Camera Rolls: 315:34-37
Sound Rolls: 315:19-21
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Walter Mackeral , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 14, 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.*
Mr. Mackeral, can you tell me when and why you came to Gary, Indiana?
I told you why I came here, my brother was here.
Remember, you have to include—you can just say, I came to Gary because of my brother, you know what I mean?
We talked about that before.
Yeah. I came to Gary because my brother was here and he had been wanting me to come all the time, so he kept wanting me to come, but the main reason what made me really come, get my mind to come, was I think I told you before, that we had a cartoon in a paper there called, I think it was the , , and it had a guy in there called Hambone, and he said that "I wouldn't tell another mule to get up here and sit in my lap." So I thought it might time for me to go because things had got kinda tight.
What do you mean things had gotten kind of tight? Can you...?
Well, we were farming, and naturally some years, you know, maybe they come out with the market the price is going to be good, then finally when just about time to get your crops together then everything falls. Things go down and down, and I think 1920 was one of the bad years, I mean everything went down so low, until the merchants told all of their customers to hold the cotton, it's going to get a dollar a pound. And they held it, when what happened was then they finally didn't get anything, it finally went down so that they wouldn't buy it, they wouldn't look at it. My daddy got caught in that snap.
And now, tell me what year you came up here? And tell me about the trip up here and what happened when you got here.
Well I come up here in 1927, and well, naturally when I got here I had to try to look for a job, that was the main thing, and I was pretty lucky. There was quite a few guys here that had supposedly been looking for a job [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , but I was lucky. A guy carried me out to the mill where they had what we called a bull pen, it had about two, three hundred guys standing over there, a big fence around it, and the guy come out was named [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , and he would look over the crowd, point out somebody, "Hey you," and it was the kind of guy who was looking for a fellow there, he needed somebody at the reel mill, and this guy that helped me out, he was a big husky guy, you know, I was a little fellow [laughs], and he would come over and ask this guy was he looking for a job, and this guy says, "No." "I say, my cousin is looking for a job." He looked at me and he said, "Well, he's too light for that thing." So then tells [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , and he told him, said "Stand over there." And I stood over there, so after he got through he called about two or three guys and he started in. I said, "That man is gone," and he said, "Mr. [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ," he said, "Go on in there." And that's the way they hired him, there wasn't filling out applications at that time like they do now.
Now what was your job? What did you do?
What was my job? Well, the first day when I went out there I was working labor you know, just piddling around, helping out on the, the guys that were on there what was called a reed straightener, and just laboring around, first one thing and then another. Later on they had a place that was open down on what they called a cold saw, where they saw them reels, cut them off when they was too long or too short, or some they had to recut them and then re-drill them, and finally a guy asked me one day he said if I want to go down there and said it would be more money—I was making $4.40 a day to labor. There was a guy that was a reed straightener and that gagger, the reed straightener made $25.00 a day and the gagger was making $15.00, I'm making $4.40. So I went down there and he told me the bonus. I said, "What do you mean by bonus?" You know, I didn't know what bonus was at that time. And so I went down then, taking that job that day, and, you couldn't get nobody to stay in that job, the big, husky guys, and those big husky guys get down there and they just couldn't take it, and I went down there and stuck with it.
Dragging them reels up to the cold saw.
OK, so describe the work. I mean, was it hot, was it heavy...?
Wait a minute, you have to wait until I get finished. OK now, now describe the work.
Was it hot?
I mean, you have to tell me that. Describe it.
No, it wasn't hot where I was at. No, this is the one where we called over on the dock, it wasn't hot over there, I wasn't over in the mill part.
Tell me what the work was like in the mill.
Oh, what I could see the work in the mill was hot. When them reels was coming down, they have a big slab, a red big thing and they run that thing down two or three times. And I guess when they put that big slab in there it was about, I imagine two feet by two foot thick, maybe bigger than that, and probably about six foot long, maybe something like that. And when they run it through them big rolls it would run its way down and back and forth and when it come out, when it finished, it was about I guess a hundred and some feet long because they cut it up and made about three reels out of them, and reels 39 feet, and they make about three reels out of it, when it come out, and they cut it, they had a big saw that come down and cut it in two, and they make about three 30 foot reels out of one of them [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] slab.
