DATE: March 25, 1980

INTERVIEWEE: Orvel Blake

INTERVIEWER: Kenneth B. West

 

 

OB: Where do you want me to commence?

 

KW: Well, I wonder if I could start first by asking you if you are a native of Flint, Mr. Blake, or where you were born.

 

OB: Me? Where I was born?

 

KW: Yes, where were you born?

 

OB: In Carrier Mills, Illinois.

 

KW: In Carrier Mills, Illinois, and what year was that?

 

OB: 1900.

 

KW: In 1900, so you have been around a bit, then. When did you come to Flint?

 

OB: '27.

 

KW: 1927. So you had a work experience a bit, then, before you came to Flint.

 

OB: I worked in the lead mines.

 

KW: In lead mines?

 

OB: Platte River, Missouri. I went from Illinois to Platte River, Missouri. I worked in the coal mines in Illinois. My dad signed up for me when I was a kid, and I went in with him. The mines I worked in, the coal was so low that they rode one little mule right in front of 'em. Of course, they had a big motor collecting. They gathered it at a certain place, you know, the coal cars, and there was a motor that took it from there to the bottom where they hoisted it out.

 

KW: I see. So you were just a kid, then?

 

OB: I went to work when I was sixteen years old in the coal mines.

 

KW: Had you had much schooling, then, before that?

 

OB: I never did get… I got through the ninth and that was it.

 

KW: Then you had to work. Your dad was working in the coal mines too?

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: Where was that, in southern Illinois?

 

OB: Yeah. Carrier Mills, Illinois. Around Harrisburg and Marion, Thompson City.

 

KW: How long did you work, then, in the mines?

 

OB: Well, I worked there twice. I moved to Missouri, and then I went back and I worked in the mines. I imagine that there was about five years altogether. I worked about three years with my dad, and then I moved to New Madrid, Missouri, around the river. I worked at that stave mill. Time got so rough, and I was only making $2.25 a day. Of course that's been a long time ago.

 

KW: That was in the coal mines?

 

OB: No, that was in the mill. I worked three years at Dodd's coal mines, in Carrier Mills, Illinois.

 

KW: And then you got on the lead mines?

 

OB: And then I moved from there to Platte River, Missouri, and I went to work in the lead mines.

 

KW: How was that? What kind of work was that compared to coal mining? Was it easy, or…?

 

OB: Well, I'll tell you. In the lead mines, the roof was so high—in a lot of places it's fifty feet, and you would have to be awful careful not to even leave one little loose rock up there, you know. You would take a rock that got a little lead in it, and it falls that far and hits you on the head, it would knock you out. I worked in the lead mines until I come to Flint. Well, I had farmed, too, before I went into any of the mines, you know. We never did have… We always farmed with teams, you know, mules and big mares that we had.

 

KW: Working with lead, was that dangerous at all, the dust?

 

OB: Yes. See, lots of times they don't get every little bit of that rock loose from up there, and they are all the time shooting, shooting that rock down, you know. I drove a mule in there, and then I would load it there. I loaded rock, too.

 

KW: Were you… In the coal mines, of course, that was organized. Was your dad part of the United Mine Workers, then, as a coal miner?

 

OB: Yeah, oh yeah.

 

KW: Unionism was, then, in a sense, in your blood before you came to Flint.

 

OB: Yeah, I liked that too.

 

KW: Did you get into the United Mine Workers, then, too, when you were sixteen?

 

OB: Well, I belonged to the union. I don't know where. I guess it was. It must have been. I had to pay dues, I remember.

 

KW: Were the lead mines organized, then, did they have the union there?

 

OB: No.

 

KW: They didn't? Were wages pretty low, then?

 

OB: Well, I loaded in there and you got so much. It was $5.80 for eight hours, and then you got set. If you wanted to load a car or two extra, why, you got 75 cents a car. I done… You know, when I was working there, I had money all the time, not a lot of money, but, you know, we had money to do anything we wanted to. I thought, well, I'll go to Flint and work two or three years and get enough to really farm.

 

KW: Oh, you wanted to farm, then?

 

OB: Yeah, down about sixty miles further south, that's where my dad went. I thought I would come up here and work three or four years and get rich, and I'd go back down there. I never got enough money to go back there.

 

KW: How did you come to know of a job in Flint?

 

OB: Well, just hear talk, you know, and there was people that would come up here and was already working and making good money, you know, and I thought I could just save, you know.

 

KW: So you knew of people, then, who had been up here, the conversation was there.

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: Were the companies advertising for men down there? Did they put up ads in papers and that?

 

OB: No, they didn't then.

 

KW: It was word of mouth, then?

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: That was in 1927?

 

OB: I come to Flint in 1927, yes.

 

KW: Did you have… There was no job waiting for you when you got here, then?

 

OB: Oh, no.

 

KW: Where did you hire in at, then?

 

OB: I hired in at Plant 6.

 

KW: Chevy?

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: Chevrolet 6.

 

OB: I lived… I sent and got my family. I come up here and got a job.

 

KW: You were married, then, at the time?

 

OB: Yeah, oh, yeah. I had some children. Three, I guess. I got eight altogether. Charlie Bilderback worked here, and he lived right there, close to Plant 6, and I come up here, and I stayed with him. It wasn't much trouble to get a job, if you had somebody that knowedsomebody in the shop. If you didn't, then it was kind of hard.

 

KW: But you did know somebody?

 

OB: Yeah, I knew him, so I got into Plant 6, working on mufflers. I went from there to the sparkplugs, and that was that. I lived at—I could find a place on the south end. I lived on the other side of Fisher Body, there, on Norton Street. Of course, there was streetcars, then, you know. I had to wait so long to catch streetcars and things, but I just stayed out there, because you couldn't get a place at that time nowhere, you know.

 

KW: No, housing was short.

 

OB: Yeah, it was. I got acquainted with a next-door neighbor, and he was a designer of some kind in Fisher Body, and I never thought about asking him about getting in there, because, you know… He come over one evening after I got out of work. He came over—his name was Flowers—he come over one evening in the backyard there and was talking. He asked me about transferring and how long it took me to go to work and get back. And I told him. I forget how long, but I know it was crowded, the streetcars was. There wasn't as many cars as there are now. He said, “How would you like to work at Fisher?” I said that I would like it. And he said, “Well, I'll let you know tomorrow what time to be over there, and I'll give you a slip.” There was a lot of people hiring in all of the time and out, you know, and when I went over there, he got me a slip. I finally worked my way up to the gate, and I handed this guy my slip, and he just motioned for me to go downstairs. I went downstairs and got hired in, and I was in the glue room, right under the mill.

 

KW: Oh, my. What year was that? When did you transfer to Fisher?

 

OB: That must have been around '28.

 

KW: You had just been here a year or so, then, at Chevy 6.

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: You worked in the glue room. That was with wood, wasn't it, then?

 

OB: Yeah, it was with wood. Most of the bodies were wood. You see they had to keep the glue room so hot. I don't mean burn you up, but I mean they kept it kind of warm in there in order to keep the glue from chilling before it stuck to them people.

