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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sidney Leneer Pete Underdown, June 18, 2000. Interview I-0091. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Learning machinery technique to avoid reliance on only one skilled employee

One of the first employees of Hickory Springs was a black man from a nearby town who was invaluable to the company for his ability to run the coiler machine. Underdown fired him after he started missing work to run his own taxi company for extra income. Underdown could only fire him after going to a different plant to learn how to run the spring coiling machinery.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sidney Leneer Pete Underdown, June 18, 2000. Interview I-0091. 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

PETE UNDERDOWN:
Leggett and Platt is what I'm trying to say, Leggett and Platt down in Blacksburg, South Carolina. They had a plant down there, and Joe and Myrtle came up here, and they brought about half their relatives with them, I mean gradually, as time went on. When I joined Hickory Springs, Joe and Myrtle were running the mattress department, making the inner springs for the mattress, and they had about four or five of their nieces and nephews from South Carolina, from Blacksburg, up here working all the time. Myrtle had a sister that was a nice-looking black woman, of course, and she used to make Marshall units, ran the Marshall unit machine as a matter of fact that fed the coils into the pockets on the cloth. And then she did a lot of sewing too. You had to sew the side where you ran this in, and then you put them together and did some more sewing. She did a lot of sewing too. I believe she was Myrtle's sister. Joe used to call her his sister-in-law, so I guess that's true. And they worked upstairs, down on Highland Avenue. Of course, there's no upstairs now down on Highland Avenue because the building burned down.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
I want to ask you about that. Were Joe and Myrtle the very first employees?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Well, they weren't the first ones. There was a colored guy that they got out of High Point.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
Do you remember his name?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
I ought to. He worked for us, and I fired him because he'd gone into the taxi business and restaurant business down in Colored Town, what they called Colored Town then, where they all lived. And he wouldn't show up for work but a couple days a week. He was the only man who knew how to run the coiler, and he was the foreman of that department. And he had to set all the machines up down where they made the coils and all that. And he kind of had a lock on things because everybody was afraid to fire him. So when he got to where he wouldn't show up but a couple days a week and draw his salary right on, well, I decided it was time somebody else learned. I didn't know how myself at that time. So I went down to-used to be Secretary of the Army-Royal. I went down to their plant in Mebane. It's Kingsdown now, but I went down to their plant in Mebane there one Sunday night, stayed all day Monday and Tuesday. When I came back to Hickory Springs, I knew how to operate every machine, and some that we didn't have. So I got to where I could set them all up. And so I fired him. Didn't take me long, about three days after I got back. I fired him, wrote him a letter and told him his services weren't required anymore if he couldn't come to work but a couple days a week. And he got awful mad at me about that, but that's neither here nor there. And he was making more money than anybody, even I was making at that particular time, because he was necessary for the plant to run. Of course then he found out that he wasn't necessary any longer, so we didn't need him, so we went on and let him go.