Now, when we talked before, you also told me about how difficult the jobs were around the coke ovens, and the gas that was in there, and the heat, and there was no ventilation. Can you tell me that again?
Around the coke ovens?
I wasn't at the coke oven.
No, but you said the other people that were...?
Yeah well, when them reels would come down, they had what they called a cooling bed, and they'd come up on this bed, well those guys over at that end they had to keep them reels turned over so they wouldn't bent [sic] up. And they had to go up in between that heat and it was hot up there, and they had to go up there and turn them over every so often and they was real hot until they cooled down, because if they didn't turn them, they would bent up, they would just bent up. And that was over at the coal, that was over in the mill side.
Now, it sounds dangerous. Were these dangerous kinds of jobs? And what kind of accidents happened, if there were dangers?
Well, I don't think it was so much, and I don't, probably what that was, it wasn't too dangerous that I know anything about. See what happens when they get them reels come up there and they bring them out they had to drill them, they come up there they cool off, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] they drill them and, you know, they had certain drills they had to put them so they'd fit when they put them on the track. Sometime they'd misdrill [sic] them, that's where I was, I was on the dock. Well when they get one they probably misdrilled [sic] it, then they come over and had to cut it off and redrill it again, and they piled it up and then we'd redrill it and then inspect it and ship it out.
OK let's stop for a second.
No, what I told you before was that we worked on a hot mill open floor and on a hot mill open floor it was mostly blacks and Greeks worked over there. And we had a pretty good little nucleus of a group at that time we worked together fine, we used to have our little meetings out in town, and sometimes we had meetings with management because the iron would get bad, and when that iron would get real bad you couldn't make any money because you only got what you made, it was all piece work. So those was just Greeks, there was no promotion for blacks at that time, no kind of promotion. The only promotion I had when I was working there would be just one step, and that would be up to shareman and I couldn't get that, I couldn't get that.
Now, when we talked before you also described to me the kind of problems that you had before the union came in. You talked to me about pay-rate and the hours, and the shift change story and whatnot. Can you tell me that again, about the problems that you had before the union?
Yeah, well, the problem we had is, as I said before, the problem that we had before the union was that we just wasn't making very much money, and there's no promotion for us. That's about all I can tell you now, the same thing, and well, sometimes, I said before, we would have to meet with the manager, try and get some consideration. That was the problem we had on hot mill open floor. See we wasn't over into the mill part like over in the mill—now you take the hot mill, where those rollers roll that iron out, now that was just about like from where we worked at, from here to the backside of the house [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , that was over at the hot mill, well them guys why they was in that heat, and those rollers had to roll that iron through them, roll them backwards and forwards and, I've seen some of them guys sometimes, their face would be just raw, and they'd put a cloth over them to try and keep that heat from burning. And then in the summertime, I've seen guys just laying out, just like sheep with the rods, just out there just groaning, take them to the hospital, aching. They had time, that was from the hot mill, but that didn't bother us so bad, we wasn't over in that part, that was the guys in the hot mill.
Now, you said that you would meet with managers...?
We're all out here.
OK, we've got to change in just a few minutes. This is good, real good. You comfortable? You want to order anything?
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] see what happened was, they tried to organize a union but everybody was afraid, especially the whites, they would [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] . Hawkins tried to organize, he had what you'd call iron, sheet, and tin workers, but they couldn't do any good. Now Joe Goings, and Johnny Mike, and Cleo Owens, Arthur Adams and John Spillers, they had a pretty good nucleus in the big mill. And when we started organizing, all we guys factored first, we [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] because Joe Goings had the nucleus and when—well, let me tell you, let me go back and give it like this, when we started setting up, see, Nick von Takio[?] and Leo Sesquenzi[?] and a guy called Hard[?] were sent in here from the mine workers, John L. Lewis and I happened to go over there, with facts Jesse Reese, had me going over there, carrying him trying to set up one of the little nucleus over there, but I came over there for about two years and nobody was meeting but him, and a white fellow, and his daughter. And so about one day I told him, I said, "Jess," I says, "I've been bringing you over here now for a couple years, and I don't see nobody here but you, a man, and his daughter. I'm going to come over here and show you how to organize this thing." And he said to me, he said, "Don't come now." I didn't know what he meant, but what he meant was he was planning at that time to hold a convention—I think that'd been about 1935—and then he was planning to try and get Steel Workers Organizing Committee set up. And from my understanding was, they had a big ruckus and they kicked out about ten internationals, the oil workers, automobile workers, ladies garment workers, and all of them they kicked them out. And that's when they set up the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. And John L. Lewis sent three guys in here to set up and, when he come back and asked me to take him again I didn't want to go because he wasn't doing nothing. So he kept [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
OK that's good, but can you go back and tell me that what they did was set up the CIO, which then set up the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, right? John L. Lewis left—let's stop for a second.
