thumbnail of The Great Depression; Interview with James Byrd. Part 2; Interview with James Downey. Part 1
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INTERVIEWER:
You tell me that, well what you start [sic] to tell me before?
JAMES BYRD:
John Cleveland.
INTERVIEWER:
Yeah, ready?
JAMES BYRD:
John Cleveland you know—
INTERVIEWER:
Wait a minute. You don't have to even tell me the guy's name. You can just tell me there was this guy that was working three jobs and whatever.
JAMES BYRD:
He was—a [inaudible]. Then the door machine man had to go to the toilet. Then he was operating, he was [inaudible] and running the door machine. That's two jobs. And all right, they had carbon in the oven. Then the boss and the heater helper come up and told—then the boss told him to get the tam bar[?] and go to cutting the carbon out of there. And he told the boss that he couldn't do both of, all that. See, I'm a [inaudible], I'm not a door machine man. and they fired him. Fired him on doing that 'cause he told them that. And I told him I said, \"Why don't you join the union? Now he went instead of going to the union, he went up to the main office; and then they, they just, they just ignored him up there. They didn't do nothing for him. I told him, I said, \"How come you don't join the union? They'd have come down here and fight your case for you\". But he wouldn't do it, and he got fired. And when they got ready to fire me, I was ready for them. Yeah, I was ready for them.
INTERVIEWER:
OK. Now, tell me about the Republicans out in Aliquippa. You know when you went to get your job at J & L, did they ask you about your political party?
JAMES BYRD:
No, wait, wait now. That's who I got a job with. They wouldn't have done that...stool pigeons. They [laughs] I got a job you know. I, see you got to learn how, I learned how to get in good side with all of them, and I got the job, and I worked eight months, and I got laid off. I was laid off eleven months, I come back, and I, no, after this, in, that was 1939. I had—at that time they just had done in Pennsylvania. They had workmen's compensation. Now I got workmen's compensation for thirteen weeks. You know what I got a week? Twelve dollars. That was in 1939. I got, drawed all of that. Then I went back to work. I got a job on the WPA here.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, let me ask you something else now. When you think about the union, you know about organizing and all of the strikes and the violence and the firings and all of that, do you think it was worth it? Tell me why it was worth it.
JAMES BYRD:
Why it was worth it. All right, when I started to work out there, sixty-two and a half cents an hour, that's the first job I, oh, in fact, all of them the laboring class of people that's, was doing that. And, as the union grow, as the union, as the progress, every contract you would get a little bit more money, a little bit more money every time a contract come, and...
INTERVIEWER:
So the money was what it made it worth it?
JAMES BYRD:
Oh sure.
INTERVIEWER:
Now let me ask you something else. In terms of the way races got along within the unions, the blacks, the whites, the Croatians, the Serbs, the Italians, did everybody get along or was there any discrimination within the union?
JAMES BYRD:
No, no, no, not too much. It was, you know, they would fight for...I know, I, I didn't never drink none. I never did drink none. I know when I was with...Man, I can't 'call the man's name [laughs]. We would come in up there, going in the, well, not all, the whole, all the beer gardens down on Franklin Avenue, they was Jim Crow. All of them didn't allow me. And the Blue Bell down there, we would go down there. That's where you'd stop in and get a cup of coffee. The white man could go in there, but me, nuh uh.
INTERVIEWER:
Let me ask you one last question. Now, all of this happened during the Depression. You started at the end of the Depression, you went through the Depression and so forth.
JAMES BYRD:
I wasn't here during the Depression.
INTERVIEWER:
Well, wherever you were during the Depression. Did the Depression change you?
JAMES BYRD:
Yeah, yeah, wait a minute. I can tell you where I came from and I'll tell you what they done to me.
INTERVIEWER:
No, that's OK. I just want to know, I'm not, let's stop for a second. I'm not asking where you were and what they done to you. I'm asking, you were in Georgia, right?
JAMES BYRD:
Mmm.
