Interview with Mrs. Theotis Williamson

"Of course, I didn't have no money in the bank. There weren't much money spent. But it didn't take much to live on."

Main Street and Railroad Looking East (ca. 1930): Aerial shot follows street and tracks from corner of Ninth and Main streets going east toward downtown Durham. Duke's East Campus is at top left. Note where Main Street ends at Ninth Street and Mulberry Street continues west, closer to the rail road tracks. The famous old Blue Light restaurant can be seen in the lower right of the photo.

Mrs. Theotis Williamson worked as a spinner at Erwin Mills in West Durham from 1915 (at age 12) to 1960. Her family moved from Sampson County to make a better living at the mill. The interview mostly covers family and community topics: day-to-day living, residential arrangements, recreation, childbirth, and the West Durham neighborhood.

Posted with the kind permission of the Southern Oral History Program, UNC-Chapel Hill

Lanier Rand: What was that that you were doing?

Theotis Williamson: I was a spinner.

LR: How long have you been in West Durham?

TW: Oh, let me see: I´m awful on dates.

LR: Where did you start working?

TW: Erwin. I worked in the one mill forty-five years.

LR: Did you grow up in West Durham?

TW: No. I was about twelve.

LR: Where were you born?

TW: Samson County.

LR: Did you live on a farm?

TW: Yes.

LR: And then what? Did your whole family move up here?

TW: Yes.

LR: What did your parents do?

TW: Well, my daddy was a carpenter. And momma...there were twelve of us, and I was the third.

LR: My goodness!

TW: Well, you know, there was nine of us that lived to be grown, and there was three died when they were small. And I was the third, and I´m the oldest one living.

LR: Then did your mother work in the mill?

TW: No, no, she had enough to do at home.

LR: I´ll bet she did. And did many of your brothers and sisters?

Erwin Mills (1930)

TW: Yes, yes, we all worked in the mill; we all went to working in the mill. Erwin Mill it was then; it´s Burlington Industries now. It was Erwin Mill.

LR: Had you gone to school down in Samson county?

TW: Well, I didn´t go to school much, no. Well, along then they didn´t care whether you went to school or not.

LR: And then did you go to school any in Durham?

TW: No, no, no, went to work.

LR: You just went right to work?

TW: Right to work.

LR: That´s amazing. How about your brothers and sisters?

TW: Well, they would go in about fourteen. They went to school, the ones younger than I was.

LR: But your father, he kept on being a carpenter up here?

TW: Yes. Well, he died years and years ago.

LR: Oh. How old were you then?

TW: I don´t remember how old I was. I was about, oh, maybe eighteen when he died. But you see, there were so many younger than I was.

LR: Do you remember your grandparents?

TW: I remember one of my grandmothers.

LR: Did she live down in Samson County?

TW: Yes.

LR: Did both of your parents´ parents come from down there?

TW: Yes.

LR: And did they farm?

TW: Yes.

LR: Did your parents have a farm or did they work on a farm?

TW: No, we worked on another farm. I don´t know what you call it, somebody else´s farm.

LR: Did you have any other relatives up here in Durham when you cam, like any of your aunts or uncles or anything?

TW: No.

LR: Your family just came on by themselves?

TW: We later on had an aunt that moved here.

LR: Whey did your parents decide to more up here?

TW: Well, I really don´t know. I think they thought we could make a better living working in the cotton mill--which we did. We enjoyed it; I did.

LR: Did you?

TW: Yes.

LR: It was like, a lot of your friends were there?

TW: Well, I´ll tell you. There was a whole lot of difference in now and then.

LR: How is that?

TW: Well, I don´t [laughter] really think they worked us as hard then as they do now; I don´t know.

LR: [laughter] A lot of people have told me that.

TW: Well, I´ll tell you, I think we done as we pleased then, ‘cause there weren´t no fence around the mill, and if we wanted to go home and get a biscuit or anything we´d go home. And I worked with some wonderful people.

LR: The people who were in the mill then?

TW: The head men, yes.

LR: Who do you remember?

TW: Oh, Mr. Bob Jones. I worked with him until he died of cancer. I seen him die of the cancer, watched him slowly fade away. Bill Gay and Mr. Bob Jones.

LR: And they were like the supervisors in your area?

TW: Yes, yes, Mr. Jones was the head boss. And I worked for another one, Mr. Bill Phillips; he was the superintendent. He was a wonderful guy. He would come through with his dogs.

LR: [laughter] With his dogs”

TW: I´d forgot all them little things.

LR: He brought his dogs to work?

TW: Yes. He was the superintendent. He would come through just checking on us. But they´re all gone: most of all of them have gone on now that was there when I was there.

LR: Did they live over there near the mill?

TW: Yes.

LR: And did they come to the

TW: Mr. Bob Jones lived over there in Duke campus.

LR: In the Trinity campus then?

TW: Yes, yes, right across on Broad Street.

LR: What year was it, do you think, that you all moved up here?

TW: I can´t tell you; I just don´t know. I´m seventy-two now.

LR: So that would have been about in the early twenties or teens.

TW: No, no, no, no. I was here in 1971, when they went to war. Yes, I remember that mightily, because I remembered the other day when that big snow came. There was a big snow.

LR: Back then?

TW: Yes, when my grandmother died there was snow on the ground. It reminded me of what happened over there. That´s when the boys went off, the World War I boys. We were living on Mulberry Street, and the train came by carrying the boys off to war.

Erwin Mills office on Mulberry Street (ca. 1920)

LR: Did you live near the train track, near the station?

TW: Yes, right on the tracks, right on the tracks.

LR: So you saw the train come that day.

TW: Yes. We got out there, and the boys waved.

LR: Boy, that must have been kind of sad.

TW: Of course we had worked with some of them, so when they was taken off...

LR: And you grandmother, did she come up with you?

TW: No. She was put in an old soldiers´ home, I think, somewhere. She died during that snowstorm, and we couldn´t get...

LR: Oh, she wasn´t up there?

TW: No.

