Gastonia, I think there's three or four there. There were three of the Armstrong mills. And of course the Gray, Trenton, Separk, Ozark and Medena, all those were old mills. But they went on out in west Gastonia and built all those. Parkdale was built in 1917; I spent nine years there.
BRENT GLASS:
Where would they get the labor for these mills?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Well, in 1916 and '17 there was an old fellow Hall that come from around there in Sylva. And they sent him back up there, and he'd just get enough people together and a boxcar full of furniture and bring them in there. One boy said they had to run him down, catch him and tie him and get shoes—he never had worn any shoes. But he was just a card. But they were good people; they came from back in … Murphy.
BRENT GLASS:
Murphy County or Murphy, North Carolina?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Murphy and Andrews, right on the Georgia and North Carolina line, in that general vicinity. I knew a lot of them, and they were a good strain of people.
BRENT GLASS:
You said they were different than the farm people.
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Well, they had farmed and everything else. But there was one peculiarity about them: you didn't pick on any of them. They'd use a shotgun as well as a pistol; they believed that the shotgun and the rifle was their weapons. And you didn't push anything over on those people.
BRENT GLASS:
This was the people from the mountains?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Yes. They were good people if you had gained their confidence. Well, I think in some way they were proud, and you had to be careful and not try to impose your thinking on them.
BRENT GLASS:
Were there very many arguments that might break out in town?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
It never started showing up too much until on up in the thirties and forties, the second generation of those people. And there's been an awful lot of killing and stuff out of those particular groups in around Gastonia.
BRENT GLASS:
And this is the second generation of mountain people?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
Second or third generation. And of course those fellows came in there. Very few of the heads of the family or the mothers worked, but their children worked. There were some good people in there. And some of them went on into college. A lot of them went back to Mars Hill and those areas.
BRENT GLASS:
They weren't considered the riff-raff then in town?
GEORGE R. ELMORE:
No. They were a little bit ignorant, we thought, in those mountain schools and one thing and another. My wife can tell you more about that area from 1924. She went back up in there and taught at a country school one year, in 1925. But they're good people; they're proud people. But they had come out of there and they had just existed hand to mouth. And of course they'd come down there and make six or seven dollars a week; that was a lot of money to them.