 

KW: I see. What were the conditions like, then, in that shop? You mentioned the heat, the fumes from the glue?

 

OB: Oh, yeah, but it didn't seem to bother me.

 

KW: What was your job, then? What did you glue together?

 

OB: Everything. The whole thing, at different jobs, you know. You had to work it off. Even the railings on the side of the car, you know what I mean? Like the fender, that thing there? Yeah, that was...

 

KW: Did you use machines, then, to...?

 

OB: No, we used clamps. Worked right under the mill.

 

KW: The bodies, a big proportion of the materials was wood. What kind of wood did they use?

 

OB: Well, I think a lot of it was oak. And there was... I know the roof rails, like they go over where you put the top on, you know, was spruce of some kind, and I don't know where they got it.

 

KW: Now, as the bodies became more metal, than they were wood, that glue and the mill business began to disappear, didn't it?

 

OB: Oh, it changed.

 

KW: So how long did you stay, then, in the glue?

 

OB: I stayed there from the time I hired in there, till they went on all-metal body.

 

KW: And when was that?

 

OB: I don't know. I couldn't tell you.

 

KW: Was that after the Sit-Down Strike?

 

OB: No, it was before, because they transferred us all out of there and also out of the mill, and I went on final assembly.

 

KW: I see. What work were you doing, then, on....? That was the work you were doing at the time of the strike? Final Assembly?

 

OB: Quarter motor.

 

KW: Quarter motor. Can you describe that work for me?

 

OB: Well, it used to be a little glass in the door, you know, a little glass like that, right up in the corners, front corner. I done that. I put the molding there. It was three on one side of the line, three on the other.

 

KW: You had teams, then, of six.

 

OB: Yeah, altogether.

 

KW: They would come down the line. Was it pretty fast?

 

OB: Well, yeah. I forgot how many they were running an hour. But after you got onto the job, but, you know, everything's easier after you get the nick of it. But you had to be awful careful about scarring the molding up, you know. If it wasn't too bad, they'd tough it up, you know.

 

KW: You were paid by the piece, were you?

 

OB: No. I was makin' a dollar and a quarter an hour.

 

KW: A dollar and a quarter at the time of the strike. That's not bad.

 

OB: That was good for that time. That was a lot more than a lot of 'em makin'.

 

KW: Did you have to come up to a certain efficiency to, do a certain number of jobs, in order to make that dollar and a quarter an hour?

 

OB: Well, I had to catch every third job. Every third job I caught. See, there was three on a side. And me and my buddy caught every third car. And another thing, besides that, put that glass in—remember that big glass on the side or the car? What was that coach? Think it was. Well, when one of them come by, why, we had to get that, you know. Same as another car, only it took you longer.

 

KW: But you had no difficulty keeping up with the job.

 

OB: No, not after I got on there.

 

KW: Did any of the men have trouble?

 

OB: Oh, yeah. There was some of 'em. There was people that just can't learn. I mean you wouldn't believe that, but they's people that you'd think it would be simple. And they's people that just can't do things and keep up to the line like that. And there was some hard jobs.Only thing at that time, the foremans are awful rough on you, and you couldn't talk back.

 

KW: I was gonna ask you what your relationship was with your particular foreman.

 

OB: I always got along, 'cause I never... I tried to do my job. But I've had 'em standing and look over my shoulder, you know. And I mean I didn't like that, but... They'd stand and see how fast you was, or maybe they could add a little more onto you or something.

 

KW: Did they time the job?

 

OB: Oh, yeah, they timed you. Yep. But they was supposed to tell you when they was timin' you. But, you know, they don't do that. They catch you when you're not... Well, I guess it's a good thing.

 

KW: Were you expected to do things for your foreman to keep in good with him? You know, doing favors for him. We've heard from some of the workers that that was expected.

 

OB: Well, I'll tell you. I think some of 'em did, and they probably made by it. I know one guy who has made a foreman. I never did do that. I never did do things for the foreman to get him to, you know, be better than me than anybody else. I just want ahead and done my job.

 

KW: Did you have any run-ins with your foreman, then?

 

OB: I had one with one guy, but he wasn't there very long. He just simply...

 

KW: Do you remember that incident?

 

OB: Well, one thing. I guess what started... The screwdriver that I had in my drill, it had wore down pretty thin. You know, them notches on your screwdriver, then them screws, they'd wore off pretty smooth, and they'd slipped off my screw and really ruined the molding.And goin' on down the line, course, they had to put another one in. Course they could count the jobs and know who it was. But I didn't care. I just couldn't help it. And he ate me out quite a bit, but I tell you, you couldn't talk back then, because there was people waitin' outside for your job. And they told me that. He told me that. I forgot his name. He wasn't a main foreman, but he was a...

 

KW: Did the company furnish the tools, then?

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: They did.

 

OB: I didn't have to furnish nothin' on the... Just me. They furnished the drill, and the drills goes in it. And the screwdrivers. I had an electric screwdriver and an electric drill, you know.

 

KW: Did you get to know the men on the job pretty well? You mentioned there were teams.

 

OB: Yeah, I knew so many, and, you know, I haven't run across any.

 

KW: But you did get to know them pretty well at the time. Did you eat lunch together with them, then?

 

OB: Well, sometimes. We ate on the job. We didn't go to the cafeteria. I didn't.

 

KW: Did you have a chance to talk to one another while you were working, or was the speed...

 

OB: We talked back and forth, yes. But you can't just talk so long, you know, while you was on the job, and then you had to go back to another one. Well, you can just talk so long, you know, while you was on your job, and then you had to go back to the other one. Well, maybe you talked to that guy in there. And some of them put those headliners. They'd put them on, you could talk to them. And, see, we wasn't in the car. We could stand outside when we worked on the door. But the trimmers, they just stepped that way and you couldn't go back that way too far, 'cause you'd be in their way, you know, and they couldn't come down too far on account of they'd be in our way.

 

KW: Were the conditions on the job, then, aside from the speed-up, which you mentioned didn't hurt you particularly, was it clean or dirty, or...?

 

OB: Well, I know it's taping now, and I hate to say anything, but...

 

KW: No, go ahead. Be frank.

 

OB: Them foremans could talk to you just like they wanted to, and they could call you names. And at that time, there wasn't no union, you see. And you had to take care or they'd fire you. Now, that's the only thing.

 

KW: Now, was there much union talk, then?

 

OB: Yeah, we talked union, not in front of the foreman.

 

KW: You talked union, not in front of the foreman, but when the foreman wasn't around, you would talk, then?

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: How did that go?

 

OB: Well, you just kept on... And they was hiring new ones all the time and lettin' some go, you know, before they got their seniority. Us older ones... I remember every chance we'd get, and we took it. We'd go out on the grass and eat our dinner on the grass there, by the side of the long ... And I don't know the man's name, and I worked with him for so long. They called him Skinner. And I was just tryin' to think. A bunch of the older ones has just got together and we'd talked together about a week out there on the lawn. And they said we can't stand this, can we? I said, "We are." And we talked it over. And we knew if we striked, and we didn't win, we wouldn't have no jobs. We wouldn't have nothin'.