LR: Did you often go back to Samson County after you moved here?

TW: Yes, we would go back; we´d go back to her grave, and my grandaddy´s grave and my uncle´s grave. And then we went one time and stayed with one of my aunts down there, my momma´s sister. And we´ve been there several times, not too often--much as I´d like to go back. But I do go back to the mill. I don´t go in; I just go up and look around.

LR: Are a lot of your friends still over there?

TW: Well, there´s very few of the old people in there now that was there when I was there. They were really younger than I was when I come out, you see. And then there´s some of them still in there.

LR: How old were you when you quit working at the mill?

TW: I think I was about sixty. I had a blood clot in my leg, and I couldn´t work.

LR: What was you mother like?

TW: Well, she was just like one of us, exactly like one of us.

LR: What do you mean?

TW: You couldn´t hardly tell the mother from the daughters.

LR: [laughter] Is that right? Because she was so young?

TW: No, not that she was that much younger. I don´t know, she was just like I am, I think: just enjoyed anything.

LR: Oh, she liked to do things with you all?

TW: Oh yes, yes.

LR: What did you all used to do, like after work and things?

TW: Well, we mostly stayed at home, because we had to. We worked ten hours and fifteen minutes a day.

LR: Whew! So you would come home real late?

TW: Well yes. We´d get home sometimes after dark. And she´d have supper fixed. And if she used to think we were hungry she would bring us something up there to the mill.

LR: A lot of the mothers did that, came around and brought you lunches and things?

TW: Yes, I would think so.

LR: But you went home for lunch quite a bit.

TW: We didn´t live too far from the mill, and she could come. Then they finally put a fence around that mill, and she would come and give it to us through the fence.

LR: Why did they put that fence up?

TW: Well, I really don´t know. I imagine just for safety, more or less; and it was a good idea.

LR: How old were you when they did that?

TW: I don´t even know; maybe two or three years after I went to work. No, it weren´t that; no, it was longer than that, I´d say five years after I went in.

LR: What would you all do, like, on the weekends and stuff?

TW: Well, we´d go over to Erwin Park. They had a park over there, and they´d have a band. And then we´d walk up to Hillsborough just to the reservoir--a bunch of girls, you know. We went to church, and then Sundays we´d take a walk up to Hillsborough, way up there at that reservoir. and we´d go over there to the park, and things like that.

LR: That´s pretty over there. I´ll bet it was really pretty then.

TW: Well, it was; it was a beautiful place. And I went up the road the other week and stopped and looked at that old spring. It´s not like it was then, but still.... We can´t expect to go back to these places and find them like they were when we left, because we´re not like the same thing it was when we left there.

Mill Hill & Erwin Park (ca. 1930): Erwin Park is left of the railroad bridge over Erwin Road (lower-left). Brookstown is lower-right (note Broad Street does not cross the railroad tracks). Duke's East Campus is north of the tracks (far right).

LR: That´s the truth.

TW: I don´t generally go back and think I´m going to be the same person or go and see the same thing, because I´m not. I try to take it as it comes.

LR: Did you all live in one of the Erwin Mill houses?

TW: We lived in one on 9th Street for thirteen years. The streets weren´t asphalt at that time. And that´s the only time I ever rode a bicycle; I rode the bicycle. I was in the ditch and it was on top of me, and I didn´t never try it no more.

LR: [laughter] Oh no.

TW: I can remember that as though it had been last night.

LR: [laughter] I bet. Riding on a dirt road is pretty hard.

TW: And a ditch on each side, yes.

LR: Did they have the stores and things then?

TW: Oh yes, yes, they had stores up there then. Mr. McDonald´s drug store was there.

LR: Was it?

TW: Yes. And they had a bank there where that old cafe´s at; of course it went broke [laughter]. Of course I didn´t have no money in it.

LR: Depression?

TW: Yes.

LR: Did many of your friends have money in it?

TW: I don´t think so; I don´t think we had any money then. I don´t know. There weren´t much money spent, but it didn´t take much to live on.

LR: Did your family grow a garden?

TW: Yes, Momma had a garden in the back there. Of course it didn´t take you that much to live on. Of course we didn´t make that much money.

LR: Some people were telling me, “Well, it seems like times were harder then.” And some people were telling me, “Well, it seems like times are harder now.”

TW: Well, I´ll tell you: I don´t know. I wouldn´t know what to tell you about than, because I think I´ve been blessed both times, now and then. Because I know that after we left there, after my husband--you know, I just lost him in October, and he was sick for fourteen years. He didn´t work. But then we bought a home over there up the street. And when he got sick we sold that home, and we´ve been here seven years. Of course I´ve been tied down with him, but he was a wonderful person.

LR: Well tell me about when you met him.

TW: Well, we were married thirty-two years.

LR: And did you meet him when you were living up here?

TW: We worked together.

LR: Oh, he was over there too?

TW: Yes, I worked with him in

LR: Did he grow up over there?

TW: No. I think he was from South Carolina. He come from South Carolina and went to work here.

LR: Did his whole family come up?

TW: No, no, he just come up. I think he had a brother. He didn´t have but one brother. And he was doing some kind of construction work, I think, before he came up here.

LR: Here in Durham?

TW: Yes.

LR: Then how old do you think you were when you met him?

TW: Well, I was forty-one when I married him.

LR: Oh, you were?


LR: You weren´t married before that?

TW: Yes, I was, but he wasn´t.

LR: When did you meet your first husband?

TW: Oh, it´s been so long ago I don´t remember.

LR: [laughter] You forgot about him?

TW: Yes.

LR: That one wasn´t too good? Oh. Did he come from over here too? Did you grow up with him, your first husband?

TW: No, I didn´t.

LR: And then what happened to end that marriage?

TW: We just separated.

LR: Did you have children?

TW: I had one daughter. She was

LR: When was she born?

TW: Well, she´s fifty-three years old.

LR: And did she go to school over in North Durham?

TW: Oh yes. She came to Durham High at seventeen.

