INTERVIEWEE: Roger Townsend (RT)
INTERVIEWER: Sharon Logan (SL)
DATE: Undated, but probably 1980
LOGAN: This interview is being conducted for the purpose of gathering oral history about Flint. This project has resulted from a political science course taken at the University of Michigan under the guidance of Doctors Pendrell and Leighton. Today I’m talking with Mr. Roger Townsend, and we’ll start off by asking Mr. Townsend when he first arrived in Flint.
TOWNSEND: I came to Flint in 1932. I believe it was August of 1932.
LOGAN: When you first came to Flint, where did you come from?
TOWNSEND: I came from Arkansas.
LOGAN: And how old were you at the time?
TOWNSEND: I was twenty.
LOGAN: What did you do when you were in Arkansas, or what did your family do?
TOWNSEND: My mother and father were schoolteachers, but they were farmers. But most of the people at that stage of the game, they farmed, and the school usually lasted about five months or six months at the most, so they had to use farming or something else, some other occupation, to maintain the rent.
LOGAN: So you were about twenty when you came here in 1932. Now, when you first came here, what was your purpose in coming to Flint?
TOWNSEND: Seeking employment.
LOGAN: How did you know about it?
TOWNSEND: There were none I was seeking. I came on a freight train.
LOGAN: Oh, okay. But you just picked Flint, or did you----
TOWNSEND: No, I went all around. I had worked in 1929 in Muskegon, Michigan. And I only worked in the summer. Then I went back to school at Arkansas State College, at that time the AM & N College, in Pine Bluff. And then in ’30 I went lookin’ for a job, and I couldn’t find any, so I came in ’31, I was up, and I wasn’t able to go back to school in ’31. And so I came to Flint lookin’ for work in ’32. I had gone in Louisiana. I had gone into Missouri and Tennessee, Illinois, Kentucky, lookin’ for work, but this was all, at that time we traveled by freight train.
LOGAN: Okay. Did you go by yourself or did someone come with you?
TOWNSEND: No, I just came with a group. It was always a group traveling. I did come with acquaintance.
LOGAN: When you came to Flint, did you first get a place to stay, or did you first look for a job?
TOWNSEND: I had relatives living in Flint. I had an uncle, and I had about fifteen or twenty cousins.
LOGAN: Why don’t you start telling me about how you went about applying for jobs in. . . I mean which types of jobs you did apply for before you did finally get hired.
TOWNSEND: Okay, well I sought any kind of work that I could hear of, that anyone that told me that there was a possibility of a job. Everybody at that particular time was lookin’ for jobs. There was a foundry in Saginaw, and I would also go to Saginaw, Grand Rapids, and Muskegon, lookin’ for work. I would catch a freight train and go to Saginaw one day, and then the next week I would go to Grand Rapids and Muskegon, and there were no work there, but they were hiring at a little foundry in Saginaw. I bet at that particular time they were hiring few. And, of course, the only way you could get hired, why, you would have to go and stand in line and wait until somebody in the foundry fell out. And then they would come out and pull the first one at the head of the line in. That’s the only way you would get hired. And there would be probably two hundred people there waiting. And they would come out, and they didn’t necessarily get the one at the head of the line. They would look at his size, and what if he looked black, why, that’s who they would bring in. I mean if he looked like he weighed two hundred pounds, why, they’d bring him in. That was in Saginaw. They were not hiring anybody in Flint, only they were hiring a few, but these were all white. They may have hired two black, but I doubt that. All of them were white. At that particular time Fisher Body had three people working, black. This was in 1932. And they only worked in the cloakroom, taking care of… They had one work in the kitchen. And the other two took care of the superintendent, washed their cars, cleaned, kept their shoes and things shined up and this kind of thing. Those three had different badges from white, they didn’t have the same badge as white. They had a separate badge. And those were the only ones that worked at Fisher. They were not allowed any further than the main office. At Chevrolet they had only janitor work, and that must have been probably less than a hundred or maybe a hundred fifty working in 1932 at Chevrolet, black. At Buick the only blacks that worked at Buick were workin’ in the foundry. There were about two others working. There was one black woman working cleaning up the restrooms in the foundry for the ladies that worked in the core room.
LOGAN: Excuse me. Do you know that woman’s name?