 

KW: What year was this? Do you remember when you were talking?

 

OB: Well, when did we strike? '37.

 

KW: '37 was that strike, but was that the strike you were talking about? There was an early strike in 1930.

 

OB: Yeah. And we had to go back in.

 

KW: You had to go back in. Were you involved in that strike in 1930?

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: Do you remember much?

 

OB: Well, they wouldn't stick together then. Guys got to where they'd talk about it, but when you come right down to it, they'd sneak in. They'd go back in. But when this strike was pulled, and the same way at Fisher 2...

 

KW: This is in '37, the strike you're referring to.

 

OB: And in Chevrolet too. The time was set. It started with the night. And I was on the night... And everything was down to the minute, all over.

 

KW: Were you a member of the union at the time the strike was called?

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: When did you join?

 

OB: I joined right after they transferred me from the glue room. Let's see. That was. What year was it when they went on all-steel frames? And I don't remember just right when, I mean.... But it seems to me I worked about two years on the final assembly before the strike.

 

KW: Was that an AFL union, then?

 

OB: No.

 

KW: CIO. So that might have been even in late '35, some time along in '36.

 

OB: It was either in '36 or '37. I've forgotten which.

 

KW: But, at any rate, it was before the strike. How did you join? Did someone talk to you about it?

 

OB: Well, yeah. Even the foremans, when I hired in, talked to me about it.

 

KW: They talked to you about it. What did they say?

 

OB: Well, Brooks, he come around to me, and he said "Has anybody said anything to you about a union?" I said yes. And see, they were taking it out of the dues anyway, then. I mean their pay, their dues. I said yes. He said, "You know," he said, "You know, you don't have to join that." I said, "No, they told me I didn't have to join it, but if I wanted to hold my job, and we fought for you. If something happened, and it wasn't my fault... If something happened, that they'd take care of me." And he said, "Well." I liked him. He talked sensible, you know. And he told me, he said, "Well," he said, "I have to tell you, Blake," he said, "I think maybe it would be best for doin' it." So they'd mess you up so much on the job that you couldn't stand it. You couldn't work.

 

KW: No, I was going to ask you why, because you said the speed-up was not so intense, what it was that prompted people to join the union, then.

 

OB: Well, this way they treated and talked to you, you know. Some of the jobs... I tell you, there's some people that can't keep up to the line if they can bust theirself, on certain jobs, you know. But I was always... I wasn't really an expert on it, but, you know, I caught on quick, and I could keep up without hurtin' myself. I could just... Course I kept busy, but, you know, I could keep up. And, if I had to, I could speed up a little. But that's why.

 

KW: Did you know some of the organizers of the union, then, Bob Travis, at all? Or Wyndham Mortimer?

 

OB: I'd seen him. I'd heard him make a talk Bob Travis, yeah.

 

KW: And in Fisher 1, Bud Simon.

 

OB: Bud Simon. Who was the sheriff at that time?

 

KW: Wolcott.

 

OB: ...a guy as big as him or bigger. A colored man. Come out when we was on the strike. They had a warrant for him. And they come out there and they let him in. And he told me he had a warrant for who was it for? Wolcott?

 

KW: Well, Wolcott had a warrant for Simon.

 

OB: Yeah, Simon. I remember. They just ganged up around the two guys, you know, and he told him they had a warrant for Simon or whatever his name was. And when he started to read it... They had a summons, that's what it is, a summons. But he started to read it, and they made so much noise, you couldn't hear nothing. And we said he wasn't there. "He's not here." And he wasn't twenty foot from him. Just squatted down in a bunch of the crowd, you know.

 

KW: But Wolcott didn't know him by sight, then.

 

OB: No, they didn't know him.

 

KW: What sort of a person was Bud Simon? Did you get to know him at all?

 

OB: Well, I don't know. I think he tried to run things a little bit too far. I like the union, and I think it's the best thing that ever happened. But, you know, you can go on extremes about anything, and I think he had the men to do some things that I didn't go for, but I had to. You know what I mean?

 

KW: Can you be specific about what...?

 

OB: Well, I don't believe in runnin' over anybody. And I don't believe in messin' up my job. You ain't hurtin' nobody but yourself when you do that. You ain't hurtin' the company. And I know that there's things happening in there that they roughed up the job, and it just wasn't right.

 

KW: Was that before the strike?

 

OB: No. Well, yes, before the strike, and after, too. Somebody would get, well, you know, a little flusterated about somethin', and he'd want to do somethin' to the frame of the car or somethin', and...

 

KW: Oh, so there was what you might call sabotage, then.

 

OB: That's right. They was.

 

KW: How could you go about doing that? What did they do particularly?

 

OB: They could... So many ways. Good God, they could break glasses or windshields, or...

 

KW: Did you think that was encouraged, then, by some of the people in the leadership?

 

OB: Well, I think, maybe... Well, yeah, the leaders. Some of 'em was awful hot-headed. You know that. And some of 'em were like me. I never messed with anything. I never messed a car up in my life. Only thing that I messed up, I took a, in time of the strike, I took a cushion out of the cushion room and put it inside of one of them cars that wasn't finished, you know, on the line, out in front there, to sleep on, when I... And I got it dirty. That's the only sabotage I ever done.

 

KW: But, getting back to the period just before the strike, did you have a premonition that a strike was coming?

 

OB: I knew it.

 

KW: You knew it. How far in advance did you know?

 

OB: Two weeks.

 

KW: Two weeks. How did you know?

 

OB: Well, we was talkin' what everybody, all the older guys there, what they had to do. When that line stopped, you knew where to go. And what to do when you got there.

 

KW: Oh. What did they say, then, that you were going to do?

 

OB: They told me to go to the kitchen.

 

KW: They told you to go to the kitchen. And that was before the strike.

 

OB: Yeah, I knew who...

 

KW: You mentioned the "older" ones. Now, you weren't terribly old at the time, were you?

 

OB: No, but I was one of the oldest... [END OF SIDE 1A

 

KW: They notified the leadership, then, Bud Simon and others...?

 

OB: They knew it. I think they was the ones that set the time. And they set the time for all the shops for that certain one time, you know. And that many come, the line went down, and you just...

 

KW: How did they announce it, particular? Do you remember the precise way it happened?

 

OB: Before they quit the job and left, they wasn't no announcements. They wasn't nothing. The lines stopped, and we all went to where we was supposed to. And there was some new guys that hadn't been there very long, you usually hear them goin' out the window or the back door. They went out there just like...

 

KW: They went out quickly, but you knew what was happening.

 

OB: Oh, yeah, I knew.

 

KW: How did they decide to hold a sit-down strike, because before that time, most of the men had gone out and they'd had picket lines and that sort of thing.

 

OB: There were pickets out, then. But the most of us were inside. And they had, what do they call it, cars makin' all the...

 

KW: Flying squadrons?

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: What did they do?

