Interview with George Kimbley
Interview with George Kimbley
Interview Date: December 17, 1992

Camera Rolls: 315:47-50
Sound Rolls: 315:27-28
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 George Kimbley , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 17, 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.

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INTERVIEW
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[camera roll 315:47] [sound roll 315:27] [slate marker visible on screen]
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QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

You can begin.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

I arrived in Gary, Indiana, February the twentieth, nineteen and twenty, about two o'clock in the afternoon. I immediately went over to my cousin's house on 1744 Monroe Street. And the, the next day I went to the steel mills to get a job. I went in what they call the bull pen. There's about a hundred or more men there looking for work. And the manager that was, was the agent that was hiring people picked me out. He went over there, "Hey, boy, I want you. Come over here." And I got a job. They put me in the department, the blast furnace department, and I worked about three or four days there. And I couldn't stand the gas, and I quit that job. And I didn't like it to begin with because it was a twelve-hour, twelve-hour day. So, in a couple of days later, I went to the tin mill. I got a job in a tin mill. And they gave me...the manager said, "You look like you'd like, make a good tin house worker." And they put me in the tin house, and I learned how to operate a tinning machine. And a tinning machine is a machine that has hot metal and oil, and you run very thin sheets of steel through that tin metal, and come out in sheets. And I liked the job, and I stayed on that for seventeen years.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, this job in the mill...OK, we have to stop for just a second.

[cut][slate]
GEORGE KIMBLEY:

The job that I went on as a tin operator, running sheets of tin through hot metal. It was a dirty job with gas and oil and acid, and I had to fire my own furnace to keep the metal hot. Had to go to the basement for that, and it was really a rough, hard job. But I was tough enough, and it didn't bother me at all. And I liked it because it was piece work and an eight hour day, which was, was something that I wanted. And I didn't want a job where I had to work twelve hours, and I was fortunate in getting a job that I only had to work eight hours. And my salary would run from anywheres from five to eight, and once in a while I'd make nine dollars a day. That was very good money over their basic wage of three dollars and forty-nine cents a day for labor.

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QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

Now, when we talked on the telephone, you told me that, that the black people, they would steer black people into certain jobs, the harder jobs, the more dangerous jobs. Can you tell me that story again?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, I think it was just about the same. Of course there was danger there. The dangers was because you had metal and water. And now if that water got in contact with the hot metal, it would splash. And there were white workers in the department. The only discrimination at the time I went on, I got the job, was the fact that there were no black mechanics, machinists. And but after a year or so, they began to put them on. We didn't have too many problems. The only problem, big problem we had was wage cuts. Every, looked like every week or so they'd cut our wages back, and we begin to protest with...and I took the lead in setting up a Tin House Club, and we protested against the company. And we set as a sit-down for a few hours.

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QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

Now, that's good. Tell me about your experience with the Amalgamated, and how you joined, and what you did as an organizer.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

The old Amalgamated Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers Union made an effort to organize when they heard about the CIO coming on the scene. And there was an electrician that was a very nice sort of a fellow, and somebody told him that, that, that I had gotten a group of workers together, protesting the cuts. And so he contacted me. "Ye," he says, "Well, we'll need a union here," and gave me some cards, and I started writing up. And after I wrote up about fourteen of them, the fellows that I'd been working with, and it wasn't too long then that the CIO, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee came on the scene, and I went and joined them.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, why did you leave the Amalgamated and go with the CIO?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Because it was better! Those Amalgamated hadn't done anything for blacks and I knew it.

INTERVIEWER:

Now wait a minute. You have to tell me that again because I messed up, I was talking. OK? So you have to tell me that again, that the old Amalgamated—tell me that again. Now I have to be quiet.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

About the old Amalgamated...I never did attend any of their meetings. All the cards that I wrote up, I turned them over to this electrician. And I was just, wasn't satisfied with that union because of its discrimination tactics. I knew about it. And, I, I knew any kind of union was better than no union.

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QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

Now, when we talked before you told me a story about a friend who was a carpenter who signed you up. And you told me a story about Hank Johnson with the CIO?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Signed me up?

