Title: Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180.
Interviewer: Jones, Lu Ann
Interviewee: Strickland, Ralph Waldo
Subjects: Charlotte (N.C.)--Social life and customs Railroads--North Carolina--Employees Trade-unions--Railroads--North Carolina
Abstract: Ralph Waldo Strickland (b. 1903) was reared on an Alabama farm and served in the navy from 1923 to 1926. He worked for the balance of his adult life for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. In this 1980 interview, Strickland explores a range of family and working history themes. His father ran a cotton gin in La Grange, Alabama, while the family farm was mostly worked by Strickland and his brothers. Strickland grew up hearing stories about the Civil War from his two grandmothers; he retells several, adding commentary that includes his view regarding the relationship that prevailed between his ancestors and the enslaved persons they owned. He recalls the first time he saw an automobile, and describes his grandmother's ability to "talk out fire," or use words to ease the pain of a burn, and also her ability to pacify bees. In 1921, the family moved to Hot Springs, Georgia, which was soon to become home to Franklin Roosevelt's "Little White House." In 1923, Strickland joined the navy and served nearly four years (his older brothers had served in World War I); on his return from naval service, Strickland joined his brother, a tradesman, working on the Little White House. Strickland recalls Franklin Roosevelt as warm and approachable and "the most brilliant man that I ever talked to or ever saw in my whole life," and relates stories of their interaction. He notes that the local community considered Eleanor Roosevelt as a bit odd but embraced her nonetheless. Strickland's search for permanent employment led him to the railroads, where his brother Paul was a brakeman and conductor. In March 1927, Strickland obtained employment with the Seaboard line in Charlotte, North Carolina, first as a substitute worker and later full-time. He describes the nature of railroad work, the segregation of railroad jobs by race, the role of railroads in broadening access to goods and services, the dangers of railroad work (including an accident that cost a coworker his leg), and the role of technology in gradually improving safety. Strickland, who married shortly after beginning railroad work, describes his wedding, where he and his wife lived their first few years, and how having a family changed his perspective on life. During the Depression, Strickland had a hard time making ends meet but never drew on government assistance, believing that he had a better quality of life as a result. Advancing to better jobs at the railroad, he grew more aware of the injustices faced by workers and joined a railroad union. He recalls the railroad workers' and coal miners' strike of 1946 and President Harry Truman's role in ending it.