 

OB: Well, I don't know what all they done here. I heard a lot, but I don't really know. I heard they run over some people, so I don't know. But I know some of 'em was...

 

KW: How were they picked for that flying squadron?

 

OB: They picked the worst ones they could get, they knew...brainless.

 

KW: Thugs.

 

OB: That's right. I knew one guy. I wouldn't call his name. But his boy's my son-in-law. And he said, "I'm .... you. [inaudible]. He was a big guy. He weighed about three hundred pounds. He hadn't a brain in his head. And he was a... And my son-in-law is a president of this Statewide Real Estate , all over Michigan now, and his father was the main cheese before he retired. But there were some just like him. It didn't make no difference. If you got in the way, that car, he'd hit you in the hind. But, you know,...

 

KW: Were things pretty well organized, then? What did you do, then? Did they hold mass meetings in the plant, then, after the sit-down?

 

OB: No. No. Well, yeah, we talked. And we had guys come from as far as Detroit. There was two nights before they got the troops in here, you know. There was two nights I was sure that they were gonna throw us out, but, you know, we could have fought and fought, but they could have killed us and cleared us out.

 

KW: Did numbers get pretty low at times? Did the numbers of men sitting down get pretty low sometimes and just had a few in the plants?

 

OB: No, we talked it over before we went out, and we talked it over in there. And some of them, like me, that had a family, it was hard on our families.

 

KW: I wanted to get into that. You stayed in for forty-three, did you say, days?

 

OB: Forty-two days.

 

KW: Forty-two days out of the forty-four.

 

OB: Forty-three.

 

KW: Forty-three. So you did go home, then, once.

 

OB: I went home... I slipped out... Well, they knew where I was going, but I'd slip out, trying to keep people on the outside from seeing me, you know. And I went home to see how the kids and the wife was, see how they was making it. That's all.

 

KW: Right. Well, I wanted to mention it, because you were married and you were living on Norton Street, then, at the time.

 

OB: Right.

 

KW: How many children did you have?

 

OB: I had four.

 

KW: Were they in the school-age?

 

OB: Two of 'em. Two of 'em were going to school.

 

KW: How were things for them, because you weren't bringing in any money then.

 

OB: Well, it was just rough, I'll tell you. We squeezed by.

 

KW: Were you paying on your house, then?

 

OB: No, I was renting.

 

KW: You were renting. Could you make the payments?

 

OB: No, I didn't make the payments. I got behind two months. But he told me I was all right. I went to him and told him to ... Well, he knew me before, you know. And he said, "It's all right, Orval. I know your circumstances." He said, "You can't leave it."

 

KW: That was when you were on the strike.

 

OB: Uh-huh.

 

KW: Did you have a car, then?

 

OB: No.

 

KW: No car. It would have been tough making payments.

 

OB: Yeah, I couldn't have made 'em.

 

KW: Did your wife support you during the strike, or was she a little concerned that you were in and wouldn't come out?

 

OB: She was a little bit concerned, but, you know, it gets old when you're out that long, and knowing too that she didn't know what would happen. Well, I didn't neither, but I didn't let on her like that. But I didn't know what might happen, you know. But I was just going to say, they's union people from Pontiac and they was some from Detroit. That was when we thought we was gonna get throwed out. Let's see, there was some ... come over asked what floor where we wanted them to be. And I remember, what's his name

 

KW: Bud Simon?

 

OB: Yeah. He told them, he said, "Well, we're going to try to stay on the first floor." And there was some on the second and some on the roof, but nothin' happened. And they got them state...

 

KW: Militia. National Guard.

 

OB: Yeah, and I went out and talked to one of them Guards. He was standing at this end of the Fisher Body, where cars came in from the road. I went out and talked to him. And, I don't know, I just told him, "It's a mess," but I said, "We're in it, and if it don't win, we ain'tgot no jobs." And I said a lot of 'em is treated pretty rough in there. He said, "Mister, we ain't here to hurt nobody." And he said, "We're here to keep somebody from hurting somebody." He said, "Your business is not none of mine," but he said, "We just aim to have no fight."

 

KW: Was he just a guard?

 

OB: Just a guard. Yeah. He said, "We ain't here to harm nobody."

 

KW: Well, we heard, in fact, that some of the Guardsmen were sons of workers, you know, or had been workers themselves in automobile plants, so they may not have been hostile to...

 

OB: Yeah. He didn't say nothing about it.

 

KW: Did you have a radio, then, did you, in the plant? And how did you get news of what was going on?

 

OB: I had a radio.

 

KW: Did you hear news, then, of the battle that they had at Fisher 2 with the police there? The Running Bulls?

 

OB: Yeah. My son-in-law was in that. Yeah.

 

KW: Oh, your son-in-law was in that.

 

OB: He's dead now. Sutton. Yeah, he was in that. They turned cars over . They had a ...

 

KW: Did anyone from Fisher 1 go to help at Fisher 2, do you know?

 

OB: We asked them about it, but they didn't want us. They didn't need us. They said, "Stay put, wherever you're at." He said that it might happen there. And, yeah, ...

 

KW: Did you get frightened, then, after hearing news of the battle there that the folks...

 

OB: Yeah, we figured it... We missed a night or two, you know. We thought, well, I don't know how we heard the news. But, anyhow, we heard this kind of...take a plant. And I don't know if there's any guys in there or not. I didn't have one. Well, we had all of this metal and everything else. You could get right up pretty close to the windows, you know.

 

KW: Did you have fire hoses there?

 

OB: Yeah.

 

KW: They did at Fisher 2.

 

OB: And we had a hose on, I believe it was something like wagon wheels, big high wheels, you know. And I know they hooked that up to the borer, some way. And they had that thing pointed right out towards the back door and everything, by the cafeteria. And it would have been bad, if they started in there, but, you know, you take a bunch like that, there's always some guy, well, I don't know, I call it harebrained, you know. You don't care for nothing. Well, that's the way they were getting. Because I know for myself...

 

KW: You mean some of them... Was there any damage done to the machinery, to the cars in the...

 

OB: I don't think it happened when we were there. They had some cars in there that was partly trimmed, you know, partly trimmed inside. I think they tore that off, some of them. The floors and, like the cushion room, all I done was went and got me one to lay on. And I'll tell you something else. I was so dead tired and sleepy, I laid down there on one of them cushions, and you know these straps you hold to, they's on the side. And I had big, old shoes on, and I was so sleepy, they put my shoe off and set it up on one of them things, and put my shoe on and hollered, "Here, they were coming," and I liked to kill myself. Man, they just done it for me. But they would do anything.

 

KW: You mentioned that some of them were "hare-brained."

 

OB: Well, I mean... I don't know. Like, I don't know. Trying to work things out, you know. I mean, "Are we gonna do this?," or "Are we gonna do that?" or "Are we gonna do this?" or "Are we gonna do that?" But there was just one thing that I knew of. And I had a family.And I knew I didn't want to hurt my buddy, and I didn't want to be hurt. But I knew if we didn't win, we didn't have nothing. I stuck it out. I decided to stay there, and that's all. And I think, well, most of the older guys that I could accept was, not older, but I mean we're, you know, ....