INTERVIEWER:

Yes.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

How I got signed up: one of my friends, I call him a friend, by the name of Jesse Reese. Jesse Reese was a Communist, and he let the world know it. He didn't hide it. Anybody asked him was he a Communist, and he would tell you with pride that he was a Communist. But, we, he was a likeable sort of a fellow. On Saturday afternoons, many of us would go to his house and play cards. And on that one Saturday afternoon in... Jesse Reese had been to a meeting in East Chicago, and he got home. I was sitting in the house. He said, "Hey, Brother Kimbley, join the union, I've a card here". He handed it to me, and I kept talking after I got up and looked at it and signed my name and just handed him a dollar. Just like that, easy. And lo and behold when I found out, [laughs] I think I wrote the, I was the first steel worker to join the union in Gary, Indiana.

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QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

OK. Now, why is it that you all felt like you needed a union? Why did you need a union? Why did you feel like you needed a union?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well I had, I had some experience in Detroit, Michigan. I got a job at the Absopure Ice Company in the storage. And in nineteen and fifteen, there was beginning to be a shortage of labor, and they pulled me out, man asked me had I ever worked in delivering the ice or anything? I told him, "Yes. When down south, I'd done some work on the ice wagon." So they put me on the wagon, and let me tell you I had the hardest time breaking in. And actually there's a word that I don't like to use, but maybe you can cut it out if you don't like it. All day long, people say, "See this nigger, see the nigger. They got a nigger on the ice wagon." And I swore that rather than fight back that I'm going to overcome this thing, and I just let them have their fun. Every day it was the same thing. So the, the, the driver that I was working with, he was a mean sort of a chap. The kids would jump up on the wagon to get ice, and he'd throw his tongs at them, and as soon as he going in one house delivering house, I'd take a chunk of ice and cut it up and give it to the kids. And one kid looked at me, I said, "Hey, you the guy that call me that bad name. Aren't you the kid that called me out my name?" "Oh, no, no, mister, I didn't call you..." I said, "Well you take this piece of ice and run. Don't you ever call me that other name that you called me." Do you know I broke it up completely? Now to the customers, it was against the rules to let customers have ice on credit, or to let 'em have it for cash. So when Adam, the guy I working with, would go in the house and they didn't have money to pay for the ice, or tickets for the ice, he'd bring the ice back out and throw it in the wagon. And I pick up a chunk and go right behind him, I could see where he'd been in the ice, would leave its mark, and the ladies would say, "You know that other fellow came in here, and we didn't have the money to pay him. He took the ice back." I said, "Well listen, it's too hot to be living without having some ice." I says, "If you won't say anything about it, I'll let you have it, the ice."

INTERVIEWER:

Good. Now, tell me why the steel workers felt like they needed a union. How much we got?

[inaudible]
INTERVIEWER:

OK. We have to change. See, after you get finished with this, you'll probably get a call from Hollywood.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 315:48]
INTERVIEWER:

Now, you're going to tell me why the steel workers needed a union, why they needed the CIO?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, there were many reasons why the steel workers needed the union. In the first place, the wages were way too low. And another reason is there was all kinds of rackets being built around the steel workers. They want to seem to keep them almost enslaved. Twelve hours were too many hours to work in any, in any job. And with low wages and no vacations, and, and the pension plan for little or nothing, about twenty five and thirty dollars a month or less, and there was just need for a union. And many of the jobs was, was bad jobs where you were against one's health, acids and gas and water and, and all kinds of dangers. And people were being injured, and they weren't yet being properly paid. There were a hundred or thousand reasons why there was a need for a steel union.

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QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

Now, what was the relationship like between the workers and the people that ran the plant? What was that relationship like? I mean, you all had these problems, and you would tell them about them, and then so, what would happen? What was that relationship like?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

I didn't tell you I had a bad relationship with the management before the union. I got along with people. Maybe I just was tough enough to understand to, to take care of the little hardships that I had to go through, cause I just got been out of the war for a year. I was discharged in February nineteen and nineteen, and I was still pretty tough from the war. Six months is a long time to be on the fighting front. And you can imagine what one would go up against.

INTERVIEWER:

OK, but what about some of the other people that you worked with that wasn't so tough? How was their relationship with the people that ran the, the mill?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, they were just looking for somebody to lead them, and I guess I had guts enough to do it, see. And I, but I wasn't harsh at the company. I talked reasonable with them. And I talked, recommended in such a way, I said, well I said, "What would you do if you were working?" And I, I didn't have any problems with the management. They called me in one time. Sit down and talked with them just like we're talking.

