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Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    John W. Snipes was born in Chatham County, North Carolina, in 1901 and was raised in an agricultural family. Snipes begins the interview by describing in vivid detail various family gatherings, including the annual commencement ceremony at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, holiday celebrations, and community gatherings. In 1919, Snipes married Lessie Mae Smith, whom he had known since childhood. After describing their courtship, Snipes explains how he went about procuring a marriage license at the age of seventeen so that he could marry his fifteen-year-old bride. Although their families were initially displeased that they had married at such a young age, Snipes recalls that they were generally supportive and that his father allowed them to live in one of the tenant houses on his land. Snipes and his wife continued to farm throughout the 1920s, growing crops such as cotton and raising their own livestock. In 1929, the economic difficulties of the Great Depression made it impossible for them to continue to farm self-sufficiently, so they relocated to Bynum, North Carolina, so that Snipes could work at the Jay and Muldell Company cotton mill. Snipes worked there until 1946. In addition to describing the kinds of working conditions and workplace restrictions he experienced, Snipes describes life in the mill villages of Bynum. Arguing that there was only one—failed—effort to organize workers at his mill, Snipes explains that he generally felt like the "scum of the earth" because of his socioeconomic status during those years. During the 1940s, Snipes began to make forays into the timber industry, and in 1946, he left his job at the cotton mill in order to establish a sawmilling business. Snipes describes in great detail his endeavors in the timber industry, especially focusing on the various tracts of land he bought and sold in the process and the finances those transactions entailed. Throughout the interview, Snipes offers a unique perspective into the culture and labor of the working class in North Carolina.
  • Social gatherings and community celebrations
  • Courtship and marriage as teenagers in rural North Carolina
  • Self-sufficient farming during the 1920s
  • Network between farmers, tenant farmers, and store owners
  • Making ends meet and wage increases during the Great Depression
  • Getting into the timber industry
  • Workplace and community conditions and restrictions
  • Living and working in mill villages
  • Brush with unionization and relief at leaving the mill
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  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.