Title: Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106.
Interviewer: Stewart, Chris
Interviewee: Riley, Robert
Subjects: Furniture industry and trade--North Carolina Furniture workers--North Carolina White Furniture Company North Carolina--Social conditions Riley, Robert
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.