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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 company rigs the deputies' trials

The Finleys discuss the reasons that the deputies who had killed the six strikers went free.

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

SAM FINLEY:
They moved the trial, the trial of these deputies. There was fifteen of them, I believe it was. And the judge held preliminary hearings. And he'd get one of these deputies on the stand and he'd say, "Did you fire a shot?" "No." "Stand aside." Called another one up there. "Did you fire?" "I shot at so-and-so." And they'd hold him for trial. The only word what went. . . . Now if he said no they turned him loose. Now it got down to about six, I believe it was. And they were afraid they couldn't get a fair trial here and they moved it over to Yancey, Burnsville. And one of the lawyers had been there all his life and he knew everybody in the county. The jury was picked. And when it come to trial they just turned them loose.
VESTA FINLEY:
They had that while were in summer school over there at Burnsville. And we came down to the courthouse to hear us some of the trial. And that lawyer Morgan was the fellow that had. . . . Tate Morgan, was that his name? What was that lawyer's name now?
SAM FINLEY:
It wasn't Tate. Now this man I'm talking about was over there at Burnsville. It wasn't the head man. They got the sheriff on the stand there, see, The union had a man by the name of Edward Johnson for us. And he said: "What did these boys ever do to you, these people that got killed? What did any of them ever do to you?" "Oh," he said, "they hollered ‘wolf, wolf’ at me. [laughter, Vesta Finley] They even called me a son of a bitch." He said, "You knew that went with this job when you took it." [laughter, MF and Vesta Finley]
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you go over to the trial?
SAM FINLEY:
No, but I did try a lot of times when it was held right here. They moved it, then, over there.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Right. So you went to the ones here?
SAM FINLEY:
Yes. They turned them loose, and then they brought out a suit against them. They threw that out.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What do you remember about sitting in the courtroom? How did you feel while this whole thing was going on?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, we knew it was a one-sided thing, because the lawyers here in Marion, some of them were stockholders in the mill, you know. And they were, of course, on the mill's side. As I said, the jury was more or less picked by the people that were on the side of the industry, you know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You said a few minutes ago that there was a cross between the mill people who wanted better conditions for their families and themselves and the owners who wanted to make a profit in their industry. What about Marion as a town? Is it sort of divided into groups of people like that? You didn't live in the mill village, but the mill village was very apart from the rest of the town.
SAM FINLEY:
The uptown people, they sided with the company.
VESTA FINLEY:
Because there's so many that are stockholders.
SAM FINLEY:
And after these workers had worked out what money they could get and come up there to spend it with them in their stores, they'd go agin them. Cut their own throat, not knowing what they were doing. They would line up with the company agin us.