Cobb County Oral History Series, No.73
Interview with Betty L. Williams .
Conducted by Thomas A. Scott
Sunday, 22 October 2000
Location: Social Science Building, Kennesaw State University
THOMAS SCOTT: I'm interviewing Betty L. Williams for the Cobb County Oral History Series, and particularly we're going to be talking about her experiences at Bell Aircraft. Her son, Kenneth Williams, is also participating in the interview. Mrs. Williams, if you would, say a word about where you were born and when you were born.
BETTY WILLIAMS: I was born on November 2, 1924, in Anderson, Indiana. That's about thirty or forty miles northeast of Indianapolis.
TS: I guess you went to public schools there?
BW: Yes, I did.
TS: And then when World War II broke out you would be about seventeen years old, I guess, at the time of Pearl Harbor?
TS: And were you through high school by that time?
BW: Yes. I left high school about five months before they actually had the graduation ceremony. I had already earned enough credits; so I went to work at Hughes Meat Packing Company. I wanted to earn enough money to go to Evansville, Indiana to the aeronautic school.
TS: So by the time that you got through high school and you were in the meat packing industry, you already knew you wanted to go to a school to teach you to work on airplanes?
TS: How did you get interested in airplanes?
BW: Well, I guess it was from my cousin, Tom. He took me up several times in an open cockpit airplane and almost scared me to death. He was always doing all kinds of things like that. I got interested in airplanes from him.
TS: I see. Did he own his own plane?
TS: And his name was Tom?
TS: What was his last name? BW: Robinson.
TS: Tom Robinson?
BW: Yes. I don't know what kind of bomber it was that he flew in the war. I think it was a B-17. There was a big write-up about Tom after he brought his plane in on one engine and saved a whole bunch of people's lives.
TS: I guess he did.
BW: Yes. He was the one that was always aggravating us and scaring us to death. We thought it was neat.
TS: About how old were you when you went up in that plane?
BW: With him?
BW: Between fifteen and sixteen. I thought he would break my neck.
TS: So you decided that you wanted to go to this school. And what was the name of the school?
BW: Well, it was Evansville, Indiana. They had built the Republic plant. That's where they had the school, and were building the P-47's.
TS: I see. So you went to school to learn how to build P-47's.
TS: How big a plane is a P-47?
BW: Very small compared to a bomber, of course.
TS: Is it like a two-engine?
KEN WILLIAMS: It's a single engine.
BW: Yes. Just about the same size as the P-38, wouldn't you say, except for the engines?
KW: The P-47 had a single fuselage. The P-38 was split. BW: Right, but I mean the size of the airplane itself, the fuselage.
TS: Right. And Republic, I'm not familiar with that company; were they a big company, Republic, or was this a relatively small. . . ?
BW: It would be considered small compared to Lockheed, but I didn't pay any attention to that type of thing. At my age then I was into different things besides that; so I really don't know how large it was. I know it was not one of the largest, but it was quite large.
TS: Did they have like maybe a thousand workers there?
BW: Oh, I would say they would have much more than that.
TS: More than that?
TS: I guess all the companies were really pretty small before World War II compared to what they'd be later, weren't they?
TS: I know Bell only had about a thousand employees until the War broke out, and then after '41 they really grew greatly in size. But didn't have very many before that time. Where is Evansville, Indiana?
BW: That's right there on the Ohio River. That's where I went to school.
TS: Were you like an employee of Republic at this time or were you paying tuition to go to school?
BW: Well, if you qualified, then the government would pay you a small amount, a very small amount, for expenses while you were going to school. It was $15.00 a week.
TS: The government paid you $15.00 a week to go to school?
BW: That's right. And you think you can't live on $15.00 a week don't you?
TS: Well, I don't believe you could today. [chuckle]
BW: No, but you can.
TS: But you did then.
BW: Right. We had to rent rooms. I would pay my room rent--I don't know right now the exact amount--and buy my tokens for the ride back and forth.
TS: Was it a trolley?
BW: Yes. After those two things were paid the rest was to eat on. That was not much to eat on. [chuckle]
TS: Was this a boarding house that you were in?
BW: No, no.
TS: So you had to pay for all the meals.
BW: Right. But it can be done.