TOWNSEND: She passed not long ago. What was her name? Can’t think of her name now, but she passed about two years ago, I believe.
LOGAN: We can go by it later. You can come back to that.
TOWNSEND: But, anyway, in the foundry. . . Then I got a job in the foundry. They started hiring. Roosevelt got elected. He took office in ’33, January of ’33, and they started. . . In 1933 they brought in the NRA (National Recovery Act), and they gave the factory so long to be prepared to go on an eight-hour shift, so they had to hire for the second shift, and they started hiring those in January in ’34. And they had until, I believe, June----March or June---in ’34 to be prepared for a second shift. So up until that time, they would go to work six o’clock in the morning, get off at six or seven at night. There were no overtime pay as such. They would have to ring out to go to eat lunch, ring back in after they got through eating lunch, or if the line broke down, they had to ring out to go and wait in the dining room until they came for them, and this kind of thing. And as far as safety, there was, I mean. . . The men get burned and they never said----“He just got burned.” There was always a crowd in the first day, and he had to be hurt seriously for them even to consider it. I worked with one fellow, white, who had seven kids. And he was going to get laid off in 1931. He told a friend of his, and I worked with both of ‘em, he told a friend of his he couldn’t afford to get laid off. He was workin’ shoveling coal on a line that carried the coke up, and he told ‘em he couldn’t get laid off. So he stuck his arm and cut his hand off, so keep from gettin’ laid off. And this happened in other cases.
LOGAN: Because if people got maimed, they would keep them on the payroll.
TOWNSEND: Right. And this was his way of staying on the payroll. Then in the latter part of ’34 they started the second shift somewhere about the last of March.
LOGAN: Excuse me. Had you gotten hired at this time?
TOWNSEND: I got hired in January, about the 12th of January, something like that. In 1934.
LOGAN: Tell me about the hiring procedure itself.
TOWNSEND: Well, at this particular time, they would be, once the word got out that they were hiring, it would be a couple thousand men lined up. At that particular time, they hired on the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Industrial. And they would call them in at eight o’clock in the morning. They would open the door and let them in. And at that particular time, they would pull so many in and hire ‘em, and they would hire all day, until three-thirty in the evening. And then they would shut it off. Course they were hiring a few out to Chevrolet all along, but these people were buying their jobs. They were paying so much a payday for their jobs. And they were mostly people who came from Missouri and Louisiana. The hiring manager, they did the hiring out there, was from Louisiana, and anybody from Missouri and Louisiana and Arkansas could get a job, because they knew where to go to make their payments. And if they missed one payment, they lost their job, the same thing that went on in the foundry. In the foundry in particular, most of the whites that worked in the foundry worked in the core room. In the core room, they had women working there, and most of them were Polish, Hungarian, and the foreign element. These people also were paying their superintendents in order to keep a job. And if they wanted a promotion, they had to pay him to get promoted.
LOGAN: But, tell me, so was it possible for blacks to pay to get them a job?
TOWNSEND: Yes. They did that. There were some blacks that any way that they could get a job, there were some that you had to pay to get jobs, I mean that you could get a job. But mostly this was white that would know where and who to pay. There were some blacks that had, real Uncle Toms, that had, could get somebody in by providing the boss with, some of them even provide the boss with their wives, in order to get their son or somebody in, this kind of thing. And any number of them, why, it was common for most of the foremen, general foremen, and, well, not all the superintendents, but the foremen and general foremen, it was common to see these stooges going to work with two lunch pails. One was for the foreman and one was for him. And this went on for a number of years. Even after the union came in this went on. The union, of course, in ’34 they saw this change and in ’35 there was this layoff. And why at that particular time, it was one of those things, they were really getting back at Roosevelt in ’35. They just didn’t produce the cars. So I got laid off. They found out that the union was, there was some rambling about the union coming in, so in ’35 they slowed everything down to throw a fear of God in these people. And in ’36 they started back up. And they started to hiring in ’36. I went to CC camp, and I came back in ’36 and went back in the factory. My service actually started in ’36, in November the 19th.
LOGAN: First of all, let me ask you about this CC camp, because I just recently heard about this for the first time the other day. Would you kind of briefly tell us about the CC camp?