LR: And so you just kept on working after you got married?

TW: Yes, I worked.

I always said if I hadn´t

LR: For sure. When you were a child did anyone else live with you? Did any of your relatives or any boarders or anyone live with you all?

TW: Yes, sometimes Mother would take in a boarder. And then I had a first cousin that come from the country up here that stayed with us a while, ‘til my momma´s sister moved up here to Durham. That was in 1918; that´s when the flu come, ‘cause I remember they all had the flu, every one of them.

LR: Why did so many people die of the flu back then?

TW: Well, I don´t know. It was something like, I think, this-here swine flu. I think that´s whey they were afraid. We would see them die on 9th Street; you know, we were living on 9th Street. I went to the funerals of two Nevilles boys; it killed them both at the same time, the oldest and the youngest.

LR: Was there a funeral home in North Durham?

TW: Yes, they had funeral homes.

LR: Do you remember who ran it?

TW: No.

LR: Did it have anything to do with the same people who ran the mill, or was it completely different?

TW: No. The mill had a cemetery, but they didn´t have a funeral home.

LR: Is that mill cemetery still over there?

TW: Yes, yes.

LR: Where is it?

TW: It´s up the hill on Burrow Road. You have to go in and back out, because I went to a funeral up there not too long ago.

LR: They still use that?

TW: Yes. But this man that was buried there then, he was eighty-something years old. I had known him years and years down there, and I went to his funeral. It´s a beautiful place up there, but it´s scary. I´ve often wanted to go back and go in there with somebody with me.

LR: Maybe you and I could go up there some time, because I´d like to see it. I don´t know where it is. I could come get you.

TW: Well, we´ll go some day then.

LR: Because I´ve never been up there; I don´t even know where it is.

TW: Well now, I´ll tell you, it´s back in the woods. You won´t be afraid?

LR: [laughter] No.

TW: I´m not afraid either.

LR: Well, we´ll go together then [laughter]. That must be the key.

TW: Yes, yes. That´s history; let me tell you something, that´s history.

LR: Boy, I´m sure!

TW: It´s the most sacred place you ever seen. I just think it´s the most sacred place. Now we had to get out and walk across the railroad tracks. The only two things that went in there were the family car and hearse.

LR: And everybody else just walked?

TW: Yes, you had to walk.

LR: Because it´s real small?

TW: Because it´s grown up so. I don´t think anybody´ll bother us.

LR: OK [laughter]. I´m not too worried about that. What did your old house on 9th Street look like?

TW: It was a two-storey house.

LR: It was a big old house.

TW: Yes, a big old house.

LR: Boy, I´ll bet.

TW: But it was a nice place.

LR: Did you all have wood heat?

TW: Yes, fireplaces.

LR: When you were young, did the mill supply your wood?

TW: Oh yes, yes.

LR: They did?

TW: Of course we paid for it. But they would send us some wood out, and the coal out. And the best I remember now, they would take it out of our paycheck.

LR: Oh, I see. they way it was with you all, with your parents working somewhere else, they would take it out of the children´s paychecks?

TW: Yes. Well, my daddy didn´t stay at home too much. He stayed out of town carpentering, you know, and it was just me and Mom and all the rest of us.

LR: So a lot of times he couldn´t come home?

TW: Yes, we had a big old two-storey house up there. And we lived right above Mr. McDonald. He was living, and Mrs. McDonald was living. [Omission concerning McDonald family]

LR: And would people like them, would they go over to the mill park, the park goings-on, the band and everything? Would they come over there on the weekend?

TW: Oh yes, yes, everybody would go then.

LR: Do you remember any about Lakewood Amusement Park?

TW: Oh yes, I remember one time.

LR: Did you go out there?

TW: Yes. I didn´t get on the roller coaster though.

LR: Boy, [laughter] I would be scared to get on that.

TW: Oh yes, I used to go to Lakewood Park. I enjoyed it. It was nice. You´d take that streetcar. There was a streetcar that brought us.

LR: You could get all the way to Lakewood on it?

TW: All for a nickel.

LR: That´s great.

TW: Yes. And as far as the times now and the times then, I don´t know. I can´t tell there´s too much difference. I think it´s mostly what you make out of your life; it´s mostly the way you accept these things.

LR: Well, you were saying that you went to church on weekends.

TW: Yes.

LR: What church did you all go to?

TW: We went to a Presbyterian. I used to go to a Methodist years ago, but then me and him both belong to the Presbyterian right up there.

LR: You and your husband?

TW: Yes.

LR: But when you were little you went to the Methodist?

TW: Yes. When we were living in the country I went to a Free Will Baptist church.

LR: Oh? What was that like?

TW: Well, it was nice. It was over there, the old country church. And go down to the spring and everything. But then I went to the Methodist. The Methodist church stood right up there where that filling station is, just before it goes across to the mill. And the Post Office stood up there right on the other corner, right there where you turn to go across.

LR: And what was the Methodist church like then?

TW: Well, it was nice. My boss man went there, Mr. Jones. He´d go to sleep...

LR: [laughter]

TW: ...and the old trains would come along and wake him up.

LR: Do you remember any of your ministers there? Were they friends of yours or anything?

TW: No, they were all married.

LR: You got married there in that church?

TW: Yes, yes. But I can´t remember their names. It´s been a little bit too long to remember.

LR: What was your wedding like?

TW: Oh, it was just a simple one.

LR: Did your family come in, or friends?

TW: No, there were just a few friends there, just about a half a dozen or so. But that church is gone now; there´s a filling station there, and the church is over on Mott. I don´t know what the name of that one was, the one that was over there on the corner. But I remember mighty well Mr. Jones would say, “Those trains woke me up again.”

LR: [laughter] Do you think that when your family moved up here, your mother and them, do you think that they knew they were going to stay in Durham? or do you think they thought maybe they would move back to the farm?

TW: I think so. I don´t think we ever aimed to go back; I don´t think we meant to go back.

LR: Do you think they missed it, or they were happy?