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QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

Good. Now you had said that, your friend Hank, Henry Reese [sic] was a Communist.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Yes.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, from what I've read there was a lot of Communists that were in the CIO, that they were good organizers. Can you tell me about that and their involvement?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well yes, [laughs] let me tell you. Philip Murray would have never organized the steel workers in the  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  in Gary, Indiana or northwest Indiana if they hadn't taken the Communists in. The Communists had their hands on the masses of people. Now mind you back in the early twenties, the Ku Klux Klan had just about controlled Northwest Indiana, just had it almost buttoned up, and in fact almost had the State of Indiana. When I got there in February the twentieth, nineteen and twenty, the only meetings that black people would go to was the church. And there were two organizations that would stand up against the Ku Klux Klan: the Communist Party and Marcus Garvey's outfit. I belonged to Marcus Garvey's outfit. I got along with the Communists. They wouldn't, didn't want me in the, in the union as a member because I was almost a fellow traveler. I liked the way they operated. The only reason that I didn't join the Communist Party is because they didn't believe in God. That's the only reason that I didn't join. I liked the way they operate. They'd sit down and eat with you. They'd  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  and talk with you. If you go to their meetings, they, you could dance with you. And there ain't no difference, see. But they have their ulterior motives in the end, like when I was, found out that they didn't believe in God, well I just backed off from them. But two or three times, the Communists say to me against some of my own friends, who thought the best way to get on the staff was to get rid of Kimbley. And I said, I told them, "Listen here, you don't have to get rid of me. You come go around with me and learn. The union is young yet."

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QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

Good. Now, beyond the Communist involvement, what were race relations like within the union? I mean, I know that there were a lot of ethnic, a lot of ethnic groups and so forth. How did all the ethnic groups and different races get along within the union?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

There's not but one thing that ever happened that I disapproved of and that's, and I didn't make any protest. And one of the big local unions that I attended, now I'm the staff now, I went on the staff in September, in August nineteen and thirty-seven, and when I attend, attended a meeting of 1014 they were all for wanting, requesting that the, the black worker sit in the back. Well that was the old mine workers' method at one time. I protested, I think, to some of the people, and from then on, why they just said nothing about where you sit when you attend a meeting. That's the only difference that I saw the whole time I was in the union.

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QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

Now, do you remember your first union meeting that you went to?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, that was one of them.

INTERVIEWER:

OK, so, tell me what would happen at the union meetings and what, I mean, how, how did you get in and make sure the people that weren't in the union getting in there, the spies and that kind of thing. Tell me about that.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well I tell you what: really we was in the drive to get the workers in the union. We'd have, what we'd call, educational meetings on picket lines. And if you didn't have your card, you couldn't get in, see. On one or two occasions we'd have a problem that I thought was going to get nasty. One of my friends told me, he said, "Listen, Kimbley, I'm going to get in. I, I don't belong to that union, and I'm going to get...if those, any of those SOBs try to stop me, I'm going to shoot the hell out of them." I said, "Now listen, you don't have to do that, see. When you come down the line, I'll you coming. I'm going to escort you through." And I did, see, but he didn't know that I had written his card up and put it in the basket as a member of the union. And when he woke up, he was already in the union and I signed his card. [laughs]

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QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

Now tell me about how you recruited ,John Howard to the union. You signed him up, right?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

I went to his house.

INTERVIEWER:

Wait a minute, now, OK, tell me that story.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

I went to John L. Howard's house. And I'd heard about him being very prominent in the mill, was well thought of. And I talked a little bit about the union, not too much, cause he'd already known, and I wrote him up. Didn't have problem at all with Jack, getting John Howard in the union.

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QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

OK. You told me that you were involved in the union specifically to help black workers? Remember you telling me that? Why was that so important to you?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

I had promised God some of the things I do if he'd get me back home from the war. I went through a bitter bombardment at one, one day, and I prayed so hard that I could hardly get God out of my mouth. And the next day I was praying, thanking God for getting  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  "Oh God," I said, "You're getting me back home, there're certain things I'll do." I did those things. I kept those promises, and I'm impressed with one, one of those things I promised God. And I, when I, when, when Hank Johnson decided that we going to put on a small black organizer [sic], Walter Michael turned it down, Stanley Cotton, Cotton turned it down, and a fellow named Dorgan turned it down, and, next, when they got to me, I accepted because I didn't have any family at that time. And I said, "Well, I'll stay here until I can do, until they get rid of me or I'm not much good, and I'll go on to Kentucky." I didn't think I would make good at it, see, cause my mother taught me a whole lot about working with people, especially Southerners.