TOWNSEND: Okay. The CC camp was Civilian Conservation Corps. And it was for young men from eighteen along, mostly for single men. And what they did they went up North and planted pine trees. That was their chief job. They would send them up North, and they CC camps, all black and all white. And they sent them up North. I worked in the field. When I first went, I was an orderly. And then I went in, I got called back to the Buick in ’35. I was called back because I had welding when I was in school, and I put this on my record. They called me in. They needed a welder. And when they got there, I went in and right away they discovered that I wasn’t white, and they sent me away, because the guys that was working there at that particular time, they didn’t want any blacks. They had… Most of them… Well, all of them were white. They had one or two black grinders. So, basically they turned me down, and so I went back into the CC camp.
LOGAN: How much did you make in the CC camp?
TOWNSEND: Thirty dollars a month when I first got there, and when I went back, I stayed about one month at thirty dollars, and then I went to thirty-six dollars. I went in the office. The CC camp was composed of two branches of government. One, the military, the Army, was in charge. From Saturday till Monday morning, all of the people in the CC camp came under the Army, unless there was a fire or something, and then the Forestry took over. But I was working for the Forestry. And my job in the office was to keep in, whatever work they did had a number, and I had to charge every, for eight hours I had to charge for sick leave or whatever, but I had a number to charge it to. In other words, they had to be paid by somebody, and if they were in the camp, they would charge to the Army. If they were in the field, they would charge to the Forestry. So there were two different divisions.
LOGAN: So that was a source of employment at the time.
TOWNSEND: Right. Well, we got everything given, just the same as the people in the Army. Now they furnished us Army clothes and everything, clothing, and food and everything was furnished.
LOGAN: So we’re going back again to. . . You were talking about 1936?
TOWNSEND: Yes, I came back in the factory in ’36. And I went back to Buick in ’36. They started me off. . . I worked with the welders for awhile, and I went into ’37. . . The whole year of ’37. . . When I first got hired in, I got hired in at forty-two cents an hour, in ’34. So now we are makin’ fifty-five and sixty cents an hour. And finally they got to sixty-five cents an hour, I believe it was. But what they did was in 1937 we worked, and we were only. . . And then they came in with unemployment compensation.
LOGAN: Okay, well, wait just a moment. Okay, now, first of all. . .
TOWNSEND: The strike started in ’36, the fall of ’36, the strike got to Chevrolet and Fisher Body started. At Buick we were not on strike, but we were. . . At that particular time they were forming the union. But it was a hush-hush matter. Nobody wore a button or anything. Everything whispered among the whites and the blacks. There were two or three killings. They were not involved in blacks, but involved whites. And they would have these secret meetings. So these secret meetings at Buick, the original people that organized it, in order to keep from havin’ the company goons to attack them, they would have their secret meetings and the organizational meetings on Michigan Avenue in Prince Combs’s basement. Whites wouldn’t think that the other whites would be there, so the goons wouldn’t go there. And they would go into this basement. At that time, Michigan Avenue was the red-light street, the red-light district, so nobody would think anything about it. They were having their meetings there. So they organized, and the first chairman of the organization was Henry Clark. They never have given him credit for it, but he was the first chairman of the organization. Henry Clark, black. And they had a white treasurer, and they finally made him treasurer. He was treasurer for years. But they never did make Henry Clark anything. Well, they put him on organizational for awhile, a little bit of lost time or something like that, but most of his was free. So then, after the Sit-Down Strike ended, with Governor Murphy, who was governor at the time, after they solved that, they had all these fights going on out to Chevrolet. And we came out, and the first five buttons that were worn in Buick on black was Henry Clark, Prince Combs, Ed Ayers. . . I can’t think of his name now.
LOGAN: Jesse Jones?
TOWNSEND: Well, Jesse Jones, well, he didn’t wear no button. We had ‘em in our pocket, but we didn’t show ‘em. I had one too. But I was trying to think of the guys who came out with ‘em. Ed Ayers was the first man in the cleaning----
LOGAN: Lucius Fleming?
TOWNSEND: Lucius Fleming’s were, too. He wore it in his pocket but not out. We all----not all of us, but quite a few of us----
LOGAN: What about J. D. Dotson?