John L. Lewis left and they organized the CIO, and then the CIO organized the Steel Workers Organizing Committee.
Huh? That's not the way you remember? OK.
No, let me talk to you about that. No, you see the Steel Workers Organizing Committee was—
Walter Mackeral take four.
No, the reason the metal committee didn't work was because as I said before, everybody was afraid. At that time when they did have the little meetings, they had to have secret meetings back in that time because they was [afraid they would be fired, and that's the reason why it didn't work, them guys was scared. From 1919 they had such a time so everybody was afraid, they just were afraid. And as I said, 10, 14 just happened to have a little nucleus about six or seven guys and that was all.
Now, what happened when the CIO came in?
You mean the Committee for Industrial Organization?
Well, it happened, it just, nothing more happened, it just had a lot of organization then. You had all the organization, you had International, you had Automobile Workers, Ladies Garment Workers, and well, naturally because they were the ones that put up the money to organize the thing, John L. Lewis.
Now, when we talked again earlier, you told me about Henry Johnson.
Well, Henry Johnson, I don't know, he come in now just before they got started, he come from somewhere, I don't know, but he was a Texan. At that time the communist was trying to organize and actually the communist was the one that actually was pushing to organize steel, they was the one that was pushing it. They tried to have a little kind of an organization themselves, but they wasn't able to do anything. But Henry Johnson, when he come in here they had a different lot of groups, he come in here with some kind of an insurance, they had daily workers and they had some kind of an insurance with Henry Johnson. When John L. Lewis sent in these three guys to set up the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, Henry Johnson was put on the staff, and as I told you before I think if you remember, they also went and got Jack Rusak, who was a long communist, off a milk truck and put him on the staff. Well Henry Johnson, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , when he would tell me about the union and the communists, why, a lot of people was afraid, some of the white was afraid on account of all the communists. They figured it was, what I said it smelled of rat [laughs]. What Henry Johnson told me, he said, "Mackeral," he said, "I'll tell you," he said, "what we have to do, as blacks, we have to, what we call, cooperate with them to get what we want. We have to ally with them to get what we want because this union is built," he said. "They're going to kick the communists all out." And just as he told me it happened, and he told me, he said, "I'm going to die with my boots on," and I don't know what happened, but he did, he was shot, he was killed sitting in his office. Now I don't know why he told me that, but that's what happened—everything he told me would always come true.
OK, now can you tell me the story, you told it to me earlier, of the meeting in Pittsburgh and how some blacks were opposed to the union, and why they were opposed?
Well, nationally the majority of the job was leading blacks. It was shy of the union because [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] old AFL had never treated us right, they always had what was called the craft system, and the only thing at that time that they could get with the cobble workers and the bricklayers, is what they called hod carriers, that's the only thing the blacks could get. And I don't know whether you know what a hod carrier is, but anyway that's where they had to tote that mortar and those bricks climbing up there, taking that mortar and bricks up to those guys that was laying them bricks and things, that was it, that was their job, that's all they could get, and probably making up that stuff. At that time we didn't have machines making them up like they do now, they had to churn that stuff, you know, with their hands. So that was one of the parts back in that time.
OK, but you were telling me why people were opposed to it though.