 

KW: Now, what was your particular job in the plant? Were you assigned a particular duty then?

 

OB: In the shop?

 

KW: In the plant, during the strike, when you were sitting down. What was that?

 

OB: I fixed breakfast every morning for the guys on the outside, the pickets. When that first started, they'd come in there----course, they're lined up----

 

KW: This was in the cafeteria that you prepared the food.

 

OB: Yeah. And they come in there. They usually had bacon. Sometimes they didn't. We always had a lot of eggs and toast, you know. But they'd come in there and they'd commence "sunny side up" and "mine well done." And I looked down the line, I said, "You guys want to eat?" And they said, "You're damn right." Well, I said, "Shut your mouth." And I just pulled up a crate of eggs up there, and they had a galvanized pan. It was about that long and about that wide. And I put, oh, about that much grease come across the bottom of it. I just drug it up there and kind of throwed the eggs in there and scrambled 'em. I'd scramble. And I never heared no more about it, scrambled eggs, you know?

 

KW: Yeah. Where did you get the food, then?

 

OB: I don't----we had all kinds of canned goods. I don't know where they come from.

 

KW: Somebody brought the goods.

 

OB: The girls went to the stores, I think, where the people had traded.

 

KW: But your job was to prepare breakfast, particularly. Did they have other people, then, assigned to prepare lunch or dinner?

 

OB: One guy didn't do nothin' but pour coffee.

 

KW: Was that all organized, then, beforehand? You knew what your job was going to be?

 

OB: Yes, huh-huh.

 

KW: Who came around to tell you that, then? How was that decided that you were going to do that?

 

OB: I think that they voted on one guy, not who you were talking about a while ago. Some guy. He got a paper some way, and the board would come down, by where I was working. They said, "Blake, (I think it was two or three nights before we struck)," and they said, "what do you want to do when the time of strike?" "What do you mean?" He said, "We got to get organized and know where every guy's gonna be and what his job is." And he said, "Well, what about you with cooking breakfast? There's gas down there, you know."Somebody else was to make coffee. And he said, "you cook their eggs and toast, when the pickets come in."

 

KW: And you're sure this was before the strike.

 

OB: Yeah. We was talking about it, yes. We talked about it. Right.

 

KW: Did they approach you on the job, or where did you talk about that?

 

OB: We talked at noon. We never did meet out, though. I talked out there on the lawn. And we just, they was about...

 

KW: Now, there were others with Simon. There was Joe Devitt, and Walt Moore, some of those others, I don't know if you knew...

 

OB: You know, I tell you. I remember them guys, but I wouldn't know them to see them, and I forget their names. I just know Brooks, after I went down to the cafeteria. Brooks was the main foreman at that time. He come on down there in the cafeteria, where I was at, and he set down and talked to me.

 

KW: When the strike had just started? Well, he didn't stay in, did he, for long?

 

OB: No, no. We just set down there and talked. Well, we just said it's too bad it's like this. And he said, "I know, Blake." He said, "You've got to stick, you got to stay in, you got to be with them, or else you couldn't work with them, if they win." And I knew that. But there's people today belly-achin' all the time, and I've got boys in the shop, and they don't do nothing like we did. They don't do nothing like we did. But, you know, they've got it made. You know what I mean? They've got all kinds of dividends and all this stuff paid for. Well, we didn't have nothing. I remember the first bonus or whatever it was, or Christmas pay, whatever you want, we got at Fisher Body. We got twenty-five bucks for Christmas. And some of them piss and moan about that, you know. I said, "They gave us this." And I said, "They didn't have to." And I said, "Why bellyache about it?" I said, "They give it to us of their own free will." I said, you know, they didn't have to do that. But some people, well, you know yourself, there's some that you couldn't please.

 

KW: I'm interested in this matter, though, of their asking you to serve breakfast. Had you had any experience, then, as a cook? Did they know that you had done this kind of thing before? Had you done that sort of thing before?

 

OB: No. I done a lot of other stuff ..., but I hadn't done a heck of a lot of it before. Oh, I could scramble eggs.

 

KW: I just wondered why they picked on you to do that particular job.

 

OB: They had certain jobs. And I forgot who it was coming around, taking names. But he said, "Blake, what about fixing breakfast for them?" I said, "What I'll fix?" He said, "Scrambled eggs and toast." And he said there will be a guy pouring coffee and frying bacon. See, I done that for six hours. Then somebody, when that six hours is up, well, they usually had lunch, all kinds of lunch. The guys would come in and have coffee and a sandwich or two.

 

KW: Was there plenty of food, then?

 

OB: Oh, yes. Jeez, I don't know where it come from. They'd come in there with... They had canned goods. I don't know where it come from. Pineapple. I don't know where it come from. But I tell you...

 

KW: Did you have a card then that was issued to you that would be punched when you did your duty?

 

OB: Yeah. I just started to tell you. See, I knowed all them watchmans real well. And we had a little truck, a pickup truck. See, I made coffee, too, for Standard Cotton and Plant 4, Chevrolet.

 

KW: I wanted to get into that, your experiences with Standard. When was that?

 

OB: That was at the time of the strike.

 

KW: Oh, you were brewing coffee, then, to be taken over to...

 

OB: Yes, Standard Cotton and the Plant 4. I made, I'm putting cream cans, and I sent one to Standard Cotton. I don't know how much they are. And I sent two to Plant 4. Well, that gate, when they were locked, one time, and they come down and locked the gate.

 

KW: The watchmen?

 

OB: Yeah. And I knowed the guy, but they left it to vote who's gonna go out there. And naturally I was a sucker. And I just went out there and called him by name , I think it was Walt something, and I called him, I said, "Mr. Walt?" I said they've locked the gate on us, and I said that's the only way in the world to get coffee over to Standard and Plant 4. And he said, "Mr. Blake?" He just turned around and handed me the keys. "I'd escort you."

 

KW: So he gave you the keys and you opened the gate, and the coffee went through. Did they try to shut the gates after that, again?

 

OB: I don't recall. And I talked to him nice and he talked nice to me.

 

KW: Do you think they did that just to...

 

OB: Well, of course they done it for, you know, people can sit and talk down.

 

KW: Sure, but as soon as you objected...

 

OB: Yeah, I just told him, I said it was put up to a vote, and I'm the guinea pig. And I said they want the gate open so we can send the coffee to them plants. They haven't got no way of having coffee of having coffee over there. And he said, "Mr. Blake, just hand me the key." He said, "Mr. Blake," he said, "I just work here like you."

 

KW: So he let you out then. Well, that's interesting. Did you have any other jobs in the plant? That was your job, making breakfast.

 

OB: Well, when I left the plant, my boy got crippled up awful bad in the service, and my wife like to have lost her mind. And I want to say I quit after better than seventeen years. I quit.

 

KW: That would have been about '44, would it?