TOWNSEND: No, well, J. D. Dotson came out later. J. D. didn’t wear his out first, either. The guy over there was Henry Clark. I believe in the foundry Henry Clark was the only one. In the cleaning room was Ed Ayers. The first day they wore the button out the foreman saw the button on the cap. He went and got the superintendent----I mean the general foreman. The general foreman went and got the superintendent and the assistant superintendent. They all came in and just stood right around with the white shirts on, just got right around and just circled him and just stood there and looked. He never looked up, just steady worked. And everybody started: “That old fool, he ought to know better.” Everybody just started to runnin’ and workin’. And they didn’t say one word, just stood there and looked and read it and just stood there. This superintendent always wore a white shirt, and when he came through, he was always struttin’, well-dressed. When everybody saw him comin’, they went to runnin’. And the only time I ever remember seeing him stop and looking at a man was when he looked at this button. And the assistant superintendent, they all just tremblin’. . . They wondered what was gonna happen. And he was just lookin’. . .All of them, they’re lookin’ just like he was dancin’, like you in the party. They would walk by and look at the button. For a whole week, the foreman, this guy’s foreman, Ed Ayers’s foreman, he never got twenty steps from him. When he started to work, he was right there, lookin’. Wouldn’t say a word to him. And this went on for about two weeks. And then finally they started to having… Buttons started popping up all over----over in the core room, I mean in the foundry. J. D. Dotson and two or three others started coming up with buttons over there. Johnson Buchanan came up with a button, and Ellsworth Steen came up with a button.
LOGAN: Excuse me. At the time these buttons started to appear, this was after the Strike?
TOWNSEND: Right. This was starting right during the Strike. No, this was during the Strike. Right. This was during the Strike.
LOGAN: Okay, because you were still working while they were striking.
TOWNSEND: This was in December. Yeah, it must have been about December when these guys came in with the buttons, and then finally by April there were buttons scattered all around. Green tried to organize them into the AFL (I believe it was Green), but, anyway, he was----they actually was fronts for management. Tom Sims…. I’m trying to think who else. Frank Pitman. They were wearing these buttons from the AFL. And they were having this fight just before they voted for the acceptance of the union. And they were trying to destroy. . . They eventually got all of the big guys. . . This must have been around March or April in 1937. They had all of these big guys. We started to having these little sit-down strikes on [inaudible]. We didn’t have a sit-down strike. We had a slow-down strike. Everything had to move by hand, no conveyors. Everybody had to push or pick it up or do something. It didn’t move unless you moved it. Two men would take a motor block, and, see, where they used to flip it right over, they would let it down just like they were lettin’ down a casket, real easy, then ease it up. The line would be just plugged up. They would ease it up and then they just steady moved, just gradually moved. They started to havin’ these slow-down strikes, so management decided that they wasn’t gonna have it. They’d send people home. Some of these who were with management didn’t want to go home, so they would try to hide around in there. The union would send these big guys in there to rough them up and run them out, so that when they had a strike, everybody’d go home, they’d go home. And this went on in ’37. They had this all ’37, these slow-down strikes. But we were off about two or three weeks. I think I still have my stubs from it. We got unemployment compensation. And I believe at that time they paid, I think I got thirteen dollars for sixteen weeks, or either sixteen dollars for thirteen weeks. And I made that year (I was only off three weeks, all total), that year I think I made twelve hundred dollars, and I was only off two weeks.
LOGAN: So now this was in 1937. Now the other plants had already had their strike, and their union had came in. But Buick did not have a union, even after the Chevrolet strike.
TOWNSEND: When GM settled, they settled for all the GM plants. There were some of the plants that were not CIO (not UAW at that time; we was CIO then). We were part of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which was headed by John L. Lewis. The majority of the people who participated in the strikes were people who were originally miners. As these different unions organized and got a charter, they got their numbers as they got charters, and they became CIO-chartered locals.
LOGAN: When General Motors settled, so Buick was settled too?
LOGAN: But you’re saying now that in the year 1937 that’s just what the benefits were like, just the thirteen dollars per week for the. . .
TOWNSEND: Right. That was the general foreman’s compensation.
LOGAN: Right after the strike, after they settled, how much was your next raise?
TOWNSEND: I think we got a nickel raise, or four-cent raise, or something like that. And at that time, we paid $1.28, I believe it was, or $1.25 or 1.28 or something, for Metropolitan Insurance, which was $2000. And we didn’t know anything about workmen’s compensation.
LOGAN: Did you have union dues right once the union came in?