Yeah, well what we had to do, naturally, we thought we were going to have a strike, we didn't know whether we were going to have a strike or not, and the first thing what happened, if you want me to tell you I think, is I had a letter from somebody, myself and Stanley Cotton and Rev. Delaney, and that was in the beginning, this was in the beginning now see, telling us there was going to be a convention, a national Negro convention held in Chicago, that was in about February 1935, '36, one of the two. But anyway, so we got this letter, and I contact Cotton and he says, "Yes, I received a letter," and then I say, "Well, what about Delaney," and I say, "We'll go over and talk with Delaney and see what he says." So we went over and talked it over with Delaney and he said, "Yes, I received a letter." And we asked him, "Did he know anything about this Negro organization that had been [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , National Negro Congress way back sometime?" He said, "Yeah, he knowed [sic] about it," and I said, "What we going to do, you want us to organize a delegate to go to Chicago to this convention they's going to have?" And so he said, "I'll let you know." And so he did organize this convention, this delegation. We met at Rev. Hawkin's church right up here on 21st and Washington up here now, and so we went over there, and oh, that was a big convention, I don't know. Now Pittsburgh, you mentioned Pittsburgh didn't you?
Well Pittsburgh, that was all later on, when we really was thinking we was going to have a strike, and we had to try to get as many of the Negro leaders as possible to go along with us you know, so we wouldn't have any trouble, and they called this conference in Pittsburgh with Philip Murray and invited in some of the Negro leaders, now we had coming from Gary here we had, from Chicago, we had Bishop Walls and Rev. Austin, those were the two Negro leaders, preachers, that went with us to Pittsburgh and met with Philip Murray. They wanted to hear the program that Philip Murray had outlined and tell us about the union, no discrimination, it wasn't going to be no craft union, it would be an industrial union, no discrimination. And so at that meeting we had Bishop Walls, he did speak, and what he had done, he got up and told, he said, "Boys when you go back home—"
We're out of film.
We've got to finish that story when we change over, OK? This is good.
OK, well, wait a minute before we begin. Now, you were telling me about Bishop Walls was making this talk at the meeting in Pittsburgh and he was saying "Boys," and getting ready to tell them what they had to do.
Wait a minute. Walter Mackeral take five.
Well I said Bishop Walls he was one of the ones I know that spoke at that meeting, he told us, he says, he told us that when we go back home, we tell our preachers, if they don't preach our gospel, he couldn't eat our bread, and that's what Bishop Wall he made that statement. So that gave us a big boost you know? Well, when we were coming back home then we set up what was called a labor committee, and the purpose of this labor committee was, is, to work with our Negro leaders, doctors, and lawyers, and get them to cooperate with us, you know, make them understand our problem in the middle, in the union. So that was the purpose of that convention, conference that were [sic] held in Pittsburgh with Philip Murray.
Now, did the 1919 strike have anything to do with some people's opposition to union?
Yeah, because the guys were afraid.
Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Well, most of the white guys were naturally born afraid because as I said before, they had got such a licking in 1919 [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] until they naturally was afraid, and they didn't want to be fired, and like I told you I think, the company set up this here company representative plan, and what we called as I told you a "sugar bear" union, and that's what we called it at the time. And the company was trying to block the union because they knew that Roosevelt was pro-labor, and they started that in 1933, set up this here company representative plan, and each section could organize and have its own representative, have its election and elect its own representatives, and that's what happened. [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] and Stanley Cotton was one of our representatives in [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ten and Joe Goings and Arthur Adams and Cleo Owens, they was representatives in a big wheel, in different sections see, they had different groups, and we had in a shim in the department, he was a white fellow, he was what we call one of the company guys, you know? So the last time they had a big meeting they were really driving hard to try to block the union and trying to get these guys to sign this contract, what they call a slide-and-scale, and I don't know if you know what a slide-and-scale is.
No I don't.
Well, what happened before we had a union to give us a raise, well they would give us a raise this month and maybe two or three months later they'd go back, they'd go up and down. That's what they wanted to do with the union, that's what they wanted to sign, what they call a slide-and-scale. So, Stanley Cotton, he was the one that really put on the big fight because all the guys was naturally born afraid, they didn't know whether they would be fired or not, it was a possibility, they could've been, but the only thing that I could see that really kept the company from not pressing hard on their deal is because we blacks and the Mexicans got in there and see that was who they betted on before breaking the strike, see they used us before to break the strike, and we swore by this time they wasn't going to use us to break the strike before. When we broke the strike then most of the blacks and Mexicans was kicked out. They kept two or three or a few around, but the most was kicked out and those guys all went back. So we said that wasn't going to happen anymore, and it didn't.
OK, that was in 1919?
Now, you called it the "sugar bear" union.