[End of Byrd interview; beginning of Downey interview]
JAMES DOWNEY:
Well, back in the '30s, Aliquippa was a beautiful place, you know, to live. People come here from the South, they come from Europe, they come here looking for better lives, and to raise their families. Those days, there wasn't a lot money that people had, but they had a lot of love, they had a lot friendship. I recall, back in those days, say, that if my mother was sick, the neighbors, they would come over and help out, even though the neighbor was an Italian woman, a Serbian woman, a Polish woman, they would come out, they would come over here and they would do the washing. At that time, they washed it with a rub-board, you understand, wasn't no washing-machine, see, OK. Then there'd be someone would cook, my father'd be working in the mill, he'd come home, you know, dinner would be ready, OK. Kids, the kids, they saw that the kids went home, they went to school there. So at that time, you go to school, you come home for lunch, OK, so, you know, where, and the small children, these neighbors, they would fix their meals for them, like that. So what I'm saying here is, it was really nice, you know, we was all poor, and it wasn't no such thing as that, I was bigger than you were, or all this kind of stuff, you know. People got along really nice, you know, we didn't have this thing, 'breaking in'. I know the stores we had around this area. There were never a thing of \"breaking in.\" We never locked our doors at night. So what I'm saying is, in other words, is that, it was really beautiful, you know, to the extent that we didn't have much, but see, like, in other words, when you get more, you think different, you react different, you know.
INTERVIEWER:
Remember, keep me in the '30s, don't take me out of the '30s.
JAMES DOWNEY:
OK, OK, OK.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, tell me the story of your father, told you about having to be a Republican, and get a job at J and L. Talk about the first time-
JAMES DOWNEY:
Yeah, right, right. Well, my father, he told me that—
INTERVIEWER:
Wait a minute, you've got to try and look at me.
JAMES DOWNEY:
OK, OK, OK then, OK. My father, you know, he would, he told me, he said, \"Buddy,\" he says, \"In order to get a job at the mill, you have to be a Republican.\" I said to my dad, I said, \"Why you have to be a Republican?\" He said, \"Well, they, the Republicans control the town, see, and that includes the jobs, and the jobs determine your livelihood, you understand, so therefore you have to be a Republican, in order to get a job, see.\" There were certain negroes, at the time they were called negroes, we didn't call them black, they said negroes, you went to them and said, \"I'd like to get a job,\" see, and in return they'd go down to the mill and tell the people down at the mill, \"Well, Jim Downey want a job.\" See, so they'd tell, then Jim Downey'd go there and put his application in. Well, was he, Jim Downey was, if they figured he was worthy enough, he would get a job, but the thing is here, if he wasn't worthy enough, he couldn't get no job, you know. So, therefore, you was obligated to them, you see, and you had to register as a Republican in order to get a job. Then on election day, they had buses, old, big Mack buses, I recall them, and they would come into the mill and get the men, and take them to the poll, and they told you, Now, you vote for this individual here, and that's what you did in order to protect your job, you know. So what I'm saying is, just like, they had the peoples in various sections of the town, and these were in plants—
INTERVIEWER:
JAMES DOWNEY:
OK, OK.
INTERVIEWER:
That's good. Now, tell me a little bit more about how the company, J and L, dominated the town, about how they worked with the police, and the elected officials, and owned the electric company, and the company store, tell me about all that.
JAMES DOWNEY:
No, no, well, they didn't own the electric, they owned, the company store. OK, they owned—
INTERVIEWER:
You've got to say J and L.
JAMES DOWNEY:
OK, J and L was in control totally of the town. It remind [sic] me, when I used to hear my father say about plantation owners down south, when he had sharecroppers working for him. In other words, you know, they, the big boss down to the sharecropper, he kept the books, you didn't keep the time, he kept the time, so therefore, whatever he put down there, that's what it was. Same thing here in the mill, in the mill here, the company, they kept your time, if they said you got forty hours, you got forty hours—
JAMES DOWNEY:
—you may have had seventy hours, but you only had forty hours in their book, understand? OK, so now—
INTERVIEWER:
OK, this is good, this is very good, but we have to change film.
JAMES DOWNEY:
OK, OK.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
And the reason why—
JAMES DOWNEY:
Yes, as I was stating about, that, they kept—
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Sorry, we just had a car go by, just give us a second... and start again.