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QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

Now, you mentioned him a little earlier, but tell me what you thought, what were your impressions of Phil Murray?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

I don't think you could beat him. He was one of the finest men I ever met.

INTERVIEWER:

You have tell, you have to say his name, because my question's not... Can you tell me that again, but say Phil Murray's name?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

I think Philip Murray was one of the finest men God ever put breath into. And I heard him say one time that told me that the union was hundred per cent indebted. He said, "Before I would discriminate against a Negro worker, I would resign my position as President of the United Steel Workers Union." That was good enough for me. And I proved it because everybody would say, "Oh, that George Kimbley, he's crazy about that union. He just, he just love that union so much." Because the union was a vehicle, see. I had been lied on, fired on, sit on, double crossed, tricked, betrayed, and misused so much that there was an opportunity, see, and I, I could see it. I had the vision to see and know and believe what the union could do. And it did it. I'm not a bit disappointed in the steel workers union.

INTERVIEWER:

Good, perfect. We have to change again, but this is great. [laughs] This is great.

[cut]
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QUESTION 13
[slate][change to camera roll 315:49][change to sound roll 315:28]
INTERVIEWER:

OK. You can go.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

When Roosevelt came in as elected, everybody was happy because he had a program. He had an agenda for the people, and he was not anti-labor. The unions endorsed him, and of course everybody was waiting for somebody to try to deliver us from the Depression. It was a pretty deep depression. Course it didn't...I lived all right. I got along all right in the, during the Depression. I worked, 'cause I'd been picking all the extra work that they...it was very helpful, the workers in my department and a lot of the guys would turn that extra work down, and if, if the job was the keeping the metal hot, keep it from freezing. And that was my job on weekends. Nobody else wanted it, see. And when times got bad, I still got that extra work. And I fed a whole lot of people during that Depression. But Roosevelt was a God-sent man. People believed in him. He gave them jobs, and that was the important thing.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee supported Roosevelt in '36, right? I mean they helped get people out to vote and so forth. Whey was it important for you to support Roosevelt? Why was it important?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well we felt like we had a friend in the White House. Hoover was no friend of working people. And Mr. Roosevelt was our friend. And the result is that people everywhere voted for him. It was just that simple. Didn't have to have a whole lot of things that he was doing, but the things that, that, that people needed, they, they improved the Welfare Department, and they gave people work. Young, younger generation got jobs. I can't name the different organizations that he had set up. For the college students, they had special work for them. And well, the ABC's agenda it was.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, in addition to supporting Roosevelt, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee also supported local candidates, you know sheriffs, judges, that kind of a thing. Why did you do that? Why was that important?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, I'll tell you what. We, we had, I can't hardly remember the dates too well, but when we got a sub-district director by the name of Kincaid, Orville J. Kincaid. He was a powerful politician, as well as a labor leader. And one of the big problems that the steel workers had was getting to the polls in time to vote. Well, we'd have our care all lined up. As soon as they got off, the steel workers would get off from work, the cars would pick them up and take them to the polls. And, let me tell you, that put a lot of fear into politicians. 'Cause when we, when the, when, when the Fair Employment Practices Ordinance came up in Gary Council, two or three of the councilmen didn't want to go along with it, and Kincaid said, "We'll meet you at the gate." Well, they knew what they meant, see, by that.

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QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

OK. Now, the Memorial Day massacre? You remember that?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

The what?

INTERVIEWER:

The Memorial Day massacre.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Yes, I worked that night!

INTERVIEWER:

Tell me what you know about that. Tell me a story about that.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

All I know is about what I read.

INTERVIEWER:

Wait a minute, wait a minute. Now tell me.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

What I know about that was from my friends that were there, Jesse Reese and his wife and Will Young. And I knowed [sic] Lee Tisdale that got killed. He was on one of our volunteer organizing committee. And, Joe Cook and several other names that just don't come to me readily were there. They told me that story. And I have a written story that I'll get to you before you leave.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, how did you feel when you, when you heard about what happened?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

I was hurt very much. I was hurt, but you know I've been where the soldiers have been killed, and I could take it very well, you know. 'Cause I've seen people killed, and shot up and cut up and torn to pieces, and I'm just hardened to it, you know.

