Saturday, June 16, 2007

Class Relations in the 1930's.

I remember clearly sitting in class while the teacher told us there were three classes of people: the upper, the middle and the lower class. We did not, for the most part, question this custom. Socially, people associated with their own class as well as their own race.

There were many class inequities and much class consciousness in the 20's and 30's and beyond. Mill workers were generally considered inferior. Many things that working class people (both black and white) had to endure were not right.

Aubrey Simms (my cousin) and I talked briefly about this when he told me how his father did not want him to get a job in the mill even after it became increasingly difficult to make a living on the farm and unions were making changes such as better wages and decreased working hours in textile mills.

The advent of World War II and the need for textiles for the army made it more respectable. Aubrey's father, my father's nephew said when Papa told him he was selling his farm and taking a job in a Textile factory, "I will go to share-cropping before i will raise my family in a Mill Town."

No doubt the mill owners and officials were paternalistic toward mill workers. Mill hands! People were called "hands"! It is difficult to be intelligent (or so we thought) and perceptive and have to work 12 hours a day for barely enough income to survive.

Before the wage and labor laws, this was the lot of most people who worked in textile factories in the South in the twenties and thirties.

My mother (whether correct or not) felt that the mill officials tried to "run the church" as well as the mill and the town. I think she was right in that they probably did try to exert influence on the churches.

Most probably did the best they could for their times and understanding.
The mill owners and officials felt that they must look after their workers (some of whom were illiterate and superstitious.) As uneducated and lacking in social graces as we were, I remember Mama being disconcerted at the superstitious talk and grammar of a few co-workers and people in our town.

Mama told me that when they first moved to Porterdale, bounded on two sides the Yellow River with three Textile Plants, the large Osprey Mill, one called the Porterdale Mill and a smaller plant on the River called the Welonnie Mill.
Mama said she felt that she had moved to the "jumping off place" in her strange surroundings away from the farm. Many of the rough, non-Christian and superstitious crowd lived “behind the large Osprey Mill”.

My mother told me early on she had thought of Porterdale as a wild and pagan town. Later she as well as the rest of the town developed a intense town loyalty that continues to this day with annual homecomings of people who are descendents of those who lived and worked when the town was owned and operated by Bibb Manufacturing Company.

Mama (with some condescension) was especially horrified to see that when the children would get into fights as they played together. The mothers would often dash out of the house and take their child's side of the argument. Sometimes the mothers would get into loud shouting matches and even physical fighting. Some of the women actually go so mad they "cussed " one another.

Mama said that the children would be back happily playing together
while their mothers were still angry and hostile toward one another.

Sis (my older sister) told me this story: (I was still a pre schooler at this time.) When we first moved to Porterdale, my young brothers, Charlie, Tom, and Jack, were out playing with the neighborhood children and got into a fight.

One of the mothers came storming to our door, saying, "Miz Baird, I've come to 'whoop' you!" Mama opened the door and calmly said, "Well, come right in, Mrs. Smith, and tell me what I've done to need a whipping for." Sis was happy to report that Mama made friends with the woman and did not get “whooped.”

Speaking of cursing or "bad words" as we called it, I never heard even slang in our home. Only rarely in the neighborhood. One day when the little boys were playing out in front of our house at 32 Hazel Street (the larger house we lived in before my father died), I heard my brother Jack say, "Oh, Heck!" I was so shocked and dismayed I was concerned for his immortal soul.

Of course, I did not say anything. Since I remember this so vividly as being in front of the house where we were living when my father died, I was
7 or younger at the time, and Jack was about 12. These brothers (mostly Jack who was five years older than i so played with the boys more than with me) were the ones who taught me how to skate and stood me back on my feet when i fell down.

Skating was a wonderful activitiy for the children in our town . We had long cement sidewalks. God bless the memory of these dear brothers Charley, Tom and Jack.

Before I started to school, my parents were able to rent a house in a "quieter part
of town." I have no memory of women fighting in the streets.

Our neighbors on Hazel Street were mostly hard-working church folks and, like
my parents, although unschooled by today's standards, were intelligent with old-fashioned common sense and a strong Protestant work ethic. They did not seem to consider themselves "victims", nor did they seem to be lacking in self-esteem.

After all, we were made in the image of God and so important and loved that Jesus died for us!

For me, is was a good neighborhood and a great town in which to grow.

4 comments:

Jane said...

I really enjoyed the post, Aunt Ruth. I love hearing stories of your and my father's youth. Please keep telling them.
Mama Baird was such a strong woman. The more you tell about her, the prouder I am of her.

Josh Labonte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josh Labonte said...

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