TW: I wouldn´t think so. I think we were satisfied. Of course I love the country; I just love to go down to the country now.

LR: Did you all keep anything like chickens?

TW: Well, we did one time. But then there was a city ordinance you couldn´t keep stuff like that. So we all worked. I think Momma was busy doing cooking for us, because we would come home for lunch. And we´d go back there at six o´clock, and she´d have to have supper ready.

LR: Do you remember what it was like when you were at work? Did you get to talk and visit much?

TW: Not too much, no, because the most of the time when I went to work we worked ‘til Saturday at twelve o´clock, and we didn´t have much time off. And we didn´t get home until six; we didn´t have too much time. And there was enough of us there to keep one another company, there was such a big crowd of us. We´d play with wood puzzles; we played checkers and things like that. And that´s whey I say momma was one of us, because she was right down on the floor with us.

LR: [laughter] That must have been great.

TW: Well it was, it was. She´d come in. We´d be on the floor playing checkers or something, and she´d get right down there with us.

LR: Did she keep on staying up in Durham?

TW: Yes.

LR: Did she live with you all?

TW: No, she lived with my baby sister; just her and my baby sister stayed there after the rest of us married off.

LR: What did some of your brothers and sisters do?

TW: Well, one of my brothers worked at Watts Hospital, and one of them worked running a shoe shop. But they both worked in the mill before they got out of it. You see, all children went to work in the mill then; most all of them went to work in the mill. Of course they´d wait a year that the would keep on ‘til they got them through school and get them in a better job, you see.

LR: If a mother had gone to work in the mill and she had little children, was there any place where they could stay?

TW: No, there really weren´t. I don´t know, she´d have to get the neighbors to keep them or something like that, the best I can remember. Yes, you´d have to get somebody, the neighbors. They didn´t have the nursery schools and things like that they´ve got now, no.

LR: Did your mother ever keep other people´s children?

TW: No, Momma didn´t keep no children, ‘cause she had enough of her own to keep. But she would keep boarders.

LR: You didn´t want to have a big family like the one you grew up in?

TW: No, no, not especially, because I worked all my life, and I enjoyed working. So that´s the way it went.

LR: So you just had to keep on. Did your mother ever work outside the home?

TW: No, no.

LR: She always just...

TW: Except those times that we were on the farm, you know, she´d help work in the garden. But she didn´t ever work; she couldn´t.

LR: Did she enjoy the church work-type things?

TW: Oh yes, yes.

LR: Did she go to all the activities like that?

TW: Well, she went when she could. And then when Wendy got grown she´d go. She attended the Church of God on Hillsborough Road. And we, when he lived, my husband and I, we would go to the Presbyterian. We didn´t have a car then, and we would walk up to Hillsborough Road even the same right after church to see her. And if she wasn´t there she´d always tell us to wait ‘til she got there.

LR: [laughter] She looked forward to seeing you.

TW: Yes, yes, because that was about the only time we had to go. And it would be cool then; in the summertime if it was cool we could walk up there ourselves. Then she passed away; just sort of went out right easy. That´s the way she wanted it. Of course I´ve seen mine suffer eight long years.

LR: That's sort of rough.

TW: Well, it was, but he was a good man. And I shouldn´t worry about it. I don´t know, I weren´t going to. We had things to say.

LR: It´s still pretty hard though when it really gets you.

TW: Well, I don´t know; I just don´t know. I started downstairs. I mashed the button; the elevator door opened, and I come back quietly.

And I said, “Well, I got up and put my coat on, tied my hair up, and But it´s nice here, because nobody don´t bother me. I go when I please, and he was satisfied. And we could meet the bills, the doctor´s bills.

LR: Well, that´s good. That gives you a lot of security.

TW: Well, yes. We were independent. I´ve always been independent.

LR: And you feel like that´s real important to you?

TW: Oh, I think so. I think that´s all some people´ve got left is their independence. And we have two down here, a brother and a sister who live here. And they won´t let nobody come in. I think they come in once every two weeks to wash. But just like I told , I said, “They´re just independent I told them, I said, “That´s all you´ve got left is your independence, just that.” Now neither one of them can go up the steps, but they get by. And she goes to church every Sunday. And people can do a whole lot.

LR: Do you still go to church?

TW: Well, I´ve not been since my husband passed away, because we´d go there together. But I´ll start back one of these days; It´s going to take some time.

LR: Back to the Presbyterian church?

TW: I don´t know whether I´ll go there or not. I´ll have to ride the bus if I go there. And I have a friend here who goes to . It doesn´t make much difference what church, no.

LR: What is the most important thing as far as going to church to you?

TW: Well, the Bible and praying things and all, knowing that I´m there where I should be. Well the preacher, the paster, he´s been mighty friendly with me, but he´s in the hospital. He was the preacher up there. Of course the pastor at Presbyterian, now he never did know much about us because we had been away from there so long. And he´s a younger man. Of course I have the picture (I showed it to him one day when we were down there), the picture of the man that baptized me and my husband. Of course the preacher that baptized me is dead, preacher

He was at Blackmore Presbyterian.

LR: Were you baptized when you were a baby or when you were about twelve or so?

TW: No, I was older.

LR: So you remember that?

TW: Oh yes.

LR: Where was it?

TW: Up here at Black more Presbyterian Church; I was baptized there, poured on there.

LR: [laughter]

TW: No, I don´t know whether I´ll go back to the Presbyterian, because I´d have to ride the bus. And this woman who has a car, she´d drive me. I´ve been with her when we was able to get out. I´ve been a time or two with her. I´m getting over it.

LR: Well, when you were first getting married, did you have to ask your mother and father? Or was that your decision?

TW: No, we didn´t ask them; I wasn´t living at home.

LR: You just told them?

TW: Yes.

LR: Did you tell them before or after you got married?

TW: Oh, we told them before. My father was dead.

LR: What happened to your father?

TW: He got killed

She raised us, her and all the rest of us together raised all the kids. I believe she had three or four that were old enough to go to work. And there weren´t no welfare; there weren´t nothing like that then.