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QUESTION 15
INTERVIEWER:

Now, what kind of affect did the Memorial Day Massacre have on the organizing effort?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

It, it stepped it up.

INTERVIEWER:

You have to tell me "the massacre stepped it up."

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Listen, it didn't slow us down at all.

INTERVIEWER:

Mr. Kimbley, I need for you to tell me that "the massacre stepped up the organizing effort," not just say "it," 'cause my questions won't be on. So if you could tell me "the massacre stepped up the organizing effort" and then go ahead and finish telling your story. Wait a minute. Now.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, I just can't understand anything other than the fact it didn't stop organizing. That was a determination. We had already held our hands up to organize if it took our lives, and I didn't mind dying. I wasn't afraid of dying. And there's many other workers that were not afraid of dying. We knew that there were yet gains to be made with the union. Very sensible people about knowing about unions. They didn't go into it blindly.

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QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

Good. Now, do you remember the La Follette Committee investigations, when they came in and investigated the massacre? When the government came in and investigated...?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

I don't know about that. That was in East Chicago and Chicago.

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QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

OK. Do you remember when U.S. Steel signed with the Steel Workers' without a strike? Do you remember that? Do you remember when U.S. Steel signed, Myron Taylor and John L. Lewis, remember when they recognized the union without a strike?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Yes they did. They recognized it and then gave us the increase in wages.

INTERVIEWER:

OK. What can you tell me about that? Do you remember that day? Do you remember what happened? Do you remember how you found out that they had signed?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, I guess word got out, you know, and, and it was reported, and we were happy over it.

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QUESTION 18
INTERVIEWER:

Do you remember the nation-wide sit-down strikes when, when the auto industry and a lot of people were sitting down?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Oh yes, a lot of workers, yes.

INTERVIEWER:

Tell me what you remember about that.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, I'll tell you what. I, I don't remember much more than the fact that they sat down, and that this bolstered the, the, the, the steel workers. It made it a stronger union. People, they figured that the union was working. The CIO is working.

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QUESTION 19
INTERVIEWER:

Tom Girdler. You remember Tom Girdler from Republic Steel?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Yes. Tom...

INTERVIEWER:

Girdler, G-i-r-d-l-e-r, Girdler.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Yes, the name is...I don't remember too much about him now.

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QUESTION 20
INTERVIEWER:

OK. Now the little steel companies, Republic Steel, Inland Steel, and what not, you remember when they lost their strike when all the, when they, when they all went back to work in 1937 without winning the strike? Do you remember that?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Yes.

INTERVIEWER:

Tell me what you thought about that and how that affected the organizing?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, we were gleeful over it—

INTERVIEWER:

Wait a minute, wait a minute—

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

We were happy over it.

INTERVIEWER:

You were happy that they lost?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Yes, yes. We were winning. And that bolstered the steel workers.

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QUESTION 21
INTERVIEWER:

OK. Let me ask you one more question here. When you think back about the union and what you did, what is it that you're most proud of? What makes you proud?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

That we won. That, that, that we won. That the union had actually done a job for not only steel workers, but for, but for the citizens of Gary, Indiana and Northwest Indiana and the Calumet Region also, because there were about six districts in the Steel District 31, and they all were prosperous.

INTERVIEWER:

OK, let's stop for a second. Let's stop.

[cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

OK.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

One of the reasons I took the job as a, as a staff man is that I knew that there was an opportunity to help my people get out of the hole they were in. I made these promises to God, and I want to keep them. Since it was turned down by Walter Michael Thomas, Dorgan, and Stanley Cotton, and maybe one other turned the job down because they had families, and they asked me to take it, and I took it. And I was treated very well when I went in. My first sub-district director, his name was Frank  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  from Arkansas. Well I didn't go in there  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  towards Frank  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  from the South. I sit down and talked with him. He liked me. And he got me, when he had problems, he'd come lay on my shoulder. I never had a man to cry on my shoulder in my life. He did. He  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  I said, "Listen, who's the, listen, what you crying about, the God damnedest thing, so  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  ain't you? He's white like you, ain't he? Are you letting him take advantage of you?" And this...he booked up, yeah. The reason I think I made good on the job is because I fit in where others didn't have the experience that I had. I fit right in,  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  right in. Everywhere I'd go working the  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , I'd do things that they didn't know anything about, 'cause I'd experienced it coming up in the war, and I'd had experience in organizing people in Gary prior to the union. I had some beautiful experiences organizing.

