Interview with James Downey
Interview with James Downey
Interview Date: December 20, 1992

Camera Rolls: 315:63-67
Sound Rolls: 315:35-37
Interview gathered as part of The Great Depression .
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with James Downey , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 20, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.

*
INTERVIEW
[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
[camera roll 315:63] [sound roll 315:35] [slate marker visible on screen]
[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 1
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. At that time, you go to school, you come home for lunch, OK, so, you know, the  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  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 there 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 called "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, we 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.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 2
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 [sic] in various sections of the town, and these were in plants—

INTERVIEWER:

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK, OK.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 3
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—

[camera cuts, audio continues]
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—

[audio cuts][slate][change to camera roll 315:64] [sound roll 315:35]
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 [sic] 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 [sic] their keeper, you see.

INTERVIEWER:

Good, we'll get to that, OK?

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 4
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  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , 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 [sic] up, you know.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 5
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 plant three, and plant six, and plant eleven, plant eleven extension, and you had plant twelve. In plant three, there were Italians, Serbians, and Polacks, some blacks, very few blacks. In plant—

INTERVIEWER:

Let's stop, just stop, this is really important, try it.

[cut][slate]
JAMES DOWNEY:

J and L, they divided Aliquippa into sections, but they were called plants. Now, when I say plants, what I mean is this, that, let's assume I'm saying, that, plant eleven, and plant eleven extension. They were plants for blacks, Italians, Serbians, Polack, of the foreign extraction, OK. Plant six, it was of the Anglo-Saxon, they were where the boss, the big bosses, they all lived in plant six. No, no blacks, no Italians, no Polacks, only they could go up there in order to do maid-work, or either, no, cutting grass, or of this theme, 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:

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

[cut][slate]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

And— [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] .

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK, you had plant twelve, that's another plant, only Anglo-Saxons lived in that plant, there was no blacks, no Italians, no Polacks, no Russians, a Lebanese, Syrian, whatever, only Anglo-Saxon. Now, there's a plant, there was a plant 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 plant 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 plant 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 [sic], 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.

[cut][slate]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

OK.

JAMES DOWNEY:

J and L—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

JAMES DOWNEY:

J and L built two swimming pools. One pool was in plant 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, and 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 plant eleven extension, that's where the blacks live at, and that was only for blacks, only. 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 plant 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 a  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , but now, when it came to schools, there was a school here in plant eleven, it was a grade school, it went up to—

[camera cuts, audio continues]
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:

 [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , Robert, get—

INTERVIEWER:

OK, what were you getting ready to tell me about the schools?

JAMES DOWNEY:

The school, the school is—

[audio cuts][slate][change to camera roll 315:65] [sound roll 315:36]
INTERVIEWER:

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

JAMES DOWNEY:

I know, in the early days, before there was a union in J and L, the workers, they had no rights, you know. Only rights they had were God-given rights, and these, the bosses and things, they didn't respect your rights. But I know, my father, he got with the organizers of the Union. I recall, men would come to our house at night to sign up for the Union. They came at night because they didn't want some of the stool-pigeons in our areas to see them coming to the house. Now, everybody coming to the house didn't come there to sign the Union, but they, the thing was, this here is, these stool-pigeons, they put the, in other words, the house was on the spot,  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] . So a lot of people, they wouldn't even come, you know, because they didn't want to be branded that they were gonna have to join the Union, see, in some cases they were. But the thing is this, but my father, he was, he was all for, sometime, sometime I think to myself even to this day, he had to be nuts. Because, things was really tough. The cops, the cops could come to your house, and say, "OK, you're under arrest," and you was under arrest. If you resist them, you had them billy-clubs, they'd beat you down, and throw you in jail. You had no recourse, you understand: the county, the judges, they all, they all was in one big family, you understand. So therefore, you had no rights, so in a way, so my father, I don't know, I really don't understand why, to this day, he would want to take this big step, because many peoples [sic] had said that his son would never get a job in the mill. I was told that by other folks, but no. A lot of peoples [sic] were leery of me with their kids, they didn't want their kids to be a part of me, because they figured, by associating with me, that the company would probably take it on them, you understand, their parents. OK. Yes.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

So now, how was it that it was your father that ended up becoming an organizer, right, out of all the people in the mill, why was it that it was Mr. Downey, Sr.?

