Spinnin’ Good Yarn to Weave Good Cloth

 

Installment 7: Establishing Relationships Based on Understanding

 

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this series of columns are those of the author or persons quoted and not those of Presbyterian College or SC Humanities, which provided funds in support of the Workforce Development at Clinton and Lydia Textile Mills oral history project.

 

 

A column entitled, “Do You Refuse to Listen” appeared in the December 1963 Clothmaker, advising readers, “There are few adventures more satisfying than that of discovering people with whom we can establish a relationship based on understanding. Keen pleasure is found in understanding, and in being understood. . . . When we resist change we are confessing to having been captured by age or prejudices, regardless of our years. People with youthful minds adjust.”

Robert Byrd, born in 1948, recalls walking along the train tracks from Byrd Drive (behind Lydia Mill) into town on Saturdays through a barrage of rocks thrown by White village youths and retaliating on the way home.  

Mr. Byrd comments, “Eventually you grow out o’ that, but you grow out o’ that with a bad taste in your mouth for White people. And I found out that one o’ the guys I used to do rock battles with was Hard Rock. And don’t you know we became good friends after that because it was just ignorance and the ignorance that they had at the time for Black people.  They found out, ‘Man, I don’t know why I hate you, but I just grew up hatin’ you. And when I became a man, you know, I just got bet – I was better off for it.’” 

Mr. Byrd continues, “But some o’ the guys that stayed on the mill hill, I became pretty good friends to ‘em. They realized that you’re in this world together, and you gotta do the best you can.” 

Whitey Murphy was born in 1946 on Beauregard St., then moved with his family to the outskirts of Clinton after his sixth birthday.  He observes, “I think, when I was growing up, I didn’t get condemnation so much of Black but we just didn’t associate together. It was basically divided, you know, segregated.” 

Mr. Murphy joined the National Guard and served six months on active duty, first at Fort Jackson (SC). He then went to Fort Bliss (TX) “and associated with Black people there. I mean, got along fine with ‘em. The military was where you really get to see the races combine and that’s the first taste of actually seein’ you know, how races come together and it ain’t no difference.” 

He continues, “Well, you get to know a person, you get to know how they think, you get to know how they feel. You get to actually know them and that’s what makes a difference because, actually, they become a part of your life and you understand them.”

In compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Clinton Mills, Inc. established in May 1965 an equal employment opportunity policy. Dick Swetenberg advanced from Lydia spinning overseer to Plant #1 superintendent in December 1965. He observes, “We had turnover from the standpoint of spinners, doffers, whatever they might be, who would leave. But the problem then was the getting good people to replace them . . . . That’s what introduced the fact with the Civil Rights of ’64 went in then this opened up a new field for the Black people. And you had people who really wanted to better themselves, and we tried to take, not take advantage of, well, be open to the situation. And now this opens up a new area of employment, of good people.”

The Black women and men who in 1965, 1966, and 1967 were hired, a few at a time, were not focused on racially integrating the workforce but rather on securing a job that could lead to a better quality of life for themselves and their families. Bertha Rice Lindsay, born in 1940, worked three years at Whitten Center starting about 1962 for approximately $140 per month. She recalls, “I was a aide – bathed and fed the children. It was a good job . . . . What was wrong with it, it was my employers. ‘Cause . . .  you don’t have no Sundays off. You don’t have no Saturday – you don’t have nothin’ off. And see and other people’s gettin’ time off. I’m not a full employee. But I done - I’m workin’ every day a week, every day, month after month. Got tired of that!” 

Ms. Lindsay entered the six-week training program for spinners in 1966. She says, “I didn’t stay but five week, ‘cause I had two kids. And I got to work. I got to learn how to do this!”

Ed Blakely, born in 1948, went to work for Simmons and Ware brick masons soon after dropping out of school. He says, “that’s when I really start making pretty good money. . . .  And then I stayed with them off and on for a long time. . . . Oh, it was hard work, but I was used to hard work back then. . . . One thing about brick mason, when there’s bad weather out there you can’t work in it, you can’t make no money. So I was hoping to get into textiles and sho enough, I did get a chance to get into textiles so we left the brick mason alone. But I didn’t have nothing against it ‘cause, you know, it was all right but I just, when it’s bad weather I couldn’t feed my family, I’ll just put it that way.”

