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Interview conducted as part of the Crafted with Pride project, which documented residents of Gaston County's mill village communities. Grady Meeks of Bessemer City provides an African American worker’s perspective on a lifetime of mill employment. When he was a young teenager in 1924 he learned how to drive his father’s Ford, and was recruited (at age 14) by the Gambill-Melvin Mill’s master mechanic, Tom Thornburg, to drive one of the mill’s trucks. (Meeks explains that not many people knew how to drive back then.) He says that the workers whose jobs were inside the mill buildings were all white, but there were a few Black employees doing outdoor work – weighing cotton, hauling waste, doing yard work. Meeks was kept on the road constantly picking up mill supplies and doing other driving jobs like carrying management-level men to town, helping pick up the payroll once a week, and so on. He enjoyed his work and felt he was well paid and well treated. The mill was sold to McNeil, then High Shoals, then McBess Industries. He says the mill would shut down periodically (as they all did) but as soon as they reopened everyone went back to work. At one point, for McNeil, he was engaged to help recruit more workers. He describes the mill village housing, and says that only white employees and their families lived in the villages. Meeks says that organized labor never really took hold where he worked, and that he never participated in the strike. The manager, Mr. Cobb, told the workers that he would continue to pay top wages and they didn’t need a union. Meeks says there was never any trouble on that score. He himself made $12.00 a week, and said that was more than some of the mill workers were making ($10.50, he thought, for most). Meeks talks a bit about the Old Mud Mill, named that because it was built from inferior under-fired bricks made on the spot; how hard it was, when he was a child, to attend school five miles away, especially in the winter, since he had to walk (and he attended, on and off, through the fifth grade); how the mill owners talked about building mill housing for Black employees but never got around to it; how in the ‘twenties you didn’t need to take a test for a driver’s license, you just filled a form out in town and paid ten cents; and how the mill gave away flour and canned goods to employees during the Depression, which Meeks would go to the city to pick up and help distribute. All in all he feels he was very lucky to have had his mill job, and he has fond memories. The mill management was generous and friendly in those days, and it was easy to borrow money against one’s pay during hard times (though Meeks said he never had to do this). He also speaks admiringly of Mr. Carl Carpenter at the bank in Bessemer City, someone who was generous with loans and well respected in the community. Meeks married his wife in 1948 and they had one son who went to college and has retired from a career in the Air Force after 26 years.





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