JAMES DOWNEY:

I can't tell you that, I couldn't tell you, honest. You know, I can't understand that, no, it's just, it's just like, I don't think I'm saying, I mean, the guy had to be crazy, you know. You had to be crazy, because all the odds was against you, you know. But then, now why, I just want to, I can't understand, I never could understand that. No.

INTERVIEWER:

Do you ever remember him being afraid, or having you—?

JAMES DOWNEY:

No. No, no. Not afraid, no.

INTERVIEWER:

You have to tell me that.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK. OK, I'm ready when you ready.

INTERVIEWER:

Go ahead, tell me.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK. Yes, I said, as I was saying, that I couldn't understand how my father would go into this, when he know [sic] that there was no out, he had no out. The way in—I recall, I recall that he was locked up, him [sic] and Mr. Dempsey were locked up because, on a libel  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , wherein, they had taken a family from Aliquippa here, blacks, to West Virginia Line, and put them out there, and told them, "Don't you come back to Aliquippa." They was, they were locked up on those charges, OK. My wife's father went there bond and got them out of jail. Judge, I mean, Attorney Brown, from Pittsburgh, a black lawyer, took the case. I don't know whatever happened, but my father, I don't know how they settled the case or whatever, but I'm gonna say, in other words, it was resolved, you know. But the thing I'm seeing is he had to go to Pittsburgh, they had to go to Pittsburgh to get a lawyer, you understand?

INTERVIEWER:

Now, you got to look at me.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

Tell me a little bit more about the company's attitude towards union organizers, and people that were joining the Union, I mean, what would they do to discourage the organizing of peoples and joining? What did they do?

JAMES DOWNEY:

Well, well, the thing is, see, here is, that black peoples was the last one to get onboard, if you understand what I'm saying. They was the last to join up the Union. The Italians, the Polacks, the Russians, the Serbians, they was afraid, a lot of them, but they was more aggressors [sic] than the blacks. My father, he stood out there just like a sore thumb, you know. Wherein, he had no recourse, you understand, but the thing is here, with these other men, like, that, these other white men, and some Anglo-Saxon, they were part of it, the Italians, they were a part of it, and I think he got his strength from those men, although he was black, understand. Now, those black men, those white men, they could have left Aliquippa, and gone on down the road there to another plant, you understand? But, you see, they would also, if they knew that you were leaving, if you get fired here, and you went, maybe, down to the next little town, and they found you working down there, they will get in contact, and have them to fire you, 'cause you're a troublemaker, understand. You see? So, this, these are all threats that they use to turn people away from the Union, see.

INTERVIEWER:

Let me ask you, now, I had a gentleman tell me, that it was the strategy of the Union to organize the white workers first, and then to organize the blacks, because if the organizers tried to organize them together, then some of the white workers would be resistant to that. Which, do you have any knowledge of that?

JAMES DOWNEY:

No, no. Only thing I can tell you, I know the whites, well, if it don't be [sic] for the whites, if they had to wait on the blacks, there wouldn't be be no union, see. Because, my father, just like you heard Mr. Byrd say today, he beg [sic] a guy to join the Union, you understand what I'm talking about? You see, and therefore, is, I know, the peoples [sic], the black peoples [sic], they was afraid to be seen with him. He could be talking about the weather, or he could be talking about the ballgame, you understand? But the thing is here, this guy is a union organizer, so therefore, you know, don't be seen with this guy. So...

[sound of a car in the background]
INTERVIEWER:

Let's just stop.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

OK.

[cut][slate][audio continues, camera remains frozen]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Take seven is up.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

Now, what I want you to tell me about when we begin is—

[audio and camera sync][slate]
JAMES DOWNEY:

-Mr. Byrd.

