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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Vesta and Sam Finley, July 22, 1975. Interview H-0267. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The story of the "Marion Massacre"

Sam and Vesta walk the interviewers through the building tension as the strikers and the mill owners grow increasingly antagonistic toward each other. Sam tells how he was fired from his job. They end the excerpt with the story of the "Marion Massacre" when the sheriff and his deputies fired on the strikers, killing six of them. According to the Finleys, the deputies had been told to target certain crowd members who were considered leaders.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Vesta and Sam Finley, July 22, 1975. Interview H-0267. 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

When they first come down here we got the courtroom to have a speech in; they filled it up. But then it got to where we couldn't get it no more. They got to have an open-air service or meeting. Every time they could find out anybody attending a union meeting they fired him. That was the last of their job. They
MARY FREDERICKSON:
When you were meeting in the courthouse, how did they find out who was going to the meetings? Did they have people there?
SAM FINLEY:
No. They stopped letting them have the courthouse.
VESTA FINLEY:
She wants to know why; how they found out who was going there. They had their scouters around, you know.
SAM FINLEY:
It was open. They had to see, you see, who was there. So they got to having, they had to have sneaky meetings. They had them in there too. When they found out where we was going to meet, they'd have somebody posted there to find out who was there. Then when they found out they was going to these meetings, they fired them.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
When they fired you, did they come in and tell you that they'd seen you at a meeting? Or how did they fire you?
SAM FINLEY:
No. When I come in to work that evening, the supervisor met me at the door and had my pay. And he handed it to me. And I said: "What's this for?" "Oh," he says, "you know what it's for." "No," I said, "but I'd like to know." I says, "Is my work satisfactory?" "Absolutely perfect; there's nothing wrong with it." "Well," I says, "What did I do?" He says, "It's for joining that union and trying to get uppity too." I said: "Well, I admit to joining the union." I said: "But I've not been trying to get uppity." "Well," I says, "I've got nothing else to do now but. . . ." "Oh, don't do that." I said, "Well, you've left me nothing else to do."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Who was the guy who fired? Had he been your boss for a long time?
SAM FINLEY:
He had a good while. Well then, they kept on firing every time they could find out anybody that joined or attended the meeting. Then we got a little better organized and got a committee to go in and talk to the management. And this Bawden, he told the committee. . . . He laughed at them. He said, "I'll give you ten dollars apiece if you'll strike my mill." Wasn't ten minutes and he just stopped, like that. They tried on the outside laying in the grass and waiting to see what the committee done. And when he come out and shook his head they made a break for the mill, and the people in there looking out the windows they went and stopped off the machinery coming out. And they stopped it off right there. He didn't pay them.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
He didn't pay the ten dollars? [laughter]
SAM FINLEY:
That was July the eleventh. Then along in a month or so they called for a meeting with the management. The union organizers met up here at the school building and talked it over, and they signed a contract. The company signed a contract, only for the two or three leaders that we was going to hire back. Well, they agreed to that; we thought we'd get them a job somewhere else. But when it come to a showdown, it was about seventy-five didn't have no jobs. So that called for the second strike.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How did the second strike come about?
SAM FINLEY:
Well, they just talked to one another, and wouldn't put up with not taking the hands back that has been working there. These deputy sheriffs, the sheriff, they'd put up him to block that thing, and stop it. When he couldn't get no real good men for deputies-just cutthroats, mean, were all he could get. . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were they from East Marion?
SAM FINLEY:
Oh yes Well, they laid down here in the boiler room all night; they knew when it was going to come off-they found out that.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How did they know?
SAM FINLEY:
Well, somebody ratted and told.
VESTA FINLEY:
[laughter] You know what he means by ratted?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Yes. I mean, did you find out who told? That was a horrible thing to do. [laughter]
SAM FINLEY:
We had our suspicions, but we didn't know. But anyhow, they were there and waiting all night; and they had five gallon of whiskey and drank it, these deputy sheriffs did. One of the crowd told it; it must have been so. Well, next morning they ganged up at the gate at the time they changed shifts, when the strike was supposed to come off. Well, all on the outside ganged up in front of the gate there. And this sheriff and his deputy and deputies were standing right at the gate. Well, he pulled a stick of tear gas and put it in their faces. When they turned for masks these deputies shot them in the back Three to five hundred yards, running down the road, shot down and killed right in the road. There was one man sixty-five years old. It took three of them, they said, to put him in the car, and in place of taking him to the jail they took him to the undertaker, dead with handcuffs on. He was killed on the way from here to town.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were you close to any of the people who were killed?
SAM FINLEY:
No. The morning that it happened I was at home. She was sick and I couldn't get out; or I could, but I didn't. My name was on the list. One of these deputies told it: every man that got killed was marked. They had told them who to kill, the leaders.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So did they, in fact, kill the leaders? Were the people who were killed.
SAM FINLEY:
Yes, they were, most of them. They tried to kill the ones that was leaders, you see.
VESTA FINLEY:
That took an active part in organizing, you know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But it seems like when they let go with the tear gas that there were a lot of people out there; the shifts were changing. And it sounds like these deputies were sort of drunk too.
SAM FINLEY:
Well, they were.
VESTA FINLEY:
They drank to get up the nerve to do [laughter] what they were supposed to do, I suppose. You know.
SAM FINLEY:
When they put this tear gas in their face, naturally they turned from it. So when they did they were shot. That's how come they were shot in the back, the ones that was killed. They turned away from the tear gas.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But would you agree that the people, the six people who were killed were the actual leaders of the strike?
SAM FINLEY:
No; not altogether, no. You see, they just cut loose broadcast right in the crowd.
VESTA FINLEY:
But they tried to get the. . . .
SAM FINLEY:
They was supposed to pick out the leaders and kill them. And this deputy said I was on his list, though I happened not to be there.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You wouldn't have been working in the mill, so you wouldn't have been changing shifts. Were people there who weren't. . . .
SAM FINLEY:
Yes, there were people there that wasn't even going. Just going for curiosity; wanted to see what was going on. Oh, there was a crowd of people there. And these six were killed, and there were two or three others: one got a bullet in the hip. And there were several of them just glanced, you know.