K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

About this recording

From oral history interview with Eva Hopkins, March 5, 1980. Interview H-0167. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).

Date created
March 5, 1980
Duration
3:02
File
MP3
License
This recording copyright ©2004. All Rights Reserved
Source
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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Eva B. Hopkins was born in 1918 in Charlotte, North Carolina and began working in Mercury Cotton Mill full time in 1932 at age 14 to support her father, who had tuberculosis. Like many mill workers, her family had left their small farm in the mountains of North Carolina to try their hand at making a better living in the cotton mills. In this excerpt, Ms. Hopkins describes the same general textile strike of 1934 that Ms. Evitt spoke of. At the Mercury Mill, workers struck for six weeks, but despite their efforts, there were no changes in the working conditions.

Transcript

Eva Hopkins
Well, that’s why so many plants got unions, see. These plants that we worked in never had unions.
Lu Ann Jones
Was there ever an attempt to ever.…
Eva Hopkins
Oh yes, they tried to get a union at all of them, but people wouldn’t vote for it.
Lu Ann Jones
Why not?
Eva Hopkins
I don’t know. I just don’t know.
Lu Ann Jones
Would you have been in favor of a union?
Eva Hopkins
If it would have bettered working conditions I would have, and raised wages.
Lu Ann Jones
When a union attempt was going on, what would it be like in the mill? Would one of the union people be coming in to.…
Eva Hopkins
Yes, and they would be at the gate handing out flyers.
Lu Ann Jones
Was this in the thirties?
Eva Hopkins
Yes, this has been ever since I’ve been working, off and on. They had a big strike right after I went to work at the Mercury Mill, a six week strike. All the mills struck. They had picket lines, you know, and nobody crossed the picket line to go into work. They were striking for higher wages.
Lu Ann Jones
Was that in ‘34?
Eva Hopkins
That was in the ‘30s, uh huh.
Lu Ann Jones
I’ve heard about the general strike. What was it like then?
Eva Hopkins
Well, a lot — they were out of work six weeks, and people that belonged to the union, they had a community house up here. They would take the union dues that you’d pay, and buy food like beans, and meat, flour, and meal — staples. The people that didn’t have it, people with huge families — lot of them had big families — they would go up there, and they would allot them out so much. They would give it to them so they could have food to eat while they were on strike. My mother and I, we never did have to go up there because, like I said, she bought our food.
Lu Ann Jones
So did you cooperate with the strike?
Eva Hopkins
Oh yes, we didn’t go across the picket line. We didn’t go in. In fact, my mother joined the union. Everybody just about joined it. But we didn’t never go up there, we didn’t participate in it. She just joined it. We just stayed at home.
Lu Ann Jones
Why do you think she joined?
Eva Hopkins
She’s like everybody else. She thought that they weren’t fair, they didn’t pay enough. Just like raising those windows, that sort of thing. They wouldn’t let you raise the window, and it was so hot. That’s why we call them sweat factories, sweat shops. They wouldn’t let you raise the windows, it was so hot, they didn’t pay you enough. They’d make you what they call stretch out, put you on more work to do for the same amount of money, and that sort of thing.