[audio only]
GEORGE KIMBLEY:

And the result is that I didn't go around telling everybody everything that was happening I was engaged in, and they liked it. One, one committee man, one committee man said to me one time when I contacted him, I said, "How in the hell do you think I'm going to get these black boys in the union, and you won't give them better jobs, upgrade them." "Mr. Kimbley, I'll do that. I'm, I, I'm going to get some jobs for some of these." And I, I tipped some of them off in the department. I said, "Now listen, they're going to be some openings down in your, your department. Keep your eye open and you can move up. And these buggers went right straight back to the company and, to the Grievance Committee, and said, 'Mr. Kimbley says you're going to open up some new jobs for black steel workers'". And the guy comes back to me, "Kimbley, I thought I told you not to say anything." I said, "Well, you know how it is. We like to tip our friends off."

INTERVIEWER:

OK, now, we're out of, we, we just ran out of film.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 315:50]
GEORGE KIMBLEY:

There were many a hazardous job in the steel mill. You had gas of all kinds and acids and metal, hot metal and cold metal, and there were different kinds of machinery that required a lot of hard labor to operate. And there were many casualties in the mills. Steel mill workers, there were many steel mill workers that got killed. And I had one of my friends died here recently from the injuries that he got when he worked in the mill. He was... A whole sheet of iron fell on him from a crane and crippled him for life. Now that was one personal friend that I had that I know that was hurt in the mill. There were others lost legs. I knew a fellow that fell in one of those vats, acid vats, and you'd be surprised to know the casualties that go on in a steel mill. And there was every need in the world for a union to protect the workers from all these hazardous conditions. And I think that the very thing that topped it off is when we had the Republic Steel massacre. The workers knew what was going on, and they knew that Little Steel wasn't, wouldn't sign, and they was trying to get Little Steel to come on in and do like the, the, the other steel workers had done, and to sign that union up. And they were having a picnic out there, and all at once those Chicago police opened up their guns on them and killed three or four of our people and injured a lot of them. And I have a story written up here and I'm going to let you, let you take it with you.

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QUESTION 22
INTERVIEWER:

But you, you didn't tell me yet about how important it was to move on past those bad working conditions. Before, you told me that once you got a taste of freedom, once you got a taste of, of, of basic rights, you know, in the work place, that you didn't want to go back. So can you tell me that again?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Yes. I think that, that was a normal regard here with any human being, that after you got a little freedom in your blood, it's going to stay there. There's something about freedom that, that is godly. A man to be free, and all down through our lives we contact with people that are fighting for freedom. You heard  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  sum up most, saying "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!". Well it's the same thing in the steel mill. Listen, it was slavery in the steel mill there. People died in the steel mill. And people died trying to have a union. You know the story of in the early days of the organization of steel workers. It was brutal.

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QUESTION 23
INTERVIEWER:

Good. Now, I want to go back to the Amalgamated versus the CIO, OK, and why the Amalgamated didn't work and why the, why you switched over to the CIO, and how the CIO worked?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well I didn't know too much about the Amalgamated because I got there a year later, and nobody talked to me very much about the strike, other than...I had some friends that got good jobs cause I knew them personally. Some were electricians and some were, had other jobs, mechanics and crane men. There was a number of black crane men when I arrived in the steel mills. And you, you have that to go on, see. And when these workers here began to hear talk about freedom, that everybody's going to be treated alike, that if you were entitled to advance in the union or on the job on your ability to do the job with seniority, you'd get it. I fell for it just like that when I heard it. You didn't have to sell it to me. When they begin to talk about being free to, to be moved up like any other steel worker, I jumped for it. I believed it. And when I heard Phil Murray speak, I was tickled to death to hear a man, and you could just feel it in his voice, that he meant it. And February the, it was in February, nineteen and thirty seven that we had a conference of all Negro organizations in Pittsburgh. And it was there when I got up close with all the steel workers that were in that meeting, held their hands up, and swore to die to see that the steel, black steel workers would be organized one hundred per cent in the steel workers union. And I was one of them.