TOWNSEND: No, we had union dues, but we had to scrimp and pay them. Nobody could be seen collecting union dues, even till up into the ‘40s. ’45 or ’46, before they had the check-off system. The steward, he would collect the dues and take ‘em over to the union hall. Some of ‘em would, and some would put ‘em in their pocket, but they, you know. . .
LOGAN: When the union first came in, what were some of their problems, or how strong were they, or how much influence did they have?
TOWNSEND: They didn’t have too much influence. The only thing that, as I recall, the first grievance that I recall, that I was in, the first meeting, the arguments that they were having, and the sole argument was that----and I guess it was one among them, it might not have been the exact first grievance----but one of ‘em was they wanted to give the men time to go to the water fountain and get water to drink and not have a man, probably who cleaned up the line, and at that time they had milk bottles, and he would have a carton of milk bottles, and he would go and fill these milk bottles and go up and down the line and hand these guys the milk bottles, in the foundry, with their water to drink. So that was one of the first things that they wanted to stop. The second was, the argument was to permit these men on the line to go and use the bathroom. Prior to that, they had piles of sand for them to urinate in. So this was one of the things they wanted done. And they finally got, that was one of the things got done.
LOGAN: So those were one of the first two arguments. Do you remember any other arguments like that, early ones? For working conditions?
TOWNSEND: Well, they finally got relief. This was… They told relief picture they wanted the relief. And they finally got some relief in the morning and some relief in the evening. But before then, unless the line broke down, they didn’t get a chance to relief, or either unless there was something happened, they didn’t get the iron, anything in the machine stopped or something like that, was the only time they could get any relief. Most of the time the only relief that they would get would be when the foreman relieved you. And the foreman just couldn’t relieve all his men. I know I worked when the foreman would come in and relieve me. I had no relief other than that. And----
END OF SIDE ONE
TOWNSEND: [continuing] And they laid everybody off that didn’t have five years, that hadn’t been there for five years. In ’37 they came up with the seniority. And I believe the Wagner Act, I believe, came in, that gave unions the right to organize collectively, collective bargaining. And in ’38 the company----very few ’38 model cars today, they just didn’t make ‘em---they stood down that year. They just didn’t make any cars. They laid everybody off five years. So we went on WPA, PWA, and this kind of thing, the Works Project Administration. The women did sewing. The men put in sewers. At that particular time everything was outside toilet from Wager and Industrial, Pierson Road north was all outside toilets, east of Saginaw Street and west of Saginaw Street. So WPA put in the sewer lines. There were no sewer lines. They put in sewer lines all the way to Carpenter Road. Then they went across the river, and they put in sewer lines over there where they had no sewer lines. This was WPA. That was the way that they worked in ’38. So their theory was, this president of General Motors said, “a hungry dog hunts well.” So they felt that, okay, they are hungry enough, so in ’39, they went back to work. And again they tried to destroy the union, but they were not successful in ’39. Then ’40 came. Well, the war started. They worked fairly good in ’40. ’41 was a good year. They could see the war coming. So ’41 was a good year. They worked good that year. Everybody worked almost the full year. ’42 started the changeover. And at that particular time, Buick was under complete control of the Army, Colonel Strong. And of course they tried to strike, and Colonel Strong. . . This one guy, two of the shop committeemen, they fired, blackballed out of all General Motors, and they sent one to the Army. The other one was too old. One was named Ed Geiger, and the other one was named Marlon Butler. Neither one ever got another job in General Motors. This was not done by General Motors, but this was done by Army, Colonel Strong, and he had the last say. Whatever he said, if he said “send ‘em to the Army,” they went.
LOGAN: So why did this Strong have the say-so?
