Spinnin’ Good Yarn to Weave Good Cloth

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.

Installment 3: “If I Go Home I Won’t Never Come Back”


These textile plants were challenging places to work. Hoyt Hanvey remembers his job interview in about 1950: “The first place they carried me was into the weave room at Lydia Mill.  I went in and all of the noise that the shuttles was goin’ as they flew back and forth and whatnot just deafened me really.  And when I come out, I said, ‘Lord, there‘s somethin’ else you want me to do. You don’t want me to work in that mill.  So, that’s when I got a job in the store.”

Peggy Webb Gilmer recalls starting in Plant #2 around that same time: “I went in, 16 years old and I was scared. I didn’t know anything, I didn’t ask anything, I didn’t say anything. And it was really hard. I was slow at everything I did. . . . They didn’t have a training program then. They just put you over there and they show you what to do, and you had to run your part of the job, learning. . . . I wanted to quit but I knew I couldn’t.”

Peggy Motte Wyatt started filling batteries on second shift in Lydia Mill in 1951.  She says, “It was real hot and dusty in there. Lots of cotton flyin’ around. It was hard work. We had a lunch break, about 10 minutes.”  

Alvin Satterfield recalls applying in 1957 at age 16, “Mr. Calvin Cooper, he was the personnel man then. And I went and talked to him and he talked to Mr. Van Oxner who was the card room department head, and he told him, send him to see me. And that’s how I ended up in the card room.”  Mr. Satterfield continues, “And when I went in the card room then, it was like another world. You had – over the cards it was like a cloud of dust when you went inside the card room. And I can remember the first time I went in there it was, I looked down over the cards and I started to turn around and go back out the door.” 

Nancy Meadows Kidd joined her husband, Donald, in Plant #2 in 1958. She says, “They just give me a job in the spinnin’ room. . . . They put me with this first lady, and we was goin’ down this alley, and the frames just sort o’ begin to wave a little bit. And I asked that lady, I said, ‘Are these frames s’posed to be movin’?’ And she said, ‘No, ma’m.’ And I said, well, all I remember was, ‘They are.’  And when I come to, they had me up on a bench, up there on the spare floor.  And I done that three times that day. So they called Donald up there. . . . And he said, ‘Don’t ya think you need to go home?’ I said, ‘No, if I go home I won’t never come back.‘”

Black men and women faced a more fundamental challenge. The Clinton Chronicle published on October 30, 1952 an advertisement intended to get people to vote to elect Eisenhower President by declaring that his opponent supported a nationwide, compulsory Fair Employment Practices Commission.  One paragraph states clearly the plea to vote for Eisenhower: “What makes this entire matter so important is not any dislike for colored people, or Chinese or Japanese or Italians or any race of people. Ill will has no place whatsoever in the consideration of the matter. What is to be considered is the provision of this FEPC law that would make it obligatory for any and all textile plants in the United States to hire as many colored people or Chinese or Japanese as is the proportion of their population to the whole in that area, and to do it by force, at the direction of high authority from Washington.  That is what Stevenson favors, and if it is what you favor then Stevenson is your man.  And let us ask you this question: Do you think the Negro population around the mill where you work is ready for this radical change now? Do you? And then here is another question that is just as important: Do you think the people who are working in the mill where you work are ready for this radical change? Do you? You know that neither side is ready for such a law as this to be forced upon the people of this section at this time.”  A note at the bottom of this lengthy ad states that it was originally published as an editorial in The Textile Tribune, published in Spartanburg, SC.

Despite the challenging work environment, expectations for employee performance were high.  A message from the superintendents of Clinton Mills, George Huguley and Lydia Mills, J. B. Templeton, in the May 1952 Clothmaker suggests dissatisfaction with the performance of a significant number of employees: “We all have heard the expression that the world owes me a living. Too many times we find people who have the feeling that they are supposed to get something for nothing.” 

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