 

OB: Yep, you're right. That's right. And I went to St. Louis, and I went to work in a machine shop. And I worked there I think three years. And in time, I tell me to quit and go. We thought Marvin, my oldest son----he's crippled up yet----he's going to get sent to St. LouisHospital on account of his foot, you know. They shot his foot. It just looks like a wooden wedge, you know, his foot is healed up. And all the wife could do was to keep her head in the radio, and meet me every time I came home, squalling and bawling. And so I quit Fisher and went to St. Louis. I worked in a machine shop, I think it's three years. And I come back here and I went to work for Standard Cotton. And I'd worked there about two weeks, and I met Charlie Mooney, the boss at that time. He's boss over Final Assembly. And he'd see me, and he told me, he said, "Orval, why don't you come back and work for me?" I was on repair when I left and making a little bit more money. And I said, "Well," I said, "Charlie, I bet I'm getting to this age now, and I said, "I've got to work somewhere where I can make seniority. I've got to get seniority so I will know I'll have a job." He said, "Well," he said, "if you want to work for me, I'll put you on the the same job you was on when you left." He said, "You can work as many hours as you want to." And I said, "Well..." I thought about it, and I said, "Well, I know that the union, the first one put together he younger people that hired in," I said, "You know damn well that they're going to go first." He said, "Yeah." Then he said, "I can't do nothing about that for you, either." But he said, "If I could, I would." I said, "You couldn't give me part of my seniority back, either, could you?" He said, "No." He said, "You know good and well the union..." He said they'd build a wall. And I knew they would. "Well," I said, "I want to get seniority." I said, "I messed my stuff up now."Instead, I was going to tell you, of sending Marvin to St. Louis, Missouri, they sent him to Clinton, Iowa, to that military base hospital. And I worked around there. And he'd worked at the AC, and he had seniority there, you know, Marvin did. Then we come back to Flint.Spend what I had and... I had to.

 

KW: Now, the strike, then, was ended in February. Did you notice changes on the job? How did conditions change?

 

OB: They never tried to add no work on me. Then you had a certain job, but they didn't add no work on me. And they talked to you decent. You know what I mean. They didn't... I've heared 'em press guys in there, you know. And sometimes they'd cause trouble. Theguy'd hit him. Which he's fired, right there on the spot. When you hit a foreman, you're fired. And all this, such as that, but they never... I was no good at... I was no sucker. But I never had no trouble. And Charlie Mooney, I guess, is still at the Fisher Body, and you could find out by him, about me, because, I don't know... But I was just going to tell you. The guys today, working in the shop, they don't know, or they don't realize, that the job they got is as easy as it is [inaudible] and they wouldn't be making that money either. You know that yourself. And so, course I'm not holding it again' 'em. Good God, I'm glad they are getting it, but you know what I mean. They don't believe it.

 

KW: After the strike, did you work for the union at all?

 

OB: What do you mean?

 

KW: As a steward, or...?

 

OB: No. I was offered... They wanted to give me a steward or to be a committeeman. I said I don't want no part of it. I said I don't know enough about it. And I said, "You make enemies. You make friends and you make enemies," I said. And that affects the, makes the company do this and that, and I said I don't know nothing about it. I can't do this. And I was telling Red I couldn't.

 

KW: Did you help recruit other people into the union afterward? 'Cause I imagine after the strike was over and you had won, large numbers of people would join.

 

OB: Well, yes. After the strike, you didn't have to join. If you was there, you didn't have to pay no dues till three months, when you got seniority. [inaudible] Took your dues out of your check. You were in the union. They took it out.

 

KW: The check-off system. That came a bit later, didn't it? During the Second World War.

 

OB: Yeah, yeah. Well, let's see. We did pay our own dues after the war, yeah.

 

KW: Then I guess you did have the closed shop, too, where you had to be a member of the union to join.

 

OB: That's right.

 

KW: Did some of the people that you worked with hold out against joining the union?

 

OB: Yeah, there was one guy... There was a guy, name of Morris. He worked in the glue room. And he just wouldn't join for a long, long time. And they'd set around... You know, he'd eat by himself, and they'd say a lot of things to him.

 

KW: The union people would.

 

OB: Yeah. And one day, at noon---I don't know who the speaker was or anything---but, anyhow, he told him. He said, "Now, you ain't no better than we are. And we ain't no better than you are. But," he told him, he said, "this is a human shop, and," he said, "we tried to get you to join." There must not be an automatic taking your dues out. I don't remember. But, anyhow, he didn't want it. And I don't remember who it was who told him. They told him, "Now, Morris," they said, "you better join the union." He said, "Why?" He said, "If you don't, if you don't join the union within a week, we're gonna wad you up..."

 

(END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B)

 

KW: He joined the union, then, after that.

 

OB: Yeah. But he knew the guy meant that, though. And I did, too. I liked him all right. He's a good worker, but he just... I don't know what his attitude was, if it was a closed shop that he'd... He must have told them down at the office that he wasn't going to join, because they never took nothing out of it. But that was... You had to wait three months anyway. But if you made seniority, they automatically took it out then.

 

KW: Did you take part in efforts to organize any other plants after the strike?

 

OB: Never did.

 

KW: Some went down to, I guess, to Pontiac and South End.

 

OB: I know a guy that left his family. And he had kids. He left his family and went all over, helping organize places. Well, his family didn't live very far from me, and she had to go to work, and they had a bunch of kids. And I don't know. He was another nut to leave his family like that, you know. And they had it pretty hard.

 

KW: He didn't get paid, then, by the union.

 

OB: He got paid, but I don't know. I think he turned out to be nothing but self, because anytime you don't provide for your family or do your best for them, why, ...I don't care too much about him. I don't care who he is.

 

KW: Going back to the period when you were on strike and your family was getting by, as you say, the best they could, did the family get harassed at all by any of the neighbors because you were in the plant and they felt that wasn't a proper thing to do?

 

OB: There was one family, I think, not too far from me, and her man, he worked in the shop. But he was... I don't think he worked in the Fisher, but, anyhow, she didn't know what they was going to do, and I didn't neither. And her husband being gone like that, she said, "Maybe he's in the strike, and maybe he's somewhere else." All that. And it kind of messed my wife up a little bit. I took some canned goods home to my family and bread. I took twice some canned goods home. They knowed that I had kids, you know. And [inaudible]. And I think the grocery man, whoever----it must have been more than one----must have told them that some of that food out to people that had kids, you know. Because they didn't want to mention it to me. But, anyhow, I took the canned goods, and I took the bread home. But I never took no bacon or nothing like that. But I took canned goods twice, and they wasn't going hungry, but they wasn't having what they needed to eat.

 

KW: Must have made it hard on you, then,...

 

OB: Damn right it was hard. You better believe it.

 

KW: Were most of the fellows who sat down as long as you did (you know, you stuck it out for almost the whole time, except for one day), were most of those fellows in the plant married, or were a lot of them single? Could you generalize on that?

