Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
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 >>

Race in the mills and among the mill workers

One of the biggest changes in the mills had been the ending of segregation, but the Finleys do not believe that desegregation was entirely a good thing. In addition, they discuss the various jobs African Americans held prior to desegregation.

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

Marion Roydhouse: When did the colored people come into the town? Had they been here for very long, or were they working in the mills when you started working?
SAM FINLEY:
No. The colored people didn't come to the mills. . . .
VESTA FINLEY:
Last two years.
SAM FINLEY:
Only scrubbers; scrubbed the floors.
VESTA FINLEY:
Shoveled coal and such matters.
SAM FINLEY:
They didn't come to the mills up until right recent years. They won't work now; they're worse than the white people now about working. Once in a while you get one that works. There's a colored girl that comes down here to the employment office and told this man Parker, she says: "I want the secretary's job; I'm abdicating." [laughter, Vesta Finley] They don't mind telling what they want to start with.
VESTA FINLEY:
But now, some of them work. They've got girls that's secretaries to the various employers, overseers. But a lot of them lay out; I think they get drunk on weekends (you know how hangovers. . . .) and they lay out. But they don't get the work out of a lot of them.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How many Negroes were living in Marion while you were working in the mills, would you say?
SAM FINLEY:
Oh, there were several. They worked on the railroad. They didn't work in the mill, they worked on outside jobs.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Where did they live?
SAM FINLEY:
They had a place over here they call Moreheads.
VESTA FINLEY:
Black Bottom. [laughter]
SAM FINLEY:
Black Bottom, and Shake a Leg, Mexico. There's a street out over the way there that they just lived in shacks. Now they can get by better and look like better than the white people, of course.
VESTA FINLEY:
Well now, there are a lot of them got good jobs: they paint, they work on highways.
SAM FINLEY:
Recently. But back then they didn't have.
VESTA FINLEY:
But just since this integration thing's been up, since we've had them, you know . . . they have to work them, and it's been a good thing. It's good for our country. You take any person; I say there's no person in the world knows how to sympathize with the black people except women. You know, women's always been considered a second-grade citizen. Now that the colored people have better living conditions, it's just made a wonderful improvement in that race, you know it? They feel like they're kind of a human being. Not I don't believe in mixing, marrying and intermingling with them.
SAM FINLEY:
Now one thing that helps them hold off, we've got a welfare system that all they've got to do is go up there and get the stamp books. Pay just a little bit and get enough stuff to last them a month. But they don't have to work; you can't hire one of them to work; no sir. "That's cutting my relief off."
VESTA FINLEY:
You've got some white people up there too, you know.
SAM FINLEY:
I know; we're talking about the colored people now.
VESTA FINLEY:
But it's amazing the freedom and the hoard of changes brought in.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What kind of specific changes were there in Marion with integration. You said the mill had to hire them in jobs.
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, there was rejection, of course. They opposed it, but it was the law and so they couldn't turn them down on account of their race, you know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What about in the schools?
SAM FINLEY:
Well, we've gotten along very well. Now, they've had one or two little flare-ups, not to amount to anything.
VESTA FINLEY:
We had a few fights in the high school. We had a little trouble last year, I think. At the beginning they had some trouble because the colored boys. . . . I think the colored people, when they first got their freedom they didn't know how to handle the situation. They wanted to go overboard imposing theirself on the white people, you know. They just didn't know how to act. And they had some trouble in the schools because they'd call white people things, and the white people called them names. They had a few fights. But we've not had too much trouble, really. And up here in our elementary school, as far as I know they've not had any trouble. The worst trouble is some of them comes in with B.O. so bad that you can't hardly stand it. You can smell them before they ever. . . . I work for the food service. But other than that. . . . They've had a little collision in the high schools and junior high. But considering all, I think they did pretty well.
SAM FINLEY:
The chairman of the school board's a colored man.
VESTA FINLEY:
Yes. We've got some colored teachers, you know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Back to the 1929 strike, for a minute, how did the colored people react to the strike?
SAM FINLEY:
Well they didn't take no part in it and had nothing to do with it.
VESTA FINLEY:
There wasn't enough of them working.
SAM FINLEY:
They wasn't concerned with it, because they didn't work in the mill, see.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see. There was no communication or relationship?
SAM FINLEY:
No, there wasn't.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did any of them quit working? I mean, even the scrubbing jobs, loading coal and all?
SAM FINLEY:
Oh, they didn't pay any attention. They just went on hauling.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
When the mill closed down?
SAM FINLEY:
There wasn't too many of them, you know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You mentioned the women being able to understand colored people as far as, because those had been discriminated against. I wondered if many of the black women in Marion worked in homes of white people?
VESTA FINLEY:
Oh yes. That's what their main jobs were. They were taught to be good cooks; you know, that's what they knew the girls were mostly going to do, housekeep for people. But that's what they did mostly.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did any of the mill people have cooks?
VESTA FINLEY:
Oh yes, the superintendent, the presidents and the vice-presidents, they had women that came in and cooked, and took care of the children and did the housework. Most of them did.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What about workers? Like men and women who worked in the mill? Were they ever able to afford cooks?
VESTA FINLEY:
No.
SAM FINLEY:
No, they couldn't afford it. They had to get up and get their breakfasts, go on to work, and leave the children to take care. . . .
VESTA FINLEY:
Some of the main employers might have had a woman come in, maybe once a week and do the laundry and ironing. A lot of them would come in and do that, you know. And then a lot of them had babysitters, come take care of the babies while the mothers worked.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Would this be workers, or would this be higher employers?
VESTA FINLEY:
The higher employers.