Title: Oral History Interview with Leslie Thorbs, May 30, 2001. Interview K-0589.
Interviewer: Hartman, Leda
Interviewee: Thorbs, Leslie
Abstract: Leslie Thorbs grew up in a family of tenant farmers during the 1920s and 1930s in eastern North Carolina. Thorbs begins the interview with his recollections of Kennedy Farm, where his family lived and worked as tenant farmers. Thorbs recalls some of the techniques used in the farming of tobacco, cotton, soy beans, and corn. He also describes in detail the impoverished conditions his family faced during the years of the Great Depression. Like many children of similar socioeconomic status during this time, Thorbs did not complete elementary school. Although he and his siblings had helped with farm work all along, he began to work for wages at the age of eight in order to supplement the family income. Later, he became a tenant farmer in his own right and worked in that capacity until the end of the 1940s. After that, he spent the rest of his working years as a janitor at Texfi Industries and as a factory worker at the Grifton Sewing Factory. Throughout the interview, Thorbs touches on race relations, focusing on what it was like for him as an African American to work with whites, and describing his reaction to his daughter's interracial marriage. In addition to describing work, farming, living conditions, and race relations, Thorbs spends considerable time discussing his wife and their family. He met his wife when he was a teenager. Unlike Thorbs, his wife, Hattie Mae, attended high school; Thorbs met her when she was finishing school. In 1941, they traveled to South Carolina to marry; because he was only seventeen and she was only fifteen, they could not be married in North Carolina. They settled in Grifton, North Carolina, where they raised their children. All but two of their six surviving children also settled in Grifton and, as a result, all were adversely affected by the horrendous flooding wrought by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Thorbs describes the flood and its immediate aftermath, emphasizing the fact that he and his wife were lucky to escape with their lives. Their home, along with all of their possessions, was destroyed. Thorbs describes how the entire family stayed with his daughter in Kinston, North Carolina, until it was safe for them to return home. At the time of the interview, Thorbs was still living with one of his children, grieving the recent death of his wife and waiting for his home to be made habitable.