Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Johnnie Jones, August 27, 1976. Interview H-0273. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Staying afloat during the Great Depression

Jones was out of work for years during the Great Depression, but he stayed solvent by doing odd jobs in his community and eating meals and his mother's house.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Johnnie Jones, August 27, 1976. Interview H-0273. 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:
Can you tell me anything about the Depression?
JOHNNIE JONES:
The Depression?
BRENT GLASS:
Yes. Do you remember it around here? Did it close the plant down?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Well now, I'll tell you about this much of it, the Depression. As far as the Depression's concerned, I don't know too much about the Depression. I was in it, but it didn't bother me, 'cause I would take and go home and sit down and eat. Momma'd fix the table, put my plate there. I'd get out of my bed and go over there and sit down and eat my breakfast. Dinner time come, I'd go right back and eat dinner, 'cause my Daddy The Depression, it didn't bother me, 'cause all I wanted to do was sit and eat. That's all I wanted.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, but I mean, during the 1930s you were a grown man already.
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes, I was a grown man. That's what I'm saying to you now. I remember my wife said, "Ain't you hungry?" I told her, "No, I ain't hungry." "Well I ain't going to cook." I didn't say a word; I'd go on over to Momma's and set down and eat. Well, twelve o'clock comes, I wanted something to eat, I'd go on over there and eat. So it went on like that for two or three days. She asked me, "Was you hungry?" I said, "No." I said, "I'm eating three times a day." She said, "Here you is starving me to death and you eating three…" I said, "I ain't told you narry a time not to cook. You asked me was I hungry; I told you no, 'cause I was eating."
BRENT GLASS:
Well, was the plant closed down?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes.
BRENT GLASS:
And they weren't paying?
JOHNNIE JONES:
No. I was eating; it didn't make me no difference. I told her, "I ain't never…" Now that's one thing: now I wouldn't argue with you about nothing either. I reckon there are fellows like me that can hardly cook. All of us can cook.
BRENT GLASS:
But how come your mother had food over there? Was your father working?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Well, I'll tell you: the old man, he passed, but that was years ago. See, he was in pretty good shape, the old man was.
BRENT GLASS:
Your dad?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, how long did the plant stay closed?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Oh, to tell you the truth, I don't know. I didn't take no record of it.
BRENT GLASS:
Two months, three months?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Oh, sometimes you might get to work two or three days.
BRENT GLASS:
In a week?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes, and sometimes you'd make about ten or twelve days to the month. Now I remember, weren't nobody over there but me. Every morning somebody'd be over after me. "What do you want with me over there and the plant closed down?" Well, I'd go over there and stay; a couple of times I stayed a couple of days. Then I'd leave, and the next day or two they'd be right back after me again. They'd say, "Go over there and grease up that stuff to keep it from rusting." Now, what did they want me fooling around over there for?
BRENT GLASS:
Did they pay you to do that?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Yes, they paid me.
BRENT GLASS:
About how long did the plant stay sort of short time like that? A couple of years?
JOHNNIE JONES:
Well yes, awfully long: about a couple of years.
BRENT GLASS:
So that must have been hard times for you.
JOHNNIE JONES:
They were hard times. People wasn't doing nothing but walking around.
BRENT GLASS:
How did you make it through?
JOHNNIE JONES:
I don't know. We survived somehow or another, I can tell you the truth. That's what everybody wonders, "How did you make it?" Well, we made it somehow or another. I never drawed but one unemployment check in my life, one.
BRENT GLASS:
When was that?
JOHNNIE JONES:
That was during that time—no, it wasn't either, it was after that. Something happened and they shut down here awhile; I've forgot what it was now. Then in a week or two we was back at work again.