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QUESTION 24
INTERVIEWER:

Now, do you remember John L. Lewis? What can you tell me about John L. Lewis? What did you think of him?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Oh, he was—

INTERVIEWER:

Wait a minute. Now tell me. You have to say his name too. OK?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, John L. Lewis was, was come right along the line with Phil Murray. They worked together. I didn't know a whole lot about him, but he bolstered the steel workers, the steel, the steel workers organize a committee by donating money to help to organize. So there might have been a whole lot of politics in there somewhere, but I didn't keep up with it, see. But I was very well satisfied that, that John L. Lewis was honest enough for me to follow. And I'd been in meetings with him. The first meeting that I was in with him was the, the Wage and Policy Committee meeting in Pittsburgh. And I, that's when I heard John L. Lewis talk. I liked his voice, and I liked the way he presented himself.

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QUESTION 25
INTERVIEWER:

Now do you remember when the Wagner Act was passed?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Yes.

INTERVIEWER:

Tell me about the Wagner Act, how you felt about it?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well I can't recall just what happened when the Wagner Act, see. In fact I forgot just, just its provisions. But we were doing all right, and as long as we were getting along all right, we were waiting for orders to do the next best thing.

INTERVIEWER:

OK. Let's stop for a second. How much we got?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER

We have three and a half minutes.

[cut][slate]
INTERVIEWER:

OK, tell me what you were telling me again.

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Political Action Committee was one of the vehicles that was important in the life of our union. We knew that there, there must be laws put on the books protecting our union. And it wasn't very easy to get the steel workers to understand that they must be active in the union. We vote for our friends, and they vote against our enemies. And the result is that we had no problem raising money for PAC. And when our leaders came in mass meetings and talked about who their friends were and what they were doing, we followed them. It's just that simple. You didn't have to go through a lot of explanation, explaining a whole lot of things on it. A few skeptics had to know about that, see.

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QUESTION 26
INTERVIEWER:

When you think back on it all now, when you think back on it all, what makes you most proud? What do you think that it should all be, people should remember about it, the one thing, the one most single thing that people should remember about it?

GEORGE KIMBLEY:

Well, there's so much that people should remember how the people sacrificed themselves and their homes trying to fight for this new economic freedom. It wasn't easy. People suffered. They died. They were hurt, and they, they, men and their wives separated about it. But it was done. Now if there was anything that I was very much impressed about the union was the fact that when I was organizing East Chicago, Indiana, there was a fellow came up to me that wanted to go around. He said, "Mr. Kimbley, I'd like to go around with you sometimes." I don't want to call his name because he's got his friends. So he started going around with me, and I was teaching him everything I knew about organizing. And one of the Communists told me that, "Kimbley do you know that that, well, guy is an ex-Klansman." And when I was being branded as a Klansman, as a Communist, it was he that would come out strong and supported me. "Uh uh, not George Kimbley. He's a religious man. That man believes in God." Well, the thing that happened that I loved mostly, a foreign fellow invited me to come over to his house to talk to him about the union. And I took this fellow, white fellow with me. I says, "Now, the best way to talk about the union is to talk what you know and experienced." And when I got over there, the man's wife and little kid about three years, four years old were there, and after I got through talking, why McKinsey started talking about the union. And this kid came up and climbed up in my lap and went to sleep in my arms. And the man of the house and looked at this kid. This kid was really sleeping, see. And from then on things changed for me. Looked like stock went up. See, these people have some superstitious idea of some religious idea or something. There was some sort of sign that he got out of, something he got out of his kid climbing up in my lap and going to sleep that he love. He told everybody in town about. Now, another thing that helped me a lot that I knew: I knew that every white worker that I talked with, I would try to impress him deeply—

[audio only]
GEORGE KIMBLEY:

—about what we were talking about, because I know he was going to go back and tell it. And, and that helped me along. I never had any great problems. The only problem I ever had, the biggest problem I ever had, was some of my own people didn't like it because I wouldn't tell them what I was doing. Now you take the Southern white man. If he liked you, he'd take, just like Orville J. Kincaid. Orville, if he liked you, he'd take his shirt off and give it to you. And if he didn't, he'd put a rope around your neck and hang you. Now that didn't, that wouldn't go for black, that went for everybody. He didn't care about educated people 'cause they had, he had been embarrassed at one or two black organizations. He said, "Now, I'll tell you what we're going to do. We gonna get everything the union asked us to do for the black citizens. We're going to do it." Now, aside from getting the Fair Employment Practices Committee ordering through, he, when he was put on a school, on a, on a library board as a chairman, he says, "Now listen. I want a, a black woman on my committee. I want a black woman on my committee. Find me one."

[end of interview]