TS: Well, we do what we have to do, I guess, don't we? [chuckle]
BW: Yes. And I did not have any help from any relatives or friends. I was on my own. That was it.
TS: How long was the training program that you went through?
BW: The first one was six weeks, and then the second phase of it was around three months. But they were in a hurry to get you in and out of there.
TS: Right. They needed people to build planes.
BW: They didn't need you sitting around at recess and all that kind of good stuff.
TS: So a six week and then a twelve week basically. So you went about eighteen weeks.
BW: And then you went back for different refreshers when something new came up that they wanted you to know about.
TS: Now, specifically what were you training to do?
BW: In that plant you had one thing to do, that's all. My job was inside the fuselage. I used a long piece of sandpaper. You filed down or sanded down the web bulkheads; I can't think of the name . . . That's all I did.
TS: So all you're doing is sanding.
BW: Yes. That was my entire job; that didn't take much skill.
TS: Well, it sounds like it would be very tiring work.
BW: It was, but if you're young and you had a lot of young people around you, it's not bad.
TS: So you talked while you worked.
BW: Oh, yes.
TS: So had good conversations.
BW: I wouldn't say good.
TS: To make the time pass.
BW: It wasn't good conversation--just conversation.
TS: Right, right.
BW: But they laughed a lot; it wasn't a tight situation where you felt like you were in the army.
TS: Was it eight-hour work days or did you do a lot of overtime?
BW: A lot of overtime. You very seldom worked eight hours unless you were on one of those training things. But if you were actually in there working, and they were trying to get so many planes out by such and such time, why then it was not unusual to work two shifts.
TS: Two shifts straight?
BW: Right. But twelve hours is about as much as a person can take and produce anything worthwhile. That's just my opinion.
TS: I would think so too. How much were they paying you, do you remember?
BW: You know, it was not a great deal of money compared to what you boys would be thinking about. I remember one check. It was $133.00, and for some reason there for awhile it was $200-and-something. It seems like nothing now but that was good money.
TS: Sounds like it. Was that for how many weeks, for one week?
BW: Well, I was basing that on a forty-hour week. Of course, if you worked more there would be more.
TS: Yes. That sounds real good.
BW: But to the employees, they were making super bucks. I mean . . .
TS: Compared to everybody else.
TS: And that's right at the end of the Depression too.
BW: You would be considered upper middle class. We really were as far as that money was concerned.
TS: When you went through your training program before you actually started sanding the bulkheads, did they teach you all phases of building an airplane like how to be a riveter and so on?
BW: Yes. They taught us the riveting and the counter sinking. If you were pulled off a list they wanted you to be able to go and take a job. See, we were trained for all of that; it just so happened that I was chosen for some odd reason to be inside that fuselage. After the place closes up they're supposed to vacuum all these metal shavings out of the planes to get ready for the next shift. I was working overtime, and they didn't know it. Instead of vacuuming they stuck the nozzle in and blew the shavings out with air. I'm paying for that in my eye to this day. But our family had never believed in suing anybody. People back then just didn't jump on someone and sue them if they got hurt. So I never even thought about getting anything for that.
TS: Did you wear a mask while you were doing all that sanding?
BW: Yes, you were supposed to wear one at all times. No, I did not. [laughter]
TS: You were supposed to but you usually didn't?
BW: No. As soon as the inspector came by we'd take them off. It's kind of like your seat belt now. You don't wear it all the time.
TS: It probably gets very hot with those masks on, doesn't it?
BW: The people I had at Bell were doing counter sinking, and definitely they needed a mask on, because metal would come off there and curl up. It was absolutely mandatory that they had a mask on.
TS: I would think it would be kind of dusty in there where you're doing all that sanding.
BW: Oh, yes, yes.
TS: That the air would not be very high quality.
BW: Yes, but if you're seventeen, eighteen years old you don't think ahead; you're not worrying about it.
TS: Right. What percentage, would you say, of the workers at Republic were women? Were there lots of them or relatively few?
BW: Now this is strictly a guess. I would say 20 percent of them.
TS: Twenty percent?
BW: Yes. Because, you see, that was before Pearl Harbor and they were just getting into using women.
TS: Right. Were you ever criticized for working in an industrial type job by anybody?
BW: You mean by the