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Interview conducted as part of the Crafted with Pride project, which documented residents of Gaston County's mill village communities. O. K. Dellinger of Belmont talks about his life as a barber in Belmont during the ‘20s and ‘30s, catering to many of the millworkers in the local mills. He was born on a farm that had been in his family for 200 years, but decided he could make more money as a barber so went to barber school in Charlotte, returning to Belmont to go to work in the local shop with five or six other barbers when he was 18. As opposed to farmers, millworkers got their pay in cash once a week (on Wednesdays, he says) so were better able to support local businesses like barber shops. He says many millworkers would come in once a week for “the works” – shave, haircut, and shower. A shave cost 15 cents, a haircut 35 cents, and a shower bath 25 cents (the shop supplied a towel and soap). The shop would open at 5:00 a.m. every day to catch the millworkers coming off the night shift at 6:00 a.m., and would have another busy time after day shift workers got off at 6:00 p.m. (Interestingly, the one movie theater in town also started showing their pictures – silent ones – in the early morning for the night-shift workers in case they wanted to see a movie before going home, and reopened in time for the day shift crowd’s knocking-off time.) Dellinger says money was good – he sometimes made fifty dollars a week, but during the Depression he was lucky to get seven or eight dollars a week. He says the millworkers lived in the mill village housing, paying, he thought, about 30 cents a week per room for room/electricity. They had no running-water bathrooms (outhouses and probably a central pump). The barbershop had three shower-bath stalls, and on weekends they kept busy all day. He mentions two local mill villages that supplied their clientele, Chronicle and Acme, though during the ‘20s and ‘30s there were many more. He says more women than men worked in the mills, the women doing the spinning and spooling and the men “running other parts of the mill, you know.” He says some women also did spooling as piecework, being paid for quantities produced rather than hourly. He says there were different types of mills in the Belmont area, most of them yarn mills making thread and yarn, but also, eventually, hosiery mills and sock mills. All the mills were very dusty and noisy. Dellinger indicates that millworkers weathered the Depression better than most, because even though shifts were cut back most mills stayed in production, and when the Eight Hour Law was passed a lot of laid-off workers were able to come back to their old jobs. He says the mill village people banded together and helped each other out, and the mill owners were generous in extending credit and in other ways. When World War II broke out, textile production soared, and the mills started running 24 hours a day. A lot of people came to the Belmont area mills from Georgia and Tennessee and the NC mountains. He remembers an unsuccessful strike in Gastonia (the Loray Strike) but says unionization efforts never really took hold in the Belmont area. He remarks that one union organizer was killed at Knit Products in East Belmont. Dellinger says that mill workers never had much time off to go places for enjoyment but the two biggest things were baseball and the movies (15 cents a ticket, 10 cents for children). Every mill had its own baseball team, and on Saturdays they would play each other. There was a live-theater entertainment place in Charlotte, Keith’s Vaudeville, and sometimes a mill worker with a car would take a group there. Dellinger talks about Belmont then and now in terms of size, appearance, and vaguely references race relations. He also talks about local politics, which tended to be slow-paced and uneventful; names he mentions are Carl Kale, Dr. Pressley, and J.W. Armstrong.





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