We called it the "sugar bear" union.
Well it's sweetness, trying to sweet[laughs] give you a little sugar to make you satisfied [laughs].
And what do you mean a little sweetness? Tell me a little bit...
[laughs] Well, you know, they always try to make you believe that they give you something, when it's nothing.
OK, I need for you to tell me that all over again, but include, you know, "We called it a "sugar bear" union because—"
No, I need you to tell me what you called it, you need to tell me that because, again, my question is not going to be on, so—
Well, it's a "sugar bear" union, we called it a "sugar bear" union because the only thing it was doing was trying to sweeten us up and make us believe that we was getting something, we wasn't getting nothing. It was just a sham. That's just about what it all, I'm going to tell you, I don't know if I need this minute to go into that but go ahead.
Go ahead and tell me.
[laughs] No, what I feel like now, we got the company now to I supposed to set up what they call a clinic here now, and the only thing that they're doing now is trying to block the national health program, and that's the whole thing.
OK, yeah, no, we don't want—
No, you don't want that in there.
We only want stuff about the '30s.
OK. Now, what did the company do when they saw the organizing effort coming together? What did they do? And you had told me a story about Stan the Cat.
Well, what did they do?
Well, that's what they was doing then, I'm telling you, trying to block it, that's about all they did. That's what they done, but you see when Stanley, at that time like I said, when he was at that particular meeting, when they was really trying to get him to sign his contract, well, everybody was afraid, and Stanley Cotton, he made a statement he said, "No," he says, "Mr. Stevenson, you can fire me today or you can find me tomorrow," he said, "but I won't sign." And at that point Stevenson said, "We're not going to fire anyone," and that's the thing that helped him out when he made that pledge and statement that he wasn't going to fire anyone, and that gave the guys a little more them to go and they didn't sign, they didn't sign.
That's when he was trying to get them to sign the—
That's when he was trying to get the, yeah that's right.
Now, tell me the story about the union's plan to have a party after you got this contract? But there were some people who didn't want it to be a mixed party.
Well, what happened was then the company was still trying to do everything they could do, trying to pretend that they was going to, they set up what was called an athletic association, and this athletic association was supposed to have been mixed, you know, they supposedly—then they planned to have a picnic, and when they planned to have a picnic some of the guys, of the whites, they come to the manager and said, "Now look, we can't have no picnic out there mixing up with my wives and their wives, what we going to do?" Then the company went back to some idle guy that was with them, this one guy named Arthur Grey, he was one of the leaders of [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , and so when I found out what was happening they went and told these guys that we'll have a picnic, they said, "But we can't have a picnic together, we'll have to have a picnic, we'll be over here and you guys will be on another side over there." So some of our fellows found out what was happening and they came and told us what was happening, and so we said, "No, no that isn't going to happen, if they're going to have a picnic they're going to have a picnic, if not they ain't going to have it." So what we did then, see now this wasn't a union, then we worked in the union, we went to the union and told them what was taking place, and we told them if the company get away with that, then we just wants to stop. So the union then got ahold to the management [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] and told them if they wasn't going to have a picnic together, they wasn't going to have it at all. And so that's what happened, it blocked it, they didn't have a picnic because they wanted to have it separate. And so we got over to the union and told them no, that couldn't happen.
So they never had it, huh?
And now, another part, maybe what you might have heard me say [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , when we had different sections in our meetings, and the guys wanted to have a part of that, so some of the white fellows told some of the guys, they said, "Look, we can't have parts. What are we going to do, put a rope down between here? [laughs] [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ain't nobody going to put no damn rope down through here." I said [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , I said, "There ain't going to be no rope, no discrimination," so they didn't put the rope. They had the picnic too, we had the party.
But now, were there always internal, racial tensions within the union?
Not always. You had some, but I'll tell you, when the thing got going good, you had them but they didn't show their head, you know? See you always had plenty good white folk ready to go along with us, but they was afraid they'd be called nigger lovers, you know that, all of us know that. But when the communist people just tell you like it is. They was the only people that could bring black and white together, and make them understand that the old rule that the English had years ago was "divide and conquer," and I'll tell you the best friends we had when they made a lot of the Southern whites understand what was happening they was with us 100%, most of them and some of the Northerners.