JAMES DOWNEY:
As I was stating, the bosses, the bosses, they kept the, they kept the time, and if they said you only got forty hours, you got forty hours, you may have put in sixty hours, whatever, you understand? So therefore, in other words, you had no recourse. With the union, with the union, then you had a recourse. Things changed. People were underpaid for the hours they had put in, because they had no recourse to come to. If you went and talked with the boss, then you can get fired, you understand, you know, like that, see? So, this is, this was the good, some of the good things that the union did, it gave the employees some pride, wherein they could speak out, and they wasn't afraid of being fired, you know, this here. But it took a long time for a lot of individuals to realize that the Union were their keeper, you see.
INTERVIEWER:
Good, we'll get to that, OK?
JAMES DOWNEY:
OK.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, what I want you to do is describe your father's job in the mill, OK, what he did, what the working conditions were like, and so forth.
JAMES DOWNEY:
Well, wait a minute, first, don't—let me tell you—
INTERVIEWER:
We can stop, if you like.
JAMES DOWNEY:
Look, look, wait now. As a black man, you went in the mill from the floor, OK? OK, you went as a laborer, OK, I heard Mr. Byrd was telling you, whatnot, you went in as a laborer. You didn't go in there and say, Well, OK, I'm going to be a timekeeper or, either I'm gonna be a checker, understand? You start at the bottom, and it was from digging ditches, cleaning out the grease pits, you name it, but this, with the union coming, with the union coming, then you begin to move up into these positions, you know, due to your service and your ability, you understand? Now, how you want me to present it, just, to you? I mean, from—
INTERVIEWER:
I don't want you to tell me about the union coming yet, I want you to tell me about how it was before the union.
JAMES DOWNEY:
Well, I, OK, OK, OK then, well that's—
INTERVIEWER:
Go ahead.
JAMES DOWNEY:
OK. Now, my father, he would tell me about, he would tell me about working, working in the mill there, and I'll never forget, he told me, said, Yesterday we got, there's a candy kitchen, see. Well, as a little boy, I thought they made candy there, you know. They didn't make candy, see, they made steel. But anyway, he started out as a laborer, with a pick and a shovel, and the dirtiest job, and the worst job, and all these things that he inherited by being a black man. Now, the Italians, Polack, Serbians, you name it, they were a step above him, the Anglo-Saxon was a step above them, they was the highest one, in other words, and the blacks, they were on the bottom, OK, now, Italians and Serbians would come and start out with a pick and a shovel, but in the course of maybe two or three weeks, they'd be able to move up out of that pick and the shovel, understand? So, so, so, the blacks, they always had to get what was left, in other words, I mean, and you took that, because if you refused, hey, you were fired, you see. So therefore, you got families, many of them had families, you know, some of them just starting out, they didn't want to go back down South, to the farms down there picking cotton and tobacco and all this, I mean, logging, and all these kind of different things like that. So they come up here for a better life, you know, so therefore, they had to take this in order to get theyself up, you know.
INTERVIEWER:
Good. Now, tell me what it was like about the plants, as to, you know, in terms of where people lived. You just told me about how they were channeled into certain jobs, tell me how they were channeled into certain residential areas
JAMES DOWNEY:
OK. Now, in Aliquippa here, they had plan three, and plan six, and plan eleven, plan eleven extension, and you had plan twelve. In plan three, there were Italians, Serbians, and Polacks, some blacks, very few blacks. In plan—
INTERVIEWER:
Let's stop, just stop, this is really important, try it.
JAMES DOWNEY:
J and L, they divided Aliquippa into sections, but they were called plans. Now, when I say plans, what I mean is this, that, let's assume I'm saying, that, plan eleven, and plan eleven extension. They were plans for blacks, Italians, Serbians, Polack, of the foreign extraction, OK. Plan six, it was of the Anglo-Saxon, they were where the boss, the big bosses, they all lived in plan six. No, no blacks, no Italians, no Polacks, only they could go up there in order to do maid-work, or either, you know, cutting grass, or of this thing. And you had to be out of the area, least around by five or six o'clock in the summertime, because if not, the police would arrest you if he saw you up there. So, then you had to- Logstown, that's another section down there by the mill.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
And—[unintelligible].
