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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 >>

Vesta is proud of her participation in the union

Vesta describes in greater detail her time at the summer school and what she learned. She also talks about how much pride she had to be a part of this greater movement and see other women joining in.

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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
I wanted to ask you just a few more questions about the Southern Summer School. How did you first come to the idea of going to the school?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, the men that were here that were taking part in organizing the union here just picked out certain ones and asked us if we'd like to go, and got us in those classes because it was something new.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You were gone during a good part of the July activity.
VESTA FINLEY:
Six weeks.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How did you keep in touch with what was going on in Marion?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, we came down occasionally when they'd have their meetings. It wasn't more than about a thirty-five minutes' drive, somewhere about that. We'd come down for that. And then maybe people'd come visit the school and bring reports, people that was involved.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did any of the women from the school like Lois McDonald or Louise McFadden come in to Marion during the strike?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, they'd come down here when they had their meetings. But other than that they didn't participate. Because they were just here for six weeks' period. But as I say, they would come down for meetings and that.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I wondered, when you first went over there, what did you expect from the school?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, I didn't know what to expect, because we didn't know. They just told you it was a school for women workers in industry. And of course we didn't know what it was all about until we got over there, you know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What did you think, or what do you think looking back on it now, about it's having been just for women workers? Was that the first thing you'd ever been involved in that was particularly for women?
VESTA FINLEY:
Yes, it was.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It sounds like the union mainly was run by men, and although women were on the picket line women weren't officers in the union or anything like that. But women were really running the Southern Summer School. How did you feel about that? Did you think about that at the time? Did it mean a lot to you to have something particularly for you?
VESTA FINLEY:
Yes it did. It was a great inspiration to feel like that women was considered capable of participating in things of that nature. Before that they hadn't been, you know. It was something new and very interesting to me, and I guess to most of the girls. They had an outlet to speak up, to get up before the student body and talk and express themselves about what they felt should be done and shouldn't be done in our government and in our industry. They never had had an opportunity to express themselves before, and it was a great outlet, mentally and spiritually too.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You said that in all of your life the church meant a great deal to you. I wondered if they had any church services there at the school?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well now, at Burnsville we didn't attend any service. On Sunday morning we just went outside, sang songs and just things like that. But as far as any religious program, we didn't have it. Now when we were at there was an Episcopalian church there on the campus, and they had their service there. It was a school for boys during the nine months in the winter. And all that wanted to attended church there; and we were welcome there in that church. The majority of them did attend the church there. However, I was working that year-at that particular school I was working in the dining room-and I went to services there when I could. But that was the only religious thing they had.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see. Did they talk specifically about different kinds of unions? Did they tell you, like, about the organization of the United Textile Workers; or did they talk about the National Textile Workers and the differences between the two?
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, I don't know that they told us anything about the difference. They could have, but it's been so long. They did tell us what the unions stood for, and what they were trying to do for the working people. They explained that to us. We didn't know all the inside information about it. But we were enlightened about what their activities were, that what they were out to do was to raise a better standard of living for people and help them, and to give us an idea of how to go about accomplishing this, you know. And they enlightened us to the fact that the company didn't run on a losing ground just to do us a favor. Because they had the figures there to show us how much these companies were making every year. And that put a fighting spirit in you. You wanted to reach out there and get something better, and you knew that you'd been kept in the dark about it. Well, you just went to work, and you just worked and wanted to do your job. We've made a lot of progress [laughter] intelligence-wise since those days, I'll tell you. All throughout all the countries poor people, and people who work in these industries-it's all out in the open now, more or less.