Now, the Memorial Day Massacre, do you remember how you felt when you heard about what had happened?
The Memorial Day Massacre over in Chicago.
You want to know how I felt?
Well, naturally you know, I hate to see our boys get killed. I hated to see that you know, naturally, so that's about the only thing I can say how I felt.
Before you told me that you hated it, but it was part of the struggle.
Before, when we talked before you, said you hated to see what happened, but it was just part of the struggle. Can you give me, talk to me about that sort of in the same way?
Well, yeah, see what happened was, now we wasn't supposed to go to this place from Gary because they suspected trouble, and they didn't want to have anybody over there that wasn't in that department because we would've been considered as outsiders, so they didn't want us over there, but we had a little fellow called Ted Vaughn, and he was a foxy little guy, so he comes by looking for me to go over there and he went by looking for Cotton. Neither one of us was at home, but he went on over there anyhow by himself, and naturally that's when the trouble started.
We're out of film. What number is this?
OK, you finished telling me about the Memorial Day Massacre, how you felt when you heard about it, but you understood that sacrifices had to be made.
Well, naturally it was a sad thing when we lose ten mens [sic], so it just wasn't pleasant at all. And we had some womens [sic] got beat up. Ted Vaughn, the guy I told you about, he almost got shot, but he was running around down there and he didn't know what was happening. He thought there was fire crackers at first, and he said when he looked down and seen some of them guys bleeding, then he's taken off. But it just was a sad thing, you know. Naturally, we hated to see that, but it's just one of those things and that have happened before. And you know, the company used to when they had power, they'd turn the guns on you, and that's what happened when. We were blasting U.S. Steel though, we didn't have to go through that. That is what they called "little steel."
Let's cut for a second, I'm sorry.
You didn't know about Benny [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] did you? You didn't?
OK, Phil Murray, what do you remember, what are your impressions of Phil Murray?
Well, Phil Murray was just a fine labor man, he was really good, and he'd have come here and spoke with us any number of times. I met with Phil Murray several times, and in fact we had some of our Negro meetings, he come here and spoke with us, so he was just a wonderful guy, he was just a real good labor man.
And Phil Murray, did he do anything to help bring the races together?
Well, I'm satisfied he did, he was the head of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, so he had to, he had to do something to bring it together.
Can you think of anything specifically that you remember?
Oh not just direct, no.
OK, FDR, can you tell me what FDR meant to your organizing effort?
FDR meant the whole thing to us, he was the one that says organize, and that's one thing that made the guys really go to work and do the job, because he was in our corners, I've said before. Naturally, the steel corporation knew he was for labor in the beginning and that's why they done everything they could to try to block it. So FDR was, he just really was OK, and during some of the Depression times, you know, what I like about him and when he was president I had one guy that, was having trouble with getting relief, yeah with the Mayor Gray spell, with the township trustee. And he wrote President Roosevelt, and President Roosevelt wrote him back, and told him to take that letter and take it back go and get this trustee, and he come by and got me, to go with him, and I went over there with him, and when he walked in this woman she went to try to tell him about, "Why can you want to write Mr. Roosevelt?" And he said, "Well if that's what you want I'll go start it out." She says, "Oh come back, come back, don't bother." That's one thing that he did. And I don't know whether you remember that time when they take the man's mule, the Negro's mule down South, well yeah they's [sic] take what they call "breaking it up," you know, his mortgage is his mule, so when he didn't make none they take his mule away from him, so he wrote President Roosevelt, and Roosevelt wrote back to him and got his mule back. [laughs] Bet you didn't know that.
No, and he got his mule back, huh?
Yeah, he got his mule back. [laughs]
OK, two more questions. What about the union, OK, are you most proud of when you think back on it? What makes you proud?
What am I proud of? I'm proud because of one thing that they did for us, we was able to be recognized, as we had never been before, especially blacks. We got more out of it than the whites did because we was way down on the totem pole, we didn't get anything. Now well what the union has done for us today, even today, through the companies. The companies said they couldn't do this, couldn't do, now what happening, they place our Blue Cross and Blue Shield first.
OK, we don't want to talk about today though, we want to keep them in the '30s.
And, were you surprised when the union got the contract out of U.S. Steel without strike?
Well, we was surprised that it happened like it did, but yeah, we wasn't.