JAMES DOWNEY:
OK, you had plan twelve, that's another plan, only Anglo-Saxons lived in that plan, there was no blacks, no Italians, no Polacks, no Russians, or Lebanese, Syrian, whatever, only Anglo-Saxon. Now, there's a plan, there was a plan down here on the Orch Street[?] area, it was near the Franklin Ave. It was Anglo-Saxon, all the houses down there on Franklin Ave. down there were Anglo-Saxon, I mean, and the blacks, the Italians, and whatnot, they didn't live in that area. They had another area of Aliquippa called Old West Aliquippa. Out there, no blacks ever lived out there, it was Anglo-Saxon, or the poor of status, the Italians, and the whatever out there in that area, you see. Now, so, that's the way that things were set up. In other words, you stayed in your area for living. You went out, you don't say not, but your home was in that area, see, and I know—see, J and L built two swimming pools, one in plan twelve, and one in plant eleven extension for the blacks, OK, they built them two. Many Italian friends of mine, Polack, whatever you may call them, they couldn't go swimming in the plan twelve swimming pool. When they went up there to go swimming, the Anglo-Saxon would tell them, Hey, you're too hairy, you can't swim in here. You have to go down to the river, down to the Ohio River to swim, you know. But the blacks had a pool, you know, only for blacks like, you know, and, but the thing was here, is, you knew where your place was as far as living conditions. And that's the way the town divided up, you know, it kept the peoples, you know, only time you'd come in contact with other individuals, is when you went to school.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
OK.
JAMES DOWNEY:
J and L—
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
JAMES DOWNEY:
J and L built two swimming pools. One pool was in plan twelve, in the Anglo-Saxon section, where only Anglo-Saxons attended that pool. Italians, Polacks, Serbians, Lebanese, they couldn't attend that pool, because when they went up there, they would tell them \"You're too hairy, make the water dirty,\" all this kind of stuff, see. So then they told them, you have to go to the Ohio River and swim. J and L built a pool in plan eleven extension, that's where the blacks live at, and that was only for blacks, only. Now, but you had, you had, your, the head of the pools was a white Anglo-Saxon. Now he was head over both of the pools, understand? But you had workers at the plan eleven pool, they were black, you had lifeguards, they were black, understand? And the same thing up at plant twelve, they had to, white Anglo-Saxon whatnot, see. And that was the setup. But now, when it came to schools, there was a school here in plan eleven, it was a grade school, it went up to—
JAMES DOWNEY:
—fifth grade, and then from the fifth, up to sixth grade, rather-
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Reload.
INTERVIEWER:
We're out of film, man.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
INTERVIEWER:
OK, what were you getting ready to tell me about the schools?
JAMES DOWNEY:
The school, the school is—
Series
The Great Depression
Raw Footage
Interview with James Byrd. Part 2; Interview with James Downey. Part 1
Producing Organization
Blackside, Inc.
Contributing Organization
Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip/151-z60bv7bm5f
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Description
Episode Description
Shared camera roll and video of interviews with James Byrd and James Downey conducted for The Great Depression.
Asset type
Raw Footage
Rights
Copyright Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode).
Media type
Moving Image
Duration
00:25:03
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Credits
Interviewee: Byrd, James
Interviewee: Downey, James
Producing Organization: Blackside, Inc.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: 14618-1-1 (MAVIS Carrier Number)
Duration: 0:22:30
Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: 14618-1 (MAVIS Component Number)
Format: 16mm film
Generation: Original
Color: Color
Duration: 0:22:30
Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: 14618-2-1 (MAVIS Carrier Number)
Duration: 0:25:43
Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: 14618-2 (MAVIS Component Number)
Format: Betacam: SP
Generation: Master
Color: Color
Duration: 0:25:43
Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: 14618-3-1 (MAVIS Carrier Number)
Color: Color
Duration: 00:25:04
Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: 14618-3 (MAVIS Component Number)
Format: Video/quicktime
Generation: Copy
Duration: Video: 0:25:04:00
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Citations
Chicago: “The Great Depression; Interview with James Byrd. Part 2; Interview with James Downey. Part 1,” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 31, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-z60bv7bm5f.
MLA: “The Great Depression; Interview with James Byrd. Part 2; Interview with James Downey. Part 1.” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 31, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-z60bv7bm5f>.
APA: The Great Depression; Interview with James Byrd. Part 2; Interview with James Downey. Part 1. Boston, MA: Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-z60bv7bm5f