TOWNSEND: He came in during the War. He was over the plant. I mean he replaced the manager, plant manager, and he had the last say. Colonel Strong. He was the guy that had the last say. This was prior to having the umpire, the union eventually went to the umpire, and if I recall, they went to the umpire somewhere about ’45 or ’46, somewhere in there. And now the umpire has the final decision. He makes the final decisions. In other words, it’s binding. Whatever the umpire says becomes law. When they have a grievance procedure, they keep processing, and if management and the union can’t agree, why, then it goes to the umpire, and the umpire makes the final decision. And that came in after the----forties, well. . . During the war, the top pay was about $1.14 outside of the skilled trades. And of course the skilled trades, there were no blacks in the skilled trades until the war. And of course after blacks started to getting into the skilled trade and then after they came up----oh, this must have been in the fifties or early sixties, probably in the sixties, I believe----when they started this apprenticeship program. Now, after they started with the civil rights, this is when the problem started, black and white, within the union, the faction within the union, friction in the union between black and white, is when they started saying, well, black has to be promoted along with their seniority calls for a job, they get it. Prior to the war, there were no such thing. They also stayed in the foundry. And if they brought in a new machine in the foundry, it was a new machine, and if it replaced a black, he went on the line. And this was one of the first things that they won, probably about----well, the last of ’37. They would bring whites in there to run the machine, even if it was nothing but a drill press. If it was a machine, they didn’t let no black run it. They put a white on it. Then in the ‘60s, and the civil rights, and the Fair Employment Practice Act went into effect. . . No, this was under Roosevelt. It must have been ’43. He said it was a----not an act---it was declared by the President. It was named 8802. And it was supposed to have been known as the Fair Employment Act. Then they saw that we started to have this push to try to get blacks promoted. And the NAACP, everybody, was fightin’ to get these blacks promoted. So as soon as they started getting into skilled trades, prior to blacks going into skilled trades, whites could go into skilled trades on any job, with the exception of tool and die or patternmaker, any of those jobs they could go in there and in three months they would have the classification as a journeyman. But when blacks started to going in there, now they want the blacks to have five years, I mean they raised this apprenticeship program to where it’s about the fifth year before they become journeymen. When the foundry had adjacent to it the pattern shop, the pattern shop was made up of all whites, and of course these were skilled-trades people, making patterns for the foundry. And the buildings joined, but they did not eat at the same time that the foundry workers did. They didn’t ring in or ring out at the same clocks. They never joined the union. They always wore white shirts and black ties, and they never joined the union. Today I saw in the paper where they are still trying to find jobs for them, because their work is gone.
LOGAN: Well, tell me, now. How many blacks do you think there was working in Buick, total, 1936, compared to maybe right after the strike in 1937?
TOWNSEND: I would think that probably was roughly about six hundred in Buick altogether. This went on until probably, well, let’s see. I would think they might have gotten as high as 750 in ’41. But when the war started, they opened up the aluminum foundry and they closed down this foundry. And that was when they started goin’ to all of the plants. They could go to any plant they wanted to then. They would send them to all of the different plants. They hired for the foundry, and if anybody wanted to go up there, they could go up there, either they could go to any other plant.
LOGAN: So, tell me. You were talking about the racial problems between black and white.
TOWNSEND: Well, I mean when the skilled trade, they resented blacks coming in the skilled trades.
LOGAN: I mean was there really a racial problem or tension before that? Just say during the day.
TOWNSEND: Well, not in particular. It was noticeable in ’37 and ’38. They used to have the union hall on the corner of Industrial and McClelland Street. They accepted the dues in the back, and everybody at Buick had to pay the dues. You could go to the back of the union hall and pay the dues, but the meeting was out front. But the office was right in the back, and you could see the, I mean you’d just be standin’ payin’ your dues while the meeting was goin’ on, and they had a couple girls taking the dues money, and this kind of thing. And then the treasurer was there. I have gone in there with other guys and Plant 3, which was drop-forge, and the people in Plant 3 got just as dirty as the guys in the foundry. The only difference in Plant 3 their dirt was grease, black grease, from the drop-forge. And in the foundry it was sand, black sand, all right? I have gone there when they would be having their meeting and they would recess the meeting until we paid our dues and went out. They didn’t want us in there while we were doing that. They would recess the meeting.
LOGAN: Were blacks allowed to union meetings?
TOWNSEND: Right. But this would be a plant meeting. This would be a plant meeting. So there was this friction all along between plants. In other words, up until 1942 there was only three gates that blacks could go in at Buick. No other gate Plant Protection would let them in. If they attempted to go in, say, on Spencer Street, and it was raining, they could park there, but they would have to walk in the rain up to Addison and go in at Addison, or either go down to Leith Street and go in.
LOGAN: Okay, what about eating rooms, like that?
