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Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • 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.
  • Memories of the Civil War and slavery
  • Talking out fire and pacifying bees
  • First sighting of an automobile
  • Strickland's time in the navy
  • Experiences of World War I
  • Interactions with FDR
  • Impressions of Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Finding a job with the railroad
  • Operation of the Seaboard Line in the 1930s and 1940s.
  • Race determines jobs in the railroad yard
  • Functioning of the railroad yards
  • Passenger and freight trains
  • Injuries caused by the trains
  • Changes in railroad technology
  • Various living situations for railroad personnel
  • Surviving the Great Depression
  • Recollection of the 1946 railroad strike
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • Charlotte (N.C.)--Social life and customs
  • Railroads--North Carolina--Employees
  • Trade-unions--Railroads--North Carolina
  • 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.