Title: Oral History Interview with Ernest Seeman, February 13, 1976. Interview B-0012.
Interviewer: Conway, Mimi
Interviewee: Seeman, Ernest
Subjects: African American families--Durham--North Carolina Strikes and lockouts--North Carolina--Durham
Abstract: Born in 1887, Ernest Seeman grew up in Durham, North Carolina, as the American Tobacco Company grew to dominate the tobacco industry. Seeman begins with an overview of his family history. Although his father had migrated to North Carolina from Canada shortly before settling in Durham, his mother's ancestors had lived and farmed in the area since the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Seeman describes briefly what it was like to grow up in Durham during the late nineteenth century. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Seeman left school to go to work for his father. In 1885, Seeman's father established Seeman Printery, and the younger Seeman spent his adolescence learning the family trade with his brothers. During the early twentieth century, the Seeman Printery worked closely with the Duke family, particularly one of Buck Duke's associates, C. W. Toms. Through several anecdotes about his father's business transactions, Seeman offers some interesting insights into the rise of the American Tobacco Company and its relationship to the community. Seeman describes the transition of the printery as it evolved from a small establishment to a larger, mechanized business. Eventually, the Seemans employed more than fifty printers. Ernest Seeman assumed control of Seeman Printery in 1917 and ran it until 1923. Two years later he was hired as the head of Duke Press, where he worked until 1934. During his time at Duke Press, Seeman helped to found the Explorer's Club and worked closely with students. By the end of his tenure at Duke Press, Seeman had cultivated a reputation as a radical on campus and was forced to resign following his support of Duke students who lampooned the University dean and president and participated in an uprising in support of labor activism. Shortly thereafter, Seeman moved to New York before settling in Tumbling Creek, Tennessee. Seeman devoted much of the rest of his days to writing, and published his novel American Gold (referred to as Tobacco Town in this interview) just before his death in 1979.