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Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Robert Riley Sr. began his employment with the White Furniture Company "on the yard" at its Hillsborough, North Carolina, location, where he cut green logs into boards. He soon moved to Mebane, where he held a number of positions, including a spot in the "rub and pack" room, a position driving supplies to and from the stockroom, and what he thinks was the company's first supervisory position held by an African American. In this interview, he describes his work, focusing on the details of the sawmill, and recalls the plant's closing. Riley spent thirty-one years at White's, and watching it close—and even helping remove machinery—was a wrenching emotional experience followed by months of searching for work and temporary employment. This interview presents White's as the economic and emotional heart of the Mebane community, giving its workers a sense of self as well as financial support. The plant's owners nurtured a spirit of camaraderie and pride, a spirit that faded as new ownership struggled to make the plant profitable. At the time of this interview, Riley, at fifty-seven, was about to move into a permanent job he hoped would see him to retirement.
    Excerpts
  • Furniture-making process
  • News of a plant closing met with shock
  • New ownership of plant means a new management style
  • White Furniture plant is the economic center of Mebane, North Carolina
  • Demanding job leaves no time for idling
  • New ownership of plant means a new management style
  • Employer resistance stifles unionization
  • Gender- and age-appropriate tasks at White's
  • Segregated facilities at White's and Riley's ascension to a leadership position
  • Strict rules at White's Furniture Company
  • Struggling to find work after losing job at White's
  • Close bonds are severed with White's closing
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • Furniture industry and trade--North Carolina
  • Furniture workers--North Carolina
  • White Furniture Company
  • North Carolina--Social conditions
  • Riley, Robert
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.