H.007. Piedmont Industrialization: Greenville, S.C.
- Creator: Southern Oral History Program
- Collection: Southern Oral History Program Interviews
These interviews focus on the development of the textile industry in Greenville, S.C. Before the Civil War, Greenville served as a county seat, a center for grain milling, and a summer vacationing area for Low Country planters. In the 1880s, entrepreneurs began to build cotton mills and accompanying mill villages along the railroad lines on the outskirts of Greenville. As a result, Greenville developed distinctive neighborhoods that reflected the social tensions within the community. There were the prosperous town, the neighborhoods in which black servants lived, and the mill villages. The interviews also cover the work experiences and daily lives of Greenville's mill workers. Most of the workers or their families migrated to the city from farms in the Piedmont or the Appalachian Mountains. Many of the interviewees related their farming experiences and described their adjustments to mill work. In describing mill work, the interviewees talked about work conditions, safety, stretchouts, wages, paternalism, the division of labor by gender, home work, the impact of the Depression and World War II, and violence in the mills. They also discussed unionization attempts, and several interviewees had vivid recollections of the 1934 General Strike. Occupational illness is an especially important topic in these interviews. Many of the interviewees suffered from emphysema, byssinosis, or brown lung as a result of their mill work, and some of them had been involved in litigation with textile companies over health issues. Technology, the construction of mills and mill villages, and the movement of the textile industry from New England to the South are also mentioned. Interviews also document family life in the mill villages. Almost all of the interviewees discussed their childhoods and school years. Many talked about marriage, courtship, illegitimacy, pregnancy, divorce, sex and birth control, and old age. Discussions of sanitation, attitudes towards the residents of the mill villages, part-time farming, community violence, housing, illnesses and medical care, transportation, and housing reflect the tenor of mill village life. The interviewees belonged to a variety of churches, and some of them discussed company involvement in mill village churches. Although many mentioned recreation and music, this topic is not as important in these interviews as it is in some of the other series. Other topics include World War I, military service in World War II, the electric power industry, and politics. Although there is one interview with an African American worker and some mention of the role of blacks in the mills, race relations are not a major topic.