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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clyde Cook, July 10, 1977. Interview H-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racial hierarchies at Alcoa Aluminum Company

Cook discusses the role of race in the Alcoa Aluminum Company in Badin, North Carolina, during the late 1920s. Cook first went to work for Alcoa when he was about sixteen or seventeen years old. Here, he focuses on how racial hierarchies in the workplace were discomforting for him and he describes how African American workers were relegated to lower positions and largely prevented from joining the ranks of the "Twenty-Five-Year Club."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clyde Cook, July 10, 1977. Interview H-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

How did you feel about working as a laborer in the plant?
[Laughter] It was on the same pattern that the school was; it was a dissatisfaction to me in working for them as a laborer in the plant. I guess more or less that it was born in me, because I never did feel that all blacks should have been dominated by white superiority, and that's what I had to contend with. That was what the Badin at that time. You didn't see nothing. Everybody—all the superiors or overseers or whatever you wanted to call them—was white, regardless to whether they had the ability or not. If they had the color of the skin, they was able to be my superior, and that was the kind of thing that's brought about a lot of… It didn't bring any hate in me toward the white people because I don't have any hate toward people because of the color of their skin, but I do have a resentment to those that enforce those kind of rules .
How were people promoted in a plant?
Mostly by… I think I was just about saying it whenever I said the color line. That was strictly… You didn't get any promotion… It wasn't even, for several years of which my, after the union came in; then there were some changes. We got a great number of blacks that had been able to go into the Twenty-Five-Year Club down at Alcoa. But back in the early stages they didn't allow blacks… A black didn't stay long enough… If he got close enough to be eligible for membership in the Twenty-Five-Year Club, they would just about find some reason to get shed of him or to take his time. They'd say that he violated some of the rules and put him out of the plant and take his seniority and cut him back. I think maybe Tom Thomas might have been the first black that went into the Twenty-Five Year Club, and I think maybe he might have went in up in the forties. I think the first was somewhere in that period.