 

OB: I tell you. Them older guys, like myself, that had been there any length of time was married. But there were a lot of single guys in there. And they hired and fired a lot then. And there were a lot of single guys in there that, that's the reason why we knew that they wasn't going to stay with us, because they hadn't been there long enough to get seniority. And when things happen like that, they were going to ball the jack. And we knew that. But it was just like this: Afterwards, in there, let's say twenty days, or whatever, we just knew that if we didn't win in some way, that we didn't have no seniority, and we didn't have no job, and we didn't have nothin'. We were all, I guess, like me, in debt.

 

KW: So a lot of them were family men, then, who stayed in. The single men would leave.

 

OB: Jumped out. Most of them. There was a few that stuck it out. But, you know, the most of them young guys, they...

 

KW: Did your kids, a couple of them were going to school... Did they ever talk about how they'd get harassed at school, you know? Anybody talk about them?

 

OB: I don't think so. I had kids in school, and I don't remember a one of them, and I've got five boys. But I don't remember a one of them saying anything again' it, or anybody that said anything to them at school, because there was so many around there that had kids in school, you know. There was quite a few that was in the same boat. And still yet today, I'm a union man, far as being in the union. But, course, this is going to get recorded on that, and some of them will raise hell because I say this.

 

KW: No, this will be confidential.

 

OB: But I'll tell you. There's people... I don't know. They've changed. These people don't work. They won't work. They won't work in the shop. I don't know, but my kids tell me. And after they get seniority, they think a union can just, I mean, they can't do nothing bad with firing them. They get them back. Well, they do get a lot of them back. But I don't believe in killing yourself at no job. But when I think when you're making good money like they're making, they should work some. Maybe I'm wrong. You know what I mean. I think right's right. I know one thing, though. We wasn't treated good. I ain't gonna run the company down, 'cause they've always been good to me. So was Standard Cotton have been good to me. And Charlie Mooney, he was the main foreman over there in Final Assembly when I was ... I met him at the bank over here on Fenton Road, and he was talking to me. And he was the one that said, "Orval, won't you come back and work for me?" And just told him my story that I had to make seniority, and I said I ain't got nothing against Standard Cotton, but you see where I missed my deal right there, if I'd have went back and worked one year, I wouldn't have got seniority, but I'd have gotten all of my pension, going back to where....

 

KW: You mentioned that you were working at Standard Cotton. That must have been well after the strike.

 

OB: Yeah, oh, yeah. I left...

 

KW: But Standard Cotton isn't in operation anymore, of course. When did it close down? Do you remember?

 

OB: Well, I went... I left there in '67, and they closed about a year after I left.

 

KW: About '68. Now, I didn't push you on that so much, because you didn't work there in the period before the strike, but did any of the people that you talked with later on talk about how things were in the period in Standard Cotton before the strike?

 

OB: Yeah. They talked a lot to me about it. They talked about me sending all that sloppy coffee and stuff over there, you know. That was another hard bunch, too. But I'll tell you what I think. The main reason that place went out of business is just because people treated them like they did.

 

KW: Now, was Standard Cotton still a rough place to work, then, after the strike?

 

OB: The worst.

 

KW: In what way?

 

OB: I can't tell you over that.

 

KW: Well... [tape shuts off]. That's it.

 

OB: No, I didn't want it. He just showed me how much easier it was, you know, 'cause you could tell, if anybody passed that besides you, and you knew it (and, of course, if you passed it, course you knew it too), but, I mean if anything passed that eye, it would tell. And they had them quite a bit over the shop.

 

KW: Did you know any, when you worked in Standard Cotton, boys by the name of Thrasher, Carl and John Thrasher? Apparently they worked at Standard Cotton and they were organized leaders of the Sit-Down Strike.

 

OB: I remember something about them. They didn't work there long, did they?

 

KW: I don't know. They were working there at the time of the strike, and I know they were helping to organize.

 

OB: Carl Thrasher. Seems like I... I don't know.

 

KW: Well, they were I know during the strike, but that would have been years before you came on. Are there any of those people who worked at Standard Cotton still alive, that you know?

 

OB: Oh, yeah. There's a lot of 'em that's dead. I meet one once in a great while, like out to Eastland or over in Genesee Valley or something. I met one of the journeymans over there not too long ago. I forgot his name. His dad used to run a streetcar out back. He was telling about him. I said I've rode with that guy a lot of times. He used to drive out South End, when I had no car. I forgot now.

 

KW: Well, that's all right. That's interesting. When you lived at Norton, south of, well, around Fisher 1, were there a lot of people from Missouri and the South that lived together, in, you know, together?

 

OB: Not right there where I lived. But they lived mostly over... I lived over close to Saginaw, than I did Fenton Road. They all lived over there, right close to the shop. I didn't. I lived on Norton when I was pretty near, I was almost right behind the Fisher Body.

 

KW: Were most of your friends from the South, then? From Missouri and that area?

 

OB: Yeah, Arkansas.

 

KW: And Arkansas? You mentioned that when you came up that the company didn't make any effort to bring you up particularly, but I understand later they did make real efforts to recruit men from the South, from Missouri and Arkansas.

 

OB: Well, I don't know where they recruited or not, but I know they hired nearly everyone that come along. And, but even 'fore I left, there, they was some guys from other countries. They had jobs there before they got over here.

 

KW: Oh, yeah, Poles and Hungarians, I guess. Can you form any judgment as to how easy it was to organize Southerners, people from South? Did they join the union fairly easily, most of...?

 

OB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, they did.

 

KW: Were there many blacks working in the union?

 

OB: There wasn't any till right on the last. They didn't hire 'em. That's at Standard Cotton I'm talking about. But the Ford went down. Ford went out of business. I think they had to have one out of every ten.

 

KW: I see. Was that the union that wanted that, or pushed for that? Or the government?

 

OB: That was the government. Yeah.

 

KW: But at the time of the Sit-Down Strike, in Fisher 1, there weren't many.

 

OB: There wasn't any. There wasn't even a sweeper in the colored there. No.

 

KW: Oh, one other thing that I'd like to get into. At the time of the strike, now, in '37, the accusation was made in the Flint Journal and everywhere that guys who were organizing the strike were a lot of Communists, radicals, and that sort of thing. Was there any truth to that, that you know of? Do you think that any of these people were Communists, Socialists?

 

OB: Yes, I do. Because they didn't... You know I've got a feeling for people. And I don't believe in radical. And I don't believe in trying to get somebody to do something that I wouldn't do. And I wouldn't go out and try to organize people. Course I was in the strike, and I was in there to stay, just like the rest of them. I wasn't no better than the rest of them----don't get me wrong----because I knowed I had to win or I had had it. But, like... You know, you get talking to a bunch of men like that, there's always somebody in there who'll call out and say something and get all the rest of them worked up. You know what I mean?

 

KW: Yeah, what did they say particularly? Can you remember what these...?

 

OB: Well, I don't know. I don't know. I never did go to very many of the meetings, but...

 

KW: Well, they did have meetings then.

 

OB: Well, afterwards, at different places. But I never was one to go. And what they could do and what they couldn't do. "It's up to you guys." "If you want to let them get by with it." Or something like that. Just things like that. "You know what to do."

 

KW: Did they talk about changing this whole system, then? Doing away the capitalist system and substitute a new system?