LR: I don´t see how she did it.

TW: Well, we did; we did. I think it´d be better if there weren´t any now.

LR: When you father was alive, did he kind of make decisions, or did your mother make them around the house, like for how to use the money?

TW: Well, my mother made the decisions for us, she more directly...

LR: Participated.

TW: Yes, yes.

LR: Was that because your father had to be gone so much?

TW: Well, I think so; I think so, yes. He had to do the work, yes, but he would come in about every weekend.


LR: ...real fun.

TW: Well, it was. And I had two sisters older than I.

LR: And did they work also over there?

TW: Oh yes, yes.

LR: Were they in your spinning room, or did they do other jobs?

TW: One of them, yes, we worked right there together for years and years, . And that hid hard; I really think it hit me harder than all of them, because I´d had a longer . But then when this past October, that hit harder than anything.

LR: Do you have any brothers and sisters still here?

TW: I have three sister. And I have one in Duke Hospital today; I´m going to call one, because she´s been having treatments. I have one brother in Wilmington, and I have one sister at , and I have one that lives at .

LR: Did many of the people that lived over in West Durham work over at Liggett-Myers or in the other tobacco factories when you were young?

TW: No, no, not too many of them. They mostly worked in the mill, because we lived in the company house and you had to work in the mill to live down there.

LR: How many people would have had to work in the mill to live in a company house? Like your parents didn´t have to, right?

TW: No, no. But see, my Daddy didn´t stay that much, and he wouldn´t count.

LR: But just like, what if just the father or just...?

TW: They expected several of the workers, if they were old enough, to work in the mill for the company, because it was cheap rent. It weren´t much of nothing.

LR: Would they give you a house according to how big your family was?

TW: Yes, more or less, sure.

LR: Like if you had a big family you´d get a big house.

TW: And then in later years, they didn´t keep the houses up too good at first, but then in later years they´d come in and remodel and paint every two years. And I told someone, the first time I´ve ever this place, because I´ve been there seven years and they They would paint their houses there every two years.

LR: The early years?

TW: Later years. Not at first, because at first they didn´t have them painted.

LR: Back then did they have outhouses?

TW: Yes, yes. They didn´t have no water in there.

LR: Then did you all get water...?

TW: Out there. I´d go to the spigot.

LR: Oh, there was a spigot outdoors?

TW: Yes.

LR: Did you share it with some other houses, or was it just for you?

TW: Yes, and shared a bathroom. There was little bathrooms built up, and we had one on this side and one on this side. And then I remember mighty well when they come in and put water in and put the bathroom in there. I remember mighty well when they didn´t have a bathroom in the mill, I mean a commode in the mill.

LR: Hmm. so you had to

TW: I went to work before they had a commode up there. But I enjoyed working up there. If I was able and wanted to go there I´d go back to work.

LR: Even though it´s changed so much.

TW: Yes, It´s changed, but I´ve changed too; yes, I´ve changed too.

LR: What did you all used to do like around Christmas and things?

TW: Well, I imagine we done the best we could. I remember we´d hang a stocking up, yes. We´d get one toy, candy, apple and orange and raisins. I will still remember them raisins.

LR: When you were young, like a teenager, did you ever do things with boys, or was it always just the girls in a group?

TW: Oh, at that time they were mostly two or three boys, two or three girls. They´d all go together. You didn´t see them sneaking off by themselves, no.

LR: Somebody was telling me something about they had a gang of boys. He said some West Durham boys rocked him. Have you ever heard of that?

TW: No.

LR: He was telling me he went to see his girlfriend, and they rocked him.

TW: [laughter].

LR: What does that mean?

TW: Well, I think when that happened I weren´t into that. But I think along when my younger sister, the one that´s entered the hospital today, I think that´s when that happened, because they would come from Edgemont down here and go to West Durham. I think that´s where that rocking business come in. The boys would be jealous of the boys in West Durham, you know. That´s the best I can remember. Yes, they´d be rocked, and they´d cause trouble, and this, that and the other.

LR: Did they have very many problems? Did they have many crimes back when you were young in that neighborhood?

TW: I wouldn´t think so. They had a few drunks on the street once in a while. That´s about all; that´s really about all. And they had a policeman that walked that beat, back and forth. They had very little trouble, I think. You weren´t afraid to go out there. I ain´t afraid now [laughter].

LR: That´s good [laughter].

TW: I don´t go out at night.

LR: How much did you all move? First you were born in the country, and you lived down there ‘til you were twelve.

TW: Yes.

LR: And you moved up here.

TW: Yes.

LR: And how long did you stay in that first house? Is that the house on 9th street?

TW: Yes. Thirteen years.

LR: And then what happened?

TW: We moved to the house over there on Parrish Street, where that there A & P Insurance Company is now. And then I don´t know exactly how long we lived in that house. But the company sold that house, and they moved our house across onto 8th Street--it´s Eirdale (Iredale) now. And then we lived there, me and Lee lived there ‘til he had to quit work. Then we went over on Russell Street and bought a home, and we stayed there about four or five years. And then he just got to where he wasn´t able to...And that´s when we sold our house.

LR: Did Lee work over at Erwin Mill?

TW: Yes.

LR: And did your first husband work there too?

TW: No.

LR: What happened if somebody got sick?

TW: Well, the doctors would come out to you; yes, they´d come out.

LR: And would you have to pay for that? Or would the mill pay?

TW: Oh yes, yes, yes, you paid--very little. No, the mill didn´t have nothing, no medical center or nothing like they´ve got now.

LR: Oh, they do have that now?

TW: Well, if you hurt they tie it up a little bit and put a little Mecurecrome on it. I don´t know whether it might have been turpentine--a blue thing. No, the doctors would come out to you, because I remember that 1918 flu over on 9th Street. The doctors just come down the road, you know, to get in the house if they could and give them something.

LR: What did you do with your salary? Did you get the money, or did they send it right to your mother?