INTERVIEWER:

I want you to tell me about the 1937 strike.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

And roll seven.

JAMES DOWNEY:

Well, they had quite a few strikes, I can't get the dates  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , what day, what year and whatnot, but I know, is that, one strike, the first strike, I witnessed. I went down there, downtown by the mill, down there, and the governor, the governor, he sent in state troopers on horses—

INTERVIEWER:

Wait a minute, I need for you to say that again, because we got the motorcycle- OK, go ahead. We won't stop, we'll just keep on rolling, just start all over again.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK, OK. I recall, I think, the first strike I witnessed, I guess it must have been in '37 or around there, OK. The men were down there by Franklin Ave., down there by the entrance of the tunnel. The governor, he sent in state troopers on horses, and they had these long sticks, looked like mini baseball bats. They come in on horses, and they was hitting, hitting anything that was standing down there, amongst, picketing right there. I seen that out my own eyes, see, OK. And, but you see, those things dis-encouraged [sic] a lot of men, because they was [sic] afraid, see, yeah. And therefore, in other words, to me, like Mr. Byrd was saying this morning, about—

INTERVIEWER:

We've got to stop, because of the airplane.

[cut][slate]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

[cut][slate]
JAMES DOWNEY:

I recall, one day, my father was telling me, he said, "Buddy," he said, "they are supposed to pick me up, some fellows to pick me up, and take me out and beat me." I said, "Beat you, Dad?" He said, "Yeah, just going to beat me, take me out and beat me." I said, "Yeah?" But that didn't dis-encourage him [sic], but it never materialized. I do know this, there were two men, Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Finch, two men, they took those men up on Griffin Heights, up there on Griffin Heights, and beat those men up, yes sir, I know that for a fact, all right. But, but the thing is here, it didn't stop the peoples [sic] from joining the Union, see, the Union began to pick up more steam, you know, and blacks—

[camera cuts, audio continues]
JAMES DOWNEY:

—began to see that the Union was their, one of their best securities.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Ran out of film.

INTERVIEWER:

Now we've got to change the film.

JAMES DOWNEY:

Well, hey, hey.

INTERVIEWER:

OK. Robert, would you—?

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 315:66] [sound roll 315:36]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

INTERVIEWER:

We're all set.

JAMES DOWNEY:

I recall that they beat, they took Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Finch up on Griffin Heights up there, way, way—I used to play ball up there—and they, they beat these two men because they'd joined the Union. Now, undoubted, it must have been someone that the Union, I mean, the company had hired to do this, and as I stayed here earlier, my father was, told me that some men were for to pick him up and beat him, but it never materialized. But I also recall two of my father's, he told me sometime later that, the company had offered him a boss job, foreman job, see, in order to, you know, you take this job, you know, that take you out of the Union, you understand, you know? But you see, my father, he knew that being a boss back in the '30s, like I'm trying to fly without wings, you know, so therefore, he didn't fall for that beat, you understand? And like I'm saying, this is why I'm so proud of him in so many ways, you know, because the opportunity was there for him, in a lot of ways, to give up this fight. Which, he'd rather fight and run, you understand? And I see a lot of that in myself, you understand, you know. So, I'm really proud that some of the things that he helped did [sic] for the community, you know.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

Now, can you tell me what Roosevelt meant to working people, and to steel workers in particular?

JAMES DOWNEY:

Well, only thing I know, I can see this, I don't know about in the steel-workers, but I know, I'll go ahead and tell you what I know as a child. Ready?

INTERVIEWER:

Yes.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK.