 

OB: No, I never heard that. I never heard them say that. But I know there were radicals.

 

KW: Did any of them talk to you about joining the Party or anything like that, you know?

 

OB: I had a guy come up to me and asked me if I'd like to be a KK.

 

KW: Oh? Ku Klux Klan.

 

OB: And I said no. I left a bunch when I left Missouri.

 

KW: Yeah, it was strong in parts of the South I know. When was that, that you were approached to join the Ku Klux Klan?

 

OB: Let's see. That was after the strike.

 

KW: After the strike. You sure, because I know they were active during and before the strike, in the '20s and '30s.

 

OB: It was after. And I told him no, I wasn't interested. And I got to thinkin' about it. I thought I better talk right to him. I just told him that they were all right, but I said I don't believe in some of the things they do, you know, and I said, "I'd rather not." He said, "That's up to you." He said, "Just asked." And that was all there was to it.

 

KW: Were there many in the plants, who worked there, that were Klansmen?

 

OB: I don't know of a one. I'll be honest. They might have been. But, if they did, I didn't know it. I really didn't. They's some in there that... Well, they are today, and always will be. They's radicals. Maybe they do something to their machinery, or do something to the car, or do this and that. That don't hurt the company. It's hurtin' them. They don't see that. They don't see that.

 

KW: Was this man who approached you about joining the Klan, was he a union man?

 

OB: Yup.

 

KW: He was a union man. Interesting.

 

OB: Yup, he was a union man.

 

KW: Now, in the period after the strike (we just got into that)...

 

OB: Yeah, it seems it was six months afer the strike. Seems like.

 

KW: Did you know of a group in Flint called the Black Legion, somewhat like the Klan?

 

OB: I heard of 'em. I heard of 'em. But I don't know nothin' about it. I did heard about it, though. When was that, now?

 

KW: Well, that would have been just before the strike, about '36 and '35, '36, perhaps, on into '37.

 

OB: Well, I tell you, I don't know one thing about 'em, but I did hear about 'em. I remember hearing about 'em since you mentioned it, yeah. Yeah.

 

KW: In the plants, people talking about it?

 

OB: I just heard part of 'em talking about it. They wanted to know what it meant, you know, and things like that. I don't know what it meant, or... I know, down South, a little further South than where I lived, when I was a kid, I was about.... Or, 'fore I married... I imagine I was about thirteen or fourteen years old. I hadn't been from Illinois very long. There were a lot of 'em, around Gideon, around Gideon and Clarkton [Missouri] and all in there.

 

KW: Klansmen in robes and that. That must have been before you...

 

OB: Yeah. I know they tried to get my dad to join. But he didn't do it. He told 'em, he said, "I tell you." He said... We just moved here. And he said... They were after the guy that we lived on his place. He owned a lot of land. His name was Ed Page. He lived in Clarkton, but he had, oh, I don't know how much land he owned, around Gideon, you know. And we lived on his place. Dad told 'em, he said, "We just moved here." And some of 'em were niggers. And he said, "I don't want to be burnt out, or nothin' like that. But," he said, "I just can't join nothin' like that now." And, to tell the truth about it, in about a week after that, he found out, three or four of 'em who it was. He didn't know at the time. But I know I was coming from Gideon one night. I'd been to a show. And I was walking. It was about a half mile, I guess. I seen a bunch of them coming down the road, meeting me. And I had to go home.

 

KW: Were they dressed up in robes and that?

 

OB: Yeah. They had the hoods on plum down to here, you know. And I didn't know it at that time who was talking to me, but they met me and I ... [inaudible] One of them stepped up, and he said, "Are you scared?" I said, "No, I'm not scared." Right then I was shaking in my shoe. And he said, "Oh, well, listen." He said, "Don't you run home." He said, "We're not out to harm nobody." But after I got it past him, I imagine it was about a quarter mile from my house, and I run every step of the way. And I talked to him since, oh not too long after it kind of died down. He said, "Did you know who was talking to you?" I said, "Not then," but I said, "I do now." I said, "It was you." He said, "It's not like it was." And I said, "I know dang well it was."

 

KW: Who were they, then, particularly?

 

OB: Ku Klux Klan.

 

KW: Klansmen, but they were neighbors of yours, then?

 

OB: Yeah. In Gideon. They lived in Gideon. They wasn't really right neighbors, but I knew 'em.

 

KW: After the strike, I understand, in '37, there was a wave of wildcat strikes and slowdowns and that in the plants, some in Fisher 1, too. Do you remember any of those?

 

OB: Yeah, and there's something else, you see. When a bunch talks like that and wants you to slow down, and you're in there with them, you almost got to go along. If you don't, they'll make it so damn miserable for you you can't stand it. You know. They'll mess your work up. They'll fix it where you can't fix it. Just hide your tools. Put this here rubber dough in your tools. You know. That's what I mean about radicals. I don't believe in that. And I don't...

 

KW: But there were slowdowns then. What caused those?

 

OB: Well, something would just happen and it may be not in that department. Maybe it'd be in some other department. They'd slow down in favor of them, you know. I don't know. I believe in the union, but I don't believe in a lot of things they...

 

KW: You didn't support those wildcats, then.

 

OB: No. I don't believe in them. If it was just come down to really necessary, if it was really important, and, with a union, it wasn't one-sided, it wouldn't be so bad. But I think sometimes it's so damn one-sided that it's difficult tryin' to make something out of something that don't mean nothing. And I tell you, I don't know. These plants that shut down or go out of business, some of 'em's gotta be in bad shape to lose everything they had. You know that, too. That's what I mean with me. It's like that measly little twenty-five dollars they first give us at the Fisher Body.

 

KW: Well, they gave you a bonus, didn't they, just before the strike, too, didn't they? Christmas in '36?

 

OB: It was turkey, didn't it?

 

KW: No, I thought it was a bonus, cash. Some of the guy's I've talked to said that they thought that was because the company wanted to stop the men from joining the union, thought if they gave a bonus, they might persuade them not to join.

 

OB: God, I don't know. Maybe they did. That's been a long time ago. But I know the first one they give us was twenty-five dollars, and, you know what I mean, we didn't expect nothin'. I mean we never did get nothin'. And then some of 'em, I just remember that some of 'em, they wasn't satisfied. They thought they was afraid of hurtin' theirselves or doin' this or that, you know. And I told some of 'em, I said, no, I said it used to get to me, because I said I didn't know nothin'. I didn't expect a penny or didn't think nothin' about it. And I said, after all, they give it to us. And I said they didn't have to.

 

KW: Did you ever involve yourself in politics after the strike?

 

OB: What do you mean?

 

KW: You know, city politics. You know, the union would try to defeat maybe the city manager or people who would not...

 

OB: No. Yeah, I've had people come to me and tell me how to vote or how I shouldn't vote. But I listened to 'em. But, you know, that's the only freedom we got left too much, anymore. I mean your own salvation or you vote who you want to, and I don't let 'em bug me too much. I vote who I think is the best man. And nowadays, who is the best man?

 

KW: Well...

 

END