TW: No, they´d give me the money. I´d bring it home and give it to her. Then she´d give me so much --about a quarter.

LR: And then what would you do with that?

TW: Oh, I´d take the bus and go to town and go to shows.

Hillsboro Road buses getting a check-up (ca. 1930)

LR: Come down here?

TW: Oh yes, yes.

LR: To downtown here?

TW: Yes, downtown. There weren´t no shopping centers then. Then if you spent all that quarter you had to walk home. Oh, we´d get a whole bag of peanuts and candy for a nickel, ride the streetcar for a nickel, and go in the show for a nickel. But I still don´t see much difference between times now and then. I know we weren´t making much, but we weren´t putting out much. And people are making good now; they´re putting out a whole lot. I don´t see much difference. People just should be satisfied with what they get, which some of them are not.

LR: What would happen back then if somebody wasn´t satisfied with what they were getting?

TW: I don´t know.

LR: Do you remember anybody getting together or anything?

TW: No, they didn´t have no strikes and arguments and things like that.

LR: Would they ever go to the supervisor and say, “Look...”

TW: Well, I have known those who thought they needed a raise.

LR: And then what?

TW: I think they´d get it.

LR: Would they?

TW: Well, they´d mostly go along and see if they thought they were in power and ask for a raise, you know. And them boss men kind of watched us to see; he could tell if he thought we ought to have it.

LR: Did you all have a speed-up? In later years?

TW: In later years.

LR: Were people upset about that?

TW: Well, they accepted it. They didn´t have no other choice but to accept it.

LR: They couldn´t have found another job?

TW: No, no.

LR: Or they didn´t want to?

TW: No, because most of the people in places like that really didn´t have education like people have got now. Oh, they had speed-ups while I was in there.

LR: And what did you think?

TW: It didn´t worry me, didn´t worry me.

LR: Do you ever remember anybody getting fired or anything for being in or trying to start a union, or anything like that back right when you were young, around the twenties?

TW: Well, it seems to me like they fired one man, but I never did really understand why they fired him. But somebody said it was on account of that. Now I don´t know.

LR: Did you ever have any out-of-town organizers coming through or anything like that?

TW: Well, I think they did up there, but I...

LR: But you never met them?

TW: No, didn´t ever.

LR: But if they had done that, would they have included the women? Or do you think it would have mostly been talking to the men?

TW: But they had women in the union up there.

LR: Oh yes.

TW: Yes. They have a union hall up there, you see.

Of course they paid me to work, and I tried to do what they paid me to do.

Biplane lands at grassy meadow (Durham, ca. 1930).

LR: One man told me he saw the first airplane that ever came through. He said that thousands of people went out to the Warren farm when he was a boy, and they saw this airplane take off. And then [laughter] it went down over Hillandale Road [laughter]. It took off at Watts Hospital and went down [laughter] on Hillandale. Do you remember anything about that?

TW: No, no. Maybe that was somebody had a car and got there, or got out and walked. No, I don´t remember anything about that. I do remember and I´ve been in the streetcars, and then they take the streetcars off. They went down Broad Street. I don´t know too much about the airplane business.

LR: Were there any black people living in West Durham then, when you were young?

TW: No.

LR: Did they live around there?

TW: No. They lived up in Hickston.

LR: Did any of them work at the mill?

TW: No, nothing except janitors. And we had a colored woman who´d come in singing and pump out the commode. She´d come in singing. They had a trough there with some hoses--they were out there in the country, the commodes--a wooden trough. And she´d come in singing; she´d turn the water on and go right out there. And then we had a janitor, a colored janitor. Well, they had some colored men, I think, out there in one part, but there weren´t no women. No, there was no colored people in it.

LR: And do you remember when they first started to integrate the mill?

TW: Well, they started it since I come out.

LR: Oh, I see. Oh, you mean there weren´t any black people for a long time?

TW: Not that I´ve got nothing against them, because I have some good colored friends right down here. I sure do. But they just hadn´t ever passed the rule or whatever it is that they had to work.

LR: Would there have been blacks in your church, or anything like that? In the churches?

TW: Well, they wouldn´t come to church, not then, I don´t think so. But they go to the And I don´t know whether they have any up at Blackmore Presbyterian or not. Seems like somebody said they did and somebody said they didn´t. I don´t know; I never had But I do know that the people next door to me here, they have black and white at their church. I think they go to Assembly of God. I think the black and the white, from what I have heard people say that work in the mill, they´re getting along all right there.

LR: That´s good. You were saying how you remembered World War I and the boys going off.

TW: Yes, yes.

LR: What else do you remember about that war and everything?

TW: Well, I don´t remember too much about the war business, because I was young and we had nobody to go. But now World War II, I had my brother. But I remember when they come back.

LR: From World War I?

TW: Yes. I remember when they come back.

LR: What was that like?

TW: They come back in the mill and went to work just like the rest of us.

LR: Was there a rush in the mill, like a pick-up?

TW: Well no, I wouldn´t think so. There might be a rush now if they had to put a bunch of servicemen back in, but at that time...I think it was understood.

LR: What do you remember about the Depression hitting West Durham?

TW: We lived through it [laughter], that´s about all. There´s been a whole lot of Depressions.

LR: Do you remember the Great Depression, like when the bank closed and everything?

TW: Yes, that´s when that bank closed right there. We were living right in front of it. But I didn´t have no money in there. I don´t think nobody was very much I have a friend, and I imagine she knows some of that, but I don´t think she ever got it [laughter]--just a little bit.

LR: Do you remember back when your parents were living on the farm? Did they ever talk any about anything about the Farmers´ Alliance down there? Did they ever go to any of the meetings or anything for that?

TW: I don´t think they ever had any meetings where we lived there.

LR: So about the only time... Would they get together, like, for church and things? And when else would they see their neighbors?

TW: Well, they would visit, you know.

LR: Did many people from Sampson County move up to here to other mills?

