Title: Oral History Interview with Wilbur Hobby, March 13, 1975. Interview E-0006.
Interviewer: Finger, William
Interviewee: Hobby, Wilbur
Subjects: American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. Trade-unions--Textile workers--Southern States
Abstract: Wilbur Hobby was born in Durham, North Carolina, in 1925. In the early 1930s, Hobby's father, a bricklayer, deserted his mother, leaving her to raise five sons on her own. Hobby describes growing up impoverished in the Edgemont section of Durham, where most of his friends had parents who worked in the tobacco or textile mills. Hobby remained in school through the ninth grade only, dropping out after spending a summer in Ohio working as a batboy for the Durham Bulls. Shortly after leaving school, Hobby's mother signed a waiver for him to join the Navy at the age of seventeen, and he served in the South Pacific during World War II. He returned to Durham following the war and worked briefly with his father as a bricklayer before becoming employed by the American Tobacco Company. During these years, Hobby married. Although he argues that he had little awareness of the labor movement, with only foggy memories of the 1934 general strike as it occurred in Durham, Hobby explains how he became increasingly involved in labor politics during the late 1940s. Joining the union at the American Tobacco Company in 1946, he soon became actively involved and was eventually elected president of the night shift workers. From there, Hobby became an active participant in the Voters for Better Government in Durham, a coalition of laborers, African Americans, and liberal intellectuals from Duke University. Hobby describes how they became a formidable force in local politics during the late 1940s and 1950s. In addition, Hobby discusses his involvement with other labor organizations, such as Labor's League for Political Education (LLPE) and the AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education (COPE). In 1958 and 1959, Hobby worked briefly for the textile unions in Florida and Georgia after he was fired from the American Tobacco Company. Because of his work with both tobacco and textile unions and the Voters for Better Government, Hobby had become well known enough in the movement to become elected as director of COPE in 1959—a position he held until 1969.