INTERVIEWER:

Look at me.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK, I'm looking at you, so, I recall, back in the twenty, I think, '28, somewhere along there, Hoover and Al Smith was running for President. I was only about eight or nine years old, so the people would say that, if you get Al Smith, he gonna bring back liquor, you know, "wet," you call it "wet,"  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , see. So the people said, We don't want Al Smith, so they got, so they voted for Hoover. So, then came the Depression. The next time the election came, I think, I don't know, was it, this guy from Kansas, Sunfire State or whatever, President Roosevelt ran, and he won, he won. Things begin to change. People saw hope, in this man's speech on the radios at the time, because when he spoke over the radio, it was like a, like it would be a holiday, because everybody- well, there wasn't  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  many radios, number one, and those people that had radios, you would have, you had a lot of company there, you know, you had a lot of company in the house because everybody wanted to hear what President Roosevelt had to say, this is how much they really liked the man, and believed in the man. So, he started, he started, he formed a—

INTERVIEWER:

Let me stop you for a second, because, this is important, but it's in another, it's in another show, OK, as a matter of fact it's in my other show.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

So, [laughs] but, let me change the subject, just sort of redirect it, OK?

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK, all right, OK.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, after the Union won—

JAMES DOWNEY:

Yeah.

INTERVIEWER:

OK, and they got, they then sort of redirected their actions, their direction, and got involved in electoral politics, sort of sponsoring candidates and running candidates and whatnot.

JAMES DOWNEY:

Right, right.

INTERVIEWER:

Why? Why did they feel that that was a push?

JAMES DOWNEY:

Well, you see, back in the '20s, '30s, here, when election time would come, the company would have, these white men were candidates. They would come up here on plant eleven, and plant eleven extension, where the  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  were, they would come there and tell the people to vote for this candidate, or this candidate, you see? And therefore, the peoples, that's who they would vote for, you see? They would give the preachers, I guess, five or ten dollars, whatever it may be, see. They knew that the blacks had faith in their ministers, so this, they figure, you got him, and he'll lead the flocks.

INTERVIEWER:

Stop, let's stop, that's not where we want to go.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK.

[cut][slate]
JAMES DOWNEY:

I recall the first time my father, well, the first time he ran for public election, was, he ran for the inspector, the poll inspector. What that person does, they watch and see that no tampering with the ballot, understand? OK. He kept order at the poll. Well, hey, that was a big thing, you understand? Because all before, it was all white. Well, in this day and time, you know, it's a small thing, it's a small thing, you understand, but he ran and won that. From there, then he went on and won out in the Union, as vice-president. The point, what I'm getting at here is that, elections, political elections, is what govern the country, it govern everybody lives [sic], politics. I don't care what field you're in or whatever, it's politics, and that's what governs you. In my lifetime, I ran for city council here, it was a borough at the time. I won the first time, first black ever ran, ever won for council here in Aliquippa. I won it. OK. Before I even ran—

INTERVIEWER:

Mr. Downey, I have to stop you here, I have to stop you, because you're getting me out of the '30s.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK.

[cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

Cause that's out of time.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK.

INTERVIEWER:

We just want to talk about elections in general.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK.

INTERVIEWER:

Ready?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Ready.

JAMES DOWNEY:

It was very important that people register and vote, in order to elect officials that will give you, give you justice. When I say, I mean, justice, this means, this comes from the city officials, county officials, and the state officials, and the United States officials. In the local, in your local community, you elect councilmen, and therefore, they are your governing body. You put them in when you vote for them, they serve you, and therefore, in other words, they set the rules that you will live by in that community, you know. Therefore, it's important that you register and vote, because that's the only way that you're gonna get justice, is by voting. Voting people in, and voting people out. It goes all the way to the courthouse, to judges, are put in by you. Sometimes or other they may not do as you see fit, but they put in, but they are in control. And—

INTERVIEWER:

This is good, but I still need for you to tell me that the Union realized, and the people in the Union realized, that they couldn't really change their lives until they fought, not only in the plant, but in the community.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK, OK, that's good. OK.

[cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

Give me one moment, the sun is coming back, it's coming back, and...go ahead.

