Title: Oral History Interview with James and Nannie Pharis, December 5, 1978; January 8 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0039.
Interviewer: Tullos, Allen
Interviewee: Pharis, Nannie
Abstract: James and Nannie Pharis were married in 1911 after meeting at a square dance sponsored by the local cotton mill in Spray, North Carolina. Both had moved into Spray (now Eden) around the turn of the twentieth century when their tenant farmer fathers had decided to pursue work in the local cotton mill industry. In this interview, the Pharises speak together about their experiences at work and in their personal lives, although Nannie Pharis is the primary focus of this interview. (James Pharis's work experience and rise to management is highlighted in a separate interview, H-0038.) After James describes a severe hand injury he received while working as a child at the cotton mill, the interview shifts in focus to Nannie Pharis's family background. As one of thirteen children, Nannie recalls her mother's experiences in childbirth, describing how an African American midwife helped birth most of her siblings. Because the family was so large, Nannie went to work at the cotton mill at the age of nine in order to help supplement the family income. Her father, who had moved the family to Spray to work in the mills, eventually relocated to the countryside because he preferred the life of a farmer. At that time, Nannie moved in with her sister so she could continue to work in town. Following her marriage, Nannie continued to work at the mill until the 1930s. In addition to briefly describing the conditions she faced at work, Nannie discusses family life. She speaks at length about the family labor system she was a part of while growing up. She also describes in detail the kinds of foods her family grew, and discusses family meal times, the role of religion in her family, and interactions between her family and the community. The interview concludes with the Pharises discussing their employment of an African American woman to help with child-rearing and cooking after they had started their family. The interview offers a vivid portrait of work and family life in a southern community that combined industry and farming.