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Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Mill workers Carl and Mary Thompson describe their experiences as skilled employees and active members of their local communities in this 1979 interview. The first part of the interview is dominated by Mary's narrative. As a pattern maker, Mary's job moved her around the Southeast, but as was true for many highly skilled workers, improvements in technology eliminated her job opportunities after World War II. She sought employment in the mills because her parents had been mill workers, and she attributes her abilities in negotiating the factory system and in supporting herself as an independent working woman to her upbringing. Though her parents were strict and expected all family members to contribute to the household income, she remembers her childhood fondly. She married at fifteen, but her first husband left her just after their daughter was born. She describes how she found childcare and also the social censure she faced as a young divorcee. Carl enters the interview during this part of the conversation. He and Mary reflect on how Roosevelt's New Deal policies affected mill workers. They also talk about the power structure in the mills and discuss why the nearby townspeople looked down on the textile workers. When asked about the religious practices in the textile towns, Carl and Mary both emphasize the importance of church in community life, particularly the Pentecostal or Holiness meetings. They both also share their conversion stories. In the mill villages, the Thompsons remember that people looked out for each other, lending help, money or other assistance when another person needed it. The end of the interview focuses on Carl's story, and he describes how he came to work in the mills at an early age. As a skilled male worker, Carl was often asked to work more dangerous jobs such as running the carding machine. He chose to protect himself by refusing to do anything he believed was unsafe, and this caused him to lose several jobs. Unlike Mary, Carl had few responsibilities as a young man, which enabled him to quit jobs when he wanted, enabling him and some of his other friends to hitchhike around the country during the Depression, visiting other places and searching for jobs.
  • Description of drawing-in
  • Drawing-in machines replace skilled workers
  • Mary Thompson came from a family of mill workers
  • Mary Thompson's childhood
  • Mary Thompson's parents divide family responsibilities
  • Everyone pitched in to support the family
  • Courtship, marriage, and adulthood in the mill villages
  • Finding childcare as a single mother
  • Handling life far away from her daughter
  • Social censure associated with divorce
  • Workers found others who would train them to do new jobs
  • Roosevelt administration policies helped textile workers
  • Hierarchy among cotton mill workers
  • Other community members looked down on textile workers
  • Importance of faith in Mary Thompson's life
  • Tent revivals in the local mill communities
  • Paternalism in the mill villages
  • Sense of community in the mill villages and among the workers
  • Carl Thompson's memories of growing up
  • Refusing to work a dangerous job
  • Importance of faith in Carl Thompson's life
  • Carl Thompson is stranded while hitchhiking
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • Textile workers--North Carolina
  • Women in the textile industry
  • Textile workers--Training of
  • Charlotte (N.C.)--Social life and customs
  • 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.