Friday, January 27, 2006

Living in a Mill Town.

When My husband was drafted into the Marine Air Corps During World War II, we lived in a small house in a small Georgia Mill town near my husband's parents.
My husband's mother, Lillian Wilkerson Shaw, had grown up there as the daughter of Charles Wilkerson, who was Overseer of the Carding Department for Calloway Mills. His department carded the cotton to get it ready to be spun into yarn in the Spinning Department of the Textile Mill.
Charles and I had married as teen agers and had two children. But after the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor, nearly all young men were willing to serve in the Armed Forces.
While my husband was away, I dressed my two little girls early every morning. We walked to the Post Office where I mailed the long letter I had written to my husband the night before. Then I picked up any mail I had as well as the mail for my parents-in-law. The Post Office was also the "Company Store" of grand-ol'-opry fame. I bought any grocery item my mother-in-law or I needed. We had ration books and were limited in the amount of staples we could purchase and of course, a limited amount of money.

On the way back home, I stopped at the home of my husband's parents for a brief visit and to give them any mail or information I had from their son or about the war.

Their son Grady, was a tail bomber for the Air Force in the European Theater, We were all "at war." Our hearts and prayers were with "our boys" in service and with the few women who were also serving as WACs or WAVEs. Women were not drafted, but many joined to serve in one of the Women's Corps.

Calloway Mills was making cloth for the growing needs of our defense troops in Europe as well as in the South Pacific, and soon cotton looms were running 24 hours a day to make tents and uniforms for the soldiers.

With so many men away in the Army, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard, Calloway Mills began to recruit more women workers. Then they noted that in order to make it possible for able-bodied women to work , child care was needed.

One day, A Calloway official came to me and asked if I would take a job supervising the night shift of the Children's Nursery they were establishing. When they were looking around to find someone, they told me, it had been noticed how I cared for my little children and would likely be good for that position.

Calloway Mills, under the direction of a "Nursery Expert" had taken one the the large houses in the community, gutted it and rebuilt it with play and sleeping areas for the care of children in the community while mothers were at work.

I accepted the job and the small salary each month -- perhaps the only easy money I ever made. The Nursery was need for only about a year. This kind of public "Child Care" was new to our generation. Most of the young women who needed child care while working for Calloway had a mother or an aunt to take over in their absence from home.

In addition to the separation of the races, there was class inequities and much class consciousness in the 1920's and 30's. Mill workers were generally considered inferior. In fact, some people lived "from hand to mouth" rather than take a job in a textile mill and risk being called a "lint head" or low class. Many things that working class people (both black and white) lived with was discrimination by todays standards and by Biblical teaching that God is not a "respector of persons."

Celestine Sibley liked to point out that people in the South were proud to be poor and "working class." This meant they were honest and at least not "carpet baggers."

Aubrey Simms, a cousin and I talked briefly about this when he told me how his father did not want him to get a job in one of the cotton mills only a few miles from their home when they were struggling to make a living on their farm after the boll weevil ate most of the cotton and the Great Depression in the early 1930's. His father had told my father he would go to"share cropping " before he would raise his family in a mill town.

My husband Charles's paternal grand parents also felt work in a Cotton Mill was not for them, even though they, struggled to live. His grandfather Columbus (Lum) Shaw was a talented cabinet maker and was proud to have made the cabinets for some well know Atlanta officials but profited little from his work.
Charles maternal grandfather, Charles Wilkerson was an "oversear" in the Textile Mill in their town earning $100 weekly when the ordinary worker's wages was only about 10 dollars a week.

Columbus Shaw's oldest son, Grady grew up to finally get a job in the Milstead Textile Plant and there met and married Charles Wilkerson's oldest daughter, Lillian. Their oldest of five sons Charles Columbus Shaw and I were married in 1938 and stayed married until his death in 1986.
The advent of World War II and the need for textiles for the army made it more "respectable" as workers were needed to keep the looms humming 24 hours a day. More and more people took jobs in Textile Plants.

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.

This was the situation "down South" after the South lost in the Civil War and before the wage and labor laws. This seemed to be 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. So employees looking with disdain toward the employer is nothing new. I think Mama was right in that the Bibb officials probably did try to exert as much influence as possible on the churches.

After all they had a responsibility as they had built three impressive "up to date" brick church buildings, a Methodist, a Baptist and a Presbyterian church.

The companies who brought their cotton factories south for cheaper labor after "The Civil War" built the whole town including schools, churches, business, police, fire and community buildings.

Probably mill owners and officials did the best they could for their times and understanding. When we look in the past to criticize or to re-write history we need to keep this in mind.

The mill owners and officials felt that they must look after their workers (some of whom were illiterate and superstitious.)

With as little formal schooling and lacking in social graces as my parents had, I remember Mama being disconcerted at the superstitious talk and grammar of some neighbors and co-workers.

Mama told me that when they first moved to Porterdale she felt that she had moved to the "jumping off place." She seems to have thought of it as a wild and pagan town. Many of whom would have been labeled the "most illiterate people" seems to have been some of our neighbors back of the large brick Osprey mill building.

Mama was especially horrified to see that when the children would get into fights as they played together, the mothers would often dash out of their houses 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 got so mad they "cussed."

Mama observed and commented on the fact that the children would often be back happily playing together while their mothers were still angry and hostile toward one another.

Sis (my sister Louise ) told me this story: When we first moved to Porterdale, my young brothers,Charlie, Tom, and Jack, were out playing with the neighborhood boys 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 ." 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 house, nor 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 shocked. 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.

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

Our neighbors on Hazel Street were 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 in which to grow up, even though I was well-aware that many Covington residents put mill workers in a box labeled "low class."

Covington (our "town") was the Newton county seat. Porterdale was a village with three large textile factories owned and operated by Bibb Manufacturing Company. Covington also had a "Covington mill village" as a part of the town as did many other Georgia cities and small towns.
In Porterdale, we also had two large brick school buildings with grades one through nine and a "teacher's cottage" across the river but in walking distance to the school. It was a more than a cottage- built to house teacher, many of whom were single women. It was a well built attractive ante-bellum house.


ezcleanupphiladelphia said...

Very nice blog, i must have to say that. Thanks for the information.ezcleanupphiladelphia said...

I love to read old stories specially related to war.
Your describe world war II and its quite interesting specially when your husband was working in Marine Air Corps and then you move to next safe place.These are all things which urge me to read your blog.