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About this recording

From oral history interview with Ila Hartsell Dodson, May 23, 1980. Interview H-0241. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).

Date created
May 23, 1980
This recording copyright ©2004. All Rights Reserved
Original audio housed by Documenting the American South / UNC Libraries

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  • Labor unions in the cotton mills: In this lesson, students will learn about the labor union movement in the U.S. by listening to oral histories, and they will then deliver a persuasive speech arguing for or against unionization.

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Ila Hartsell Dodson was born in 1907 in South Carolina and began working in the Brandon Cotton Mill at age 14. Her mother, father, and all of her nine siblings worked for various cotton mills in North and South Carolina. She met her husband working in the mill, and spent all of her young life living in mill villages. She stopped working in the mills in the 1930’s to take care of her children. In this excerpt, Ms. Dodson tells of the “Flying Squadron” — the nickname for a group of strikers who traveled to mills across the South in order to plant the seeds of the union movement. The group would stop work at the mills and encourage the workers to strike. Some former mill employees remember the Flying Squadron using sticks and bats to break into the mills and destroy machines.


Allen Tullos
I guess these strikes and things would have been going on during the time in which you weren’t working.
Ila Hartsell Dodson
No, I wasn’t working then. I hadn’t gone to work, no. [Laughter] But I remember taking the children. It was something new, you know. And we heard — what did they call them strikers?
Allen Tullos
The Flying Squadron?
Ila Hartsell Dodson
The Flying Squadron was coming into the mill village down here, and boy, I took them four children, and the woman next door said, “Come on, Dodson, let’s go down there.” And we went down there and was sitting across the street and saw them. They had sticks and everything, trying to get in that mill down there. I can remember that. And my husband was in there. But we stayed there till their daddy come out. And boy, he brought us home, too, because we didn’t have no business down there.
Allen Tullos
Which mill was that?
Ila Hartsell Dodson
Dunean Mill.
Allen Tullos
We’ll get that story when we get your side of it. So you do remember seeing that Flying Squadron?
Ila Hartsell Dodson
Oh, yes.
Allen Tullos
What did you all think about them and what they were doing?
Ila Hartsell Dodson
My husband didn’t join a union. They come and knocked on his door early one morning, wanted him to go down to the mill and picket down there or do something. But he didn’t get up and go. He didn’t have nothing to do with them, he just stayed home.
Allen Tullos
What was your opinion of the union back then?
Ila Hartsell Dodson
Same as it is now. I’m not in favor of it.
Allen Tullos
Why not?
Ila Hartsell Dodson
Because it’s nothing but trouble. No good in it. That’s right.
Allen Tullos
You didn’t see any advantages that the workers would have had…
Ila Hartsell Dodson