Loading the player...
Interview conducted as part of the Crafted with Pride project, which documented residents of Gaston County's mill village communities. Juanita Bolin of Gastonia was born in the Clara Mill Village in 1919, as were all four of her siblings. Her father was an overseer at the mill, and they had a comfortable house with a big yard, a barn, and a smokehouse. She doesn’t remember anyone then who would go to a hospital to have a baby, the doctor (Dr. Garrison in her day) would come to people’s houses. There were nine people in her house: her parents, her mother’s parents, two boys, and three girls. Her mother died when she was ten, though, and her grandparents went to live with another relative, whereupon she and her siblings lived in the house with their father and his parents. Her father became overseer at the Dunn Mill nearby and they moved to a bigger house. Bolin says that during the strikes of 1934 her father, a decent man who was popular with the workers, was kind to strikers, and recommended one for a job at a different mill. This led to her father’s being dismissed (though it was blamed on staff reorganization), and their moving to the Osceola Mill where his brother worked as a supervisor and he got another job as overseer. When she turned 18, Bolin went to work at the Osceola Mill, after having summer jobs in town at Kress and at a shoe repair shop. The pay at the mill was better, though, and she didn’t mind the work (as a winder), which she says was neither dirty nor dangerous. It was very hot, though, with inadequate ventilation, and all the lint in the air gave workers in some sections brown lung (and she describes how hard it was for those affected to prove their disability came from work conditions, and to get any kind of compensation). She married when she was 22. She says most recreations when she was young were associated with the church, though baseball was popular and there were movies in town (admission was a dime for children under 12, a quarter for everyone else), and the WPA built some tennis courts. A highlight of the year, too, was the circus coming to town, and schoolchildren were let out to watch the parade. People also entertained themselves with the radio and Victrolas. She went to the South School through seventh grade. She says that her asthma made it difficult for her to walk long distances, so she never got further schooling. They attended the Presbyterian church because it was within the closest walking distance. Most of her social life had to do with spending time with her numerous cousins, who all lived close by, and those relatives who didn’t live in the Gastonia mill villages came to her house every Sunday as well. Bolin talks about the effects of the Depression on the mill village community. When work picked up in the later 30s she went to work running a winding machine, a job she kept for her whole mill career. (She describes the process of sending the cotton through a series of machines to make thread, and its ending up in the winder and onto cones.) By the time she got this job at age 18 the eight-hour day had been instituted. She says the only African American employees at the mill were men who swept the floors – the mill’s insurance policy mandated that oil and lint be swept up constantly since they were a slip-and-fall hazard. She remembers the Loray Strike but offers few details, except that strikers were demanding fair pay (they were being made to work longer hours for no increase in pay), and the National Guard was called out. She also remembers a CCC project to plant trees, which employed a large number of boys and men for the same wage that new military recruits received ($20 a month). During the war mill business picked up and some of the mills began running seven days a week, employing many people “who would never have looked at mill work before.”