 

Installment 8: Getting Past the Confusion

 

 A column entitled “There Never Was A Good Knife Made of Bad Steel” in the December 1965 Clothmaker states, “As we have so often been told, our reputation consists of what people think we are but our character consists of what we really are. While we all desire the good opinion of others, it is our own personal integrity that is of real importance. Honesty, dependability, trustworthiness, courage, and consideration for others are but a few of the many virtues that go together to make the good steel that is the mark of a man’s integrity.” 

Donald Kidd recalls of the first years during which Black women and men began working manufacturing jobs, “Well, it was confusing to the Blacks, it was confusing to most of the Whites, you know. They never had had to live that a-way, they never had done that a-way, and it was confusing. A lot of them was worried about what was gonna take place. So to start with it was right confusing.”

Bonnie Reed began work in 1966 as a spinner at the Lydia plant. As she recalls, “Nobody seemed to be prejudiced, you know.  Everybody just got along – maybe a few, maybe didn’t. But we could deal with it. Everybody did.”  

One way for Black men and women to deal with it, was to try to avoid placing oneself in a difficult situation. Peggy Gilmer remembers of Plant #2, “The first person that was hired in the spinnin’ room, the African-American person, was Nathaniel . . . . He was hired on the third shift. ‘Course they put him on the first, to train. He was nice. He didn’t speak to anybody.  And I know it was hard, for him, you know the way things had been. He wouldn’t even come in the alley where you was. . . .Years ago you know, White people and what you say ‘Black people’ – that’s just the way it was. They would get accused of things that – that didn’t happen. ‘Cause the alleys was small, you know, sometime you’d haveta draw up to pass one another in the alleys.”   

A second way to deal with the confusion was to ignore the person creating it. Ms. Reed, who regularly arrived 30 minutes early, tells of a spinner who on second shift operated the same set of sides she ran on third.  She says, “When I come in at night, she’d be sittin’ there on that bench was right there by the window in the canteen. And that job be tore all to pieces. She did it deliberately. I just ignored her when she be sittin’ there . . . . But when it’s my time to start, I just got into it and tried to get it straightened out. But I think she was doin’ it deliberately just to make me report her, or say somethin’ to her. But I just ignored her, forgot all about what had happened.  She got just as nice and friendly with me. And we would always see each other. We’d talk and we’d laugh. And we just forgot about that – or I did. We got to be close friends, good friends.”  

A third way to deal with it was to challenge the offensive act or remark. Marcus Kinard was hired as a spinning department doffer in 1965 at Lydia.  Mr. Kinard recalls, “I had a few White lady friends. But that’s all they were, just friends – I would go on their job and I would help ‘em.” A White man objected one night. Mr. Kinard continues, “And I just told him, I said, ‘Listen, it’s alright for y’all to get in these Black women’s face. But as soon as you see a Black man in a White woman’s face, you got somethin’ to say. . . . You see me talkin’ – I don’t say nothin’ to you when you’re talkin’. You don’t say nothin’ to me when I’m talkin’.’” 

Mr. Kinard continues, “I didn’t say they didn’t have some racial peoples in there. If you really look at it, there’s just as much racial on the Black side as it is the White side. . . . Black men don’t want to see a Black woman with a White man. . . . I don’t see nothin’ wrong with it. We’re human beings. But that’s the mind set of how we’ve been brought up, that we can’t talk to White womens, so why you goin’ to talk to Black womens.  That’s I guess the way we’ve been treated, so . . . .”

Dick Swetenberg states, “The success of a person was number one, how well they were trained. If they were trained well, they were gonna be accepted, you know. And then, hopefully, their performance and, if they were regular employee, there every day, running their job and so forth, that stood out. People were gonna be critical, they gonna look and see, but if they did well, nothing they could complain about.”

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