TW: I really don´t know; I don´t know about how many moved from Sampson County, to tell you the truth. I did know some that come from down in that section. I had a brother-in-law that come from there. Of course he´s dead now. And then I think there´s people here, several brothers and two sisters that moved here; they´re still living. But they weren´t from Sampson County. The Parkers, I don´t know whether they were from Sampson County or no.

LR: Did your daughter go to school over there? Where did she go to elementary school?

TW: She went to Durham High.

LR: Where did she start?

TW: Well, she started at Southside. Then she went to E.K. Polk. She went to junior high at E.K. Polk, then she went to Durham High School.

LR: E.K. Polk is now... They have moved that up there?

TW: Yes.

LR: And did she like school and everything?

TW: Oh yes, she was a good student.

West Durham High School. May Queen & Court (ca. 1920): Formal portrait on the lawn, showing queen, ladies-in-waiting, and flower-children. Boys and girls had separate entrances and some separate classrooms. West Durham HS is now EK Powe Elementary (named after Edward Knox Powe in 1929, the first manager of the mills).

LR: Is she married now?

TW: No. But she did pretty good in school. And I think I didn´t push; I didn´t really have to push.

LR: Would your mother go downtown to Durham, or would she mostly shop out in West Durham?

TW: Well, there weren´t too much to shop in West Durham. I think there was one clothing store there, and a grocery store. Old Mr. Davis run a grocery store there; he still runs the Davis Hardware there. It´s not Davis now, It´s somebody else; but his son has taken over. And there weren´t too many stores in there.

LR: Did they have a company grocery store?

TW: No. They had a grocery store up the road (Boyds, I believe). Then I believe they had one; Davis had a store.

LR: Did you ever know Mr. Erwin?

TW: Yes, yes.

LR: What was he like?

TW: Well, he was a wonderful person.

LR: Would he come around like on weekends and stuff?

TW: Oh yes. He´d come in the street and talk to you just like I´m talking to you. He´d stop. And this Mr. Jones I worked for, he said we were his children.

LR: [laughter] What was his family like?

TW: Oh, they were nice; they were nice. One of them was a schoolteacher. He died with the cancer; we would go to the hospital to see him. We´d go down the street sometimes at night; we would all go in there to see him. And then after they brought him back home his wife fell and broke her hip. And after we´d quit working we´d gather and go down Broad--he lived on down Broad across from the hospital. We would go down Broad and see him. And then he went to Asbury, and he moved there then when they built the new Asbury Church. I went to his funeral; I think that´s the first Mason funeral I ever went to.

LR: What was that like?

TW: Little aprons--you´ve never been to one?

LR: No.

TW: Well, every one of them wore a little apron. And they put Mr. Jones´s little apron on his casket.

LR: Because he was a Mason?

TW: Yes.

LR: Hmm, I didn´t realize that.

TW: I believe it´s a Mason; I´m sure it´s a Mason. That´s the only funeral, I think, I ever went to that they wore the little aprons. But he was a wonderful guy. He was a just like of us--and Mr. Erwin was too!

LR: What church did he go to?

TW: Who?

LR: Mr. Erwin.

TW: He was Episcopal. He built that little Episcopal church in West Durham.

LR: That little stone...?

TW: The little stone church.

LR: Did many people from the mills go there?

TW: Oh yes, yes. And then right across the street there (that was years and years ago), up over the Post Office--of course he owned everything--he had a hall up there, and he had Sunday School up there. And I went to Sunday School up there. And I will never forget it, one Christmas he give me a parasol. He give all of us womens a parasol. And he would come there and teach us. But Mr. Bill Erwin was a wonderful person. Anybody wouldn´t think that the man had the money, the job and everything that he had. And we´ve been to his house and picked grapes off his vines.

LR: Over there where he lived, in West Durham?

TW: Yes, the Convalescent Home, Hillcrest. They went in there, And I hated, I hated that they put a front to it, because I always thought that was the prettiest little place I´ve ever seen. I hated that they hid that front. They built onto the back, but now they´re coming in here and fixing the front, hiding all that lovely, pretty little house.

LR: Right, right.

TW: I never was fond of that, of them doing that. Boy, that grape vine was a great, big huge one.

LR: Oh, it was?

TW: Oh, it was a huge one.

LR: Did you know that Mr. Lewis, Mr. K.P. Lewis? I think he was vice-president to Erwin?

TW: Yes, I knew them all: the McKeevers...

LR: What were they like?

TW: Well, Gus McKeever, the younger McKeever, was a wonderful person, but I didn´t like his daddy for nothing! [laughter] It´s all right there on tape.

LR: [laughter] All right there. He won´t hear it [laughter].

TW: I hope not. He works out here in the Southland Insurance Company, Gus does. Gus was a nice person. Oh, they had some nice men. And they had a Mr. Pose up there.

LR: What was his family like?

TW: I didn´t know too much about them.

LR: They lived right there on the corner, though, didn´t they?

TW: Well, they lived on Pinkley.

LR: Yes, in that big house that´s still there?

TW: Yes, I think it´s still there, yes. And on down the street here, I think his son lived there. He was a lawyer, I believe.

LR: You know, we were talking about the black people that lived in Hickstown. They didn´t work in West Durham. What did they do?

TW: Well, I´ll tell you what they done. They´d go out and wash for people, and keep house for them, and things like that.

LR: Did they work in West Durham, or mostly over in Durham City?

TW: Well, those people that worked in the mill, they couldn´t hardly afford things like that, to have a woman come and to the washing. Of course they didn´t have washing machines. But that´s the way they made their living.

LR: Do you remember some of the hymns that you all used to sing?

TW: They´d sing one down there, down there at

“Old Rugged Cross.”

LR: What kind of music did they have at the weekends, the band and all?

TW: I don´t know what they had. I don´t remember what they had on the band. They just played; I don´t know.

LR: What kind of band? Do you remember what instruments?

TW: Oh, there were a whole bunch of men, and all dressed up in uniforms.

LR: Is that right?

TW: Yes.

LR: Where did they come from?

TW: Well, they worked in the mill and different places, you know. They´d meet over there; they had a bandstand, and they´d get up there and play them things.