Tell me what you remember about how it happened? How you found out about it?
Well, what happened, how I found out about it was Henry Johnson, the guy I told you about. I come in one evening from work and he left word with my wife to tell me to go by and pick up his wife and come and meet him in Chicago, and so we did. I picked up his wife and his car and went and met him in Chicago, and when we met him over there, I don't know where it was at now, but anyhow we drove up and was sitting in the car on the streets and he come out and he said to me, he says, "I understand," he said, "we have come to an agreement in recognition of the union," and I said, "Yeah." And he said, "Well I'm going to find out." I said, "How you going to find out?" He said, "I'm going to contact John L. Lewis." And so he left and went and contacted John L. Lewis and come back and told me it was a fax, and everything was OK, they had come to an agreement to recognition the union.
Now how'd you feel when you found out?
Well, naturally, you know, it felt better because we didn't have to strike [laughs], we didn't have to strike. Naturally we was happy, and that was in 1936, in the Fall sometime, but anyway in 1937 that was when we got buttons, in April 1937 we got our big green buttons that recognized our union, put our buttons on, and so we was happy.
Let's stop. How much we got Mike? Are we close to the end?
You have four minutes.
This will be Walter Mackeral take eight.
OK, tell me about the—
Hold on a second, hold on. OK.
Yeah, I was at that because, you know, Soldier Field is a large place, and naturally he was right out in the middle of that field, you know they had him in some kind of a truck or car you know, and you could see him good, real nice and clear, and when they finished I happened to be sitting right down on the lower edge instead of going way up, and I was down low and he come right by and I got a good view at him, a real good look at him.
Now, do you remember what the day was like, I mean, was the crowd excited? Was it a sunny day? Just describe to me what the day was like, and how you felt, and why you were there.
Well, we was all happy, we was all glad to be there. And naturally we had a parade, we left Gary [coughs], we left Gary that evening with the parade and gone on through in Chicago and through Herman Whiting and picked up guys and went on into this big meeting. Yeah, so naturally we was all, yeah.
But how do you feel? Do you remember whether it was a sunny day, whether there was kids all over?
Well, it was night.
It was nighttime.
It was night, it was night, it was past night.
Do you remember anything in particular that President Roosevelt said when he spoke?
Not direct particular, I can't remember what he said no, no not direct.
I mean, can you remember anything about it, about any kind of detail that you can tell me about the meeting that you can remember?
I just remember we was there. [laughs] And it was something to be there to see the president, that's one of the things in itself, if you can see the president, and I was able to be there to see the president.
And did it have special meaning to you, the fact that he was so supportive of labor?
Let me ask you one more question. You remember the Wagner Act? Remember when that was passed?
Yes, I know when it passed.
Tell me what you remember about when the Wagner Act was passed, what you all did, how you felt, what you were talking about.
[laughs] Well, naturally, see the Wagner Act was one that helped us out, it give us more security, from the Wagner Act it give us more security of organizing and working. That's one thing, yeah.
Do you remember talking about the Wagner Act before it passed, or did you have a party the night it passed, or what? It passed and you said...
Naturally we had a lot of meetings back at that time and I can't tell you exactly what was said, but we all knew about it and we had discussed the problem many times, I'm satisfied, and I mean because we had meetings regularly then at that time.
OK, I don't have any more questions. Do you have anything else you want to tell me you feel like I should know?
You want to stop and think about it?
Stop. You can think about it. You can tell me anything you want to, this is your two minutes, OK? Just talk, just tell that to me about how important it is for people to come together, work together, and then that way you can accomplish things.
Walter Mackeral take nine.
You ready? OK, yeah, you always do more things together, you've always heard old stories saying "Together we stand, and divided we fall," and so it was just a pleasure when we could understand each other and work together. As I've said before, well, it just made it better when we could organize, because back at that time you had a lot of problem [sic] with the company, and so it was just wonderful, just wonderful.
Tell me about how the top people tried to divide. You said something about that.
Well yes, as I said the old English slogan was "divide and conquer," and that was the slogan, it was a fact, I tell you what I have seen, much like some whites they will tell you, if some what guy comes along, well you know good, but then they go back to the white and tell them the same thing about the blacks, now that has happened any number of times, and some people take on that kind of stuff.