JAMES DOWNEY:

You know, the Union, they, they learned that you have to get involved in politics, in order to get a lot of laws passed, the elected officials that'll give you laws that will protect the Union, and protect you. This is why the Union got involved in politics, because it elects governors, it elects Presidents, it elects judges, so therefore when the cases comes up, in other words, I elected you, in other words, I want a fair, fair trial, because I supported, elected you. If you don't get involved in politics, then you don't have no support when you go before the judges, and what have you. Because it operates, these lawyers, these corporations, they've got lawyers, they've got judges, because they done paid them off, but by you having your input as an elected, as a politician, they will listen to you, and this is the strength. I know the Union have [sic] put in many, many Presidents, put in many, many judges, the Union have put in—

[camera cuts, audio continues]
JAMES DOWNEY:

—many sherriffs in these communities, you understand. In some towns they have put in—

INTERVIEWER:

We just ran out of film.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK.

INTERVIEWER:

But I'll take you back.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK. OK.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 315:67] [sound roll 315:37]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

 [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] 

JAMES DOWNEY:

Up in plant six area, this is where the superintendents and the high officals of J and L, this is where they lived at. It was this area there that blacks, Italians, Polacks, Syrians, Lebanese, what have you, only time they was up there, if they went up there to do some kind of manual work, and around five or six o'clock in the evening was the latest that you could be up there. And if you was caught up there after those hours, the policeman, he would arrest you, because you wasn't [sic] allowed up there, you see. Like the swimming pool up in plant twelve, the Anglo-Saxon, they ran it, they didn't allow the Italians, the Polack, the Russians, the Lebanese, what have you, they told them, says, Don't come in here 'cause you're too hairy, we don't want the water to get too hairy and whatnot, go down to the Ohio River, down there by the mill, and swim. Yeah. Those are the things that they put those people through. Yeah.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

Let me ask you another question. Now, there were all these ethnic groups. Did this economic situation that they found themselves in, everyone oppressed, everyone under the control of the company, did that bring all these various ethnic groups together in some way, shape, or form?

JAMES DOWNEY:

The Union.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you tell me about that?

JAMES DOWNEY:

Well, OK, lemme, wait. The Union, see, when the Union begins to get organized, and get strength, so did the peoples [sic] get organized at being politi-, in politics, see, and this is when you begin to elect an Italian fellow named Duke Fontana, the first, the first, let's say, non-what's-it-called as a mayor, see. All before that it was all Anglo-Saxon mayors, see. Duke Fontana, that big old building, see, up here, those Italians, they built that building there-

INTERVIEWER:

We can't get out of the time.

JAMES DOWNEY:

Wait, wait, I know, one second, they built that, they built that building, see. But what I'm saying is, they started getting unity, they getting strength, they wasn't [sic] afraid, like they used to were [sic] before, you understand, you see? When people, when people mobilize, start mobilizing, there's strength there, you see? Like Dr. Martin Luther King, he got strength there, but the thing is when he start out, he had a lot of trouble, even with blacks.

INTERVIEWER:

OK, Mr. Downey, but you need to keep me in the '30s.

JAMES DOWNEY:

Oh, I know that, I'm just showing you about, oh, go ahead, go ahead, but—

INTERVIEWER:

Because, see, at the time—

JAMES DOWNEY:

I'm not talking about that, I'm just giving you an example, that's all. OK.

[missing figure]dmrEfpymEes
QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

OK... if your father was here, and I asked him if it was all worth it, what the Union accomplished, what all he went through, if it was all worth it. What would he tell me?

JAMES DOWNEY:

He would say, every bit of it, OK.

INTERVIEWER:

My father would say.

JAMES DOWNEY:

Yeah, my father would say—

INTERVIEWER:

Wait a minute, Mr. Downey.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK.

INTERVIEWER:

Now.

JAMES DOWNEY:

OK. My father would say that every, every moment, every second that he put in, he put in many, many hours, minutes, months, days, and years into bringing this reality, and I say now, the only thing I say, I just wish he would be here to receive how these things have changed. Many peoples [sic] have told me, after my father died, 1945, that, "Yes, your father was a great man, but before you were living, he was no good. No no, he was a troublemaker." All this kind of stuff, see. But now they say, "Oh yes, oh, he was a good man, a great man," you know. We need more  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  like him, you see. But he's gone.

[end of interview]