LR: That´s great.

TW: I´d say there were thirty-five or forty, or something like that. They weren´t like this rock and roll stuff, no.

LR: [laughter] Do you remember any of their names who were in the band?

TW: No, it´s been so long. That was just long ago.

LR: What happened? Or how come they didn´t ...?

TW: I don´t know; I really don´t know. I imagine everybody died or

LR: What else did they have over there besides the music?

TW: It seems to me like they had...I don´t remember whether they had a skating rink over there or not. The reason the park went down, they built the auditorium over there, and everyone was coming. Then they had a swimming pool in there. That park was more or less for people just to go sit around and talk. Then when they opened up that auditorium over there, then they opened up the swimming pool, and then all the operation over there.

LR: Did they have any elections or anything before it was incorporated into West Durham?

TW: I don´t know whether they had any elections or not. That´s the only time they ever runned it [laughter].

LR: [laughter] I guess, then, they did.

TW: I´ll tell you were I voted. It was a place down on Broad Street, a little old shack of a house. I was voting against them incorporating West Durham.

LR: Oh, you were?

TW: West Durham That´s the only time I´ve ever voted. I lost; I didn´t vote no more.

LR: You haven´t voted since?

TW: No, never.

LR: Not even for the president?

TW: No.

LR: Why did you decide that?

TW: Well, I decided, “I lost then; I wouldn´t vote no more.” [laughter]

LR: [laughter] Why did you want to vote against the incorporation?

TW: Oh, to get out of the mill that long.

LR: What?

TW: To get away from the job that long, I think. The let us go out. We were gone about two or three hours.

LR: Oh, I see.

TW: Then we used to have a community house down on Hillsborough Road. We´d go down there, and play games and things like that. You know, the company owned that.

LR: Oh they did?

TW: I think that´s gone now. Nobody ever could have gone

Of course it used to be a good place; and it is still a good place, I think.

LR: I do too. I live on Watts Street; I have a room there.

TW: How far down from Broad Street?

LR: Close to East Campus, over in the big trees.

TW: Oh, oh. Well, I like that.

LR: It´s pretty.

TW: Now I tell you what I do. My daughter lives up on Elm Street I told you yesterday. And if I go to Northgate, a lot of times I´ll...[interruption]

LR: You all weren´t born in the hospital, were you?

TW: Oh no, no.

LR: Were you born at home?

TW: Yes. I think Momma´s two last children, the doctor delivered them; and the others, a midwife, I´d say, delivered them, a colored woman.

LR: Oh yes?

TW: Yes.

LR: Do you remember her?

TW: Yes.

LR: What was her name?

TW: Deb Matthis; she lived in Sampson County. She´s dead now. But I´d say about five years ago we went down there and found her daughter; we did. And believe it or not, I hadn´t seen her in fifty years, and when she come to that door I recognized her.

LR: Amazing! And does her daughter still do that?

TW: I don´t know. We´ve not been back since my sister died four years ago this past September; we´ve not been back. But we are planning going back when my sister gets out of the hospital. You see, it´s been so many years I couldn´t get out to go over.

LR: You would just go there to visit?

TW: Oh, we´d just go one day and back that same day.

LR: Oh, I see; that´s a long ride.

TW: We´d go visit the church, the old church and around. Of course she might be dead; I don´t know.

LR: How about your brothers and sisters that were born up here in West Durham? Was there a midwife here?

TW: One of them, a doctor came, my youngest sister. And then my youngest brother, they had a doctor then deliver too.

LR: Were they the only two that were born up here?

TW: They were the only two born with a doctor.

LR: Oh. And who delivered the rest? Or who came?

TW: Midwife they called them, I recon. We called her Aunt Deb.

LR: She came up here?

TW: No, no, no, no.

LR: Oh no, just in Sampson County.

TW: She borned them there. See, women had all their own children at home. And the doctor would come out to the house for an emergency. I had a sister that had one boy delivered at home, and he ain´t .

LR: Did many people that started working in the mills ever go up to Liggett-Myers to get a job? Did they ever switch?

TW: I wouldn´t think. I think when they got in that mill, they stayed.

LR: They just stayed there. Because they had their friends there?

TW: Yes, yes. I think they just stayed there. More or less, when one would finish school or get up in school they would to to Liggett-Myers.

LR: Do you remember your first day at work, when you first went there?

TW: I was scared to death, I know that. I don´t really remember the first day, but I remember I was scared to death.

LR: I´ll bet. It must have been so scary, with the machines and all those strangers [laughter]. Do you remember like who came and taught you how to do your work and everything?

TW: No; It´s been too long.

LR: Was it hard to learn to do it right?

TW: Well, I don´t remember now. It´s been too many years. It weren´t easy, I don´t think.

LR: Did you get paid by the time you were there, or how much you did?

TW: I got thirty cents a day.

LR: It didn´t matter how much you got done?

TW: I got thirty cents a day.

LR: Boy!

TW: Well, later years you had to do so much to get paid, just so much, in later years.

LR: You know, they got more strict about leaving and coming and going. Did they get more strict about breaks and everything like that? Like now...

TW: Well, not exactly. It used to be you´d leave when you got ready and come back when you got ready. They might ask you to come back. But in later years, if you got your job caught up you could leave.

LR: Did they have breaks every so often, just for people to...

TW: No, not in the job I had. When I got caught up I got to break. At Liggett-Myers and American I think they have somebody to relieve you, so they do help you out.

LR: Oh, I see.

TW: You just have to work fast and get caught up and go, just so they wouldn´t catch you before you got back [laughter]. It weren´t bad; it weren´t bad. I was satisfied with it. The work got done. And the life I had in Erwin, yes, I loved everything in it. And I´m satisfied here where I´m at. I´m just thankful that I lived to be seventy-three years old and able to go.

LR: Right. That´s great, to still be able to do everything. Inside the mill, was it clean and pleasant?

TW: Oh yes. They had to keep it pretty clean.