TOWNSEND: Okay, in the dining hall they could eat, in the dining hall. And, of course, the company would, as far, they had, this was the only place that the men. . . The only difference was that women had a dining hall, and the men had a dining hall. And they would let skilled-trades people go up and eat at one time, and then the regular line workers would go up and eat, and usually the line workers would be ninety-five percent black. And the core room workers would be white, but most of them would go up to the women’s dining room on the other end. They could go, but the blacks couldn’t. They had an invisible line. And they had to break that down, because this invisible line had restrooms over it. This was for whites and on the other side was for blacks. This existed up until ’37. These were some of the things. They had to fight about like built all the units of restrooms that was closest. These guys would be workin’. All they had to go was walk right cross and go into the restroom, but it was white, even though they were workin’ right there. In the summertime, when it would be real hot, they would have these big fans where they’d be shakin’ out this iron, and it would probably be 120 at least. They would be shakin’ out, and this steel floor, to keep this big steel (it would be that thick) floor.
LOGAN: What? About three inches?
TOWNSEND: Right. To keep it from warping, they had hoses pourin’ water continuously on the floor, because it would never run over twenty feet before it would be dried, just become steam and go up. The steel floor was just that hot. And these guys would have these big thick, heavy shoes on, with this water on that steel to keep it from buckling up. And some of these people, they had salt pills, and everybody in the summer would use these salt pills, when their perspiration. Some of them you could just rake the salt off their work clothes. It would come right through the skin. This friction went along for a long time, this friction between blacks and whites. I mean any of the other plants. . . We would go to the union meeting and there were these people in there that would always bring up the question “What about the color barriers?” They would always bring this up. This was from the plant all the way up through the top. We went down to a convention at a hotel in Detroit (I can’t think of this big hotel, but it’s closed now) to see R. J. Thomas, who at that time was president of the UAW, and we got to the hotel (there was four of us). One guy’s livin’ there, by the name of Ernie Dorsey. He lives in Dayton, Ohio. He was one of the guys who was with us. We got there and we saw a guy by the name of Harding. We got in touch with him before they took us down to the hotel. When we got there, they would not let us in the front door. We had to go around and come through the kitchen. We came in, and R. J. Thomas, George Addiss, and all of these other guys who were head of the UAW at that time (George Addiss was the Financial Secretary), and they were sitting under these big palm trees, imaginary palm trees, sittin’ out in the lobby. And the crowd was there, and they stopped us right there at the entrance coming from the kitchen and called him over. And he called Walter Reuther over to talk to us, to say what our problem was. We were not even allowed to come into the convention. So they had that problem. Even though they would have few blacks that could come in later, but at that particular time, they were having these kinds of problems, like talk about them being rude and crude. They were much worse than the Shriners. They were barred out of Buffalo. I don’t think they’ve ever had one there because they did so much damage. And of course, most blacks was afraid to even go to the meetings, because they were so rough.
LOGAN: Before we run out of time here, I want to ask you: What was it like in Flint in general? Like in 1936, where were you living then? Were you still living with your relatives then?
TOWNSEND: Yes, I bought a home in ’37.
LOGAN: How much did you pay for that?
TOWNSEND: I paid $1300, twenty-five dollars down and fifteen dollars a month. We lived out on the North End. At that particular time the black settlement ran. . .There was Maines Street, Grant Street, Selby Street, Andrew, Wager, up into Industrial. And it stopped at Industrial. It went. . . It started on one block this side of Pierson Road, Lomita. And from Industrial and Lomita to the railroad track. There were a few blacks scattered in there, Polish and what not. Then we came down. There were a few on North Street. But there was about four families up there, ‘cross Stewart. They came down Andrew, Horton, Selby, Grant, Maines, and that was it. Then they came all the way down to Addison, on Grant and Maines, and one side of Industrial, just a few sides. At that particular time, and this priest at All Saints Church, which used to be on the corner of Addison and Maines, made the statement, and one of the friends of ours, who happened to be a Communist, would always come back and tell us what they said. And this priest----he was Polish----and this priest got up one morning and said that it looked like Africa was moving in on us. So blacks started at Carton Street. Then they came down Carton Street. They went over to North Street. They didn’t cross it. They went over to North Street and came down Industrial Avenue to Dartmouth, then went over to North. This was the only blacks in there at that time.
LOGAN: I mean how was the situation in the city?
TOWNSEND: They brought in beer in 1933. And there were only two places that blacks could drink beer. There were only about a couple coney islands that they could eat. They were not able to eat. Fats Waller came to Flint and he couldn’t get in the Durant Hotel. They finally was able to get him in at the Flint Tavern Hotel. That’s this cat. . . So, as far as the Durant, they couldn’t, nobody, unless. . . I believe at that time they even had white bell hops, if I recall. But blacks might have been around there. There was no place to eat. None of the restaurants downtown----well, the five-and-ten-cent stores, finally they broke them down where they could go in and eat.
LOGAN: I asked someone about entertainment. What did you do for, like, entertainment? What kind of entertainment did they have? I got some surprising answers.
TOWNSEND: Well, the entertainment. . . Finally they came up with the Golden Leaf Club. Then there was the Family Grille on the South End. The South End was divided from the North End, because across the track, Michigan Avenue, St. John Street, all through there, from Dakota all the way back to Florida was all black. So there were these few joints.
LOGAN: What about this I hear about the I.M.A.?
TOWNSEND: The I.M.A., up until----must have been about 1952, somewhere about that, about ’50, anyway----the I.M.A. had dances, the first half on Saturday till one o’clock for whites. And blacks would be from one to five. That went along for many, many years. George Friley had the full concession there for a long time and had the dances. Finally they allowed the blacks to rent the I.M.A. for a whole night just for some of their own affairs. But in the meantime, when I went to work at Buick, and up until 1941 or ’42, they took out, I believe it was eleven cents a pay, or was it $1.11 a pay, for I.M.A. dues. We paid that, everybody paid that up until 1942.
LOGAN: But everybody didn’t get equal treatment.
TOWNSEND: No. We would be allowed one day out to Potter’s Lake. And blacks were allowed one day to Potter’s Lake. And they would go out there that one day. On Christmas they would have one night just before Christmas for blacks one Saturday night, one for whites from the foundry. They would give about ten prizes, and one prize would be a ham, the other would be a turkey, and the other one would be some other little things. And that was what the company would give.
LOGAN: Okay, tell me----I don’t want to run out of tape here----but tell me what year were you hired in and what year did you retire. When you hired in, what was your amount of pay, and when you retired, what was your amount of pay?
TOWNSEND: I hired in at forty-two cents an hour in 1934. I retired in 1969 somewhere in the neighborhood of three dollars an hour, I believe.
LOGAN: And now they’re making how much now?
TOWNSEND: Somewhere about six dollars an hour. That same job that I retired off of, telecontrol. I think the guy told me he was makin’ six-something an hour.
LOGAN: Tell me, then, what did you think, after the union came in, did you feel like they were doing during those years, maybe, say, from ’36 to ’46, did the union really do all you thought they could do for the blacks?
LOGAN: Did they really try?
TOWNSEND: No, they didn’t, because they had the problem of infighting. It was a continuous thing of whites thinking blacks were not getting more than them, but becoming equal to them. And this was the chief fight, because they felt that blacks were becoming, the fight was to not allow blacks to become equal to them. And of course they had guys that were. . . We had one fellow, I sold the personnel manager’s house about five or six years ago, and he was in Florida. And we happened to have time to sit and visit, because I had been on the shop committee and I knew him. And we visited. And he told me that he was retired and that he had been a captive of management and that, how he kept his job as personnel director was being able to furnish management with every move that we were doing. And his source was a guy that was on skilled trades. Every night the two or them played cards together, their wives and them, and they played cards together every night. And this guy would fill them in. And after he told me, I knew the guy real well, and I knew he was tellin’ the truth. The guy would come to the union hall every day, every day, and spend at least two hours at the union hall. And he was collectin’ information to take to him. And he said he could not have kept his job otherwise, if he didn’t furnish information. Everybody wondered where they got the information. Some of us had figured out that he was the source of information. But he verified it. He felt free to talk, and he could talk now, because he said he was actually a slave.
LOGAN: Well, Mr. Townsend, I think that’s about all the time. It’s running out. And I want you to know that this tape will become property of the Political Science Department, and it will be kept confidential, and if any more work is to be done on it, they will ask your permission first.
TOWNSEND: Well, okay. It’s no secret to me.
LOGAN: Thank you, Mr. Townsend.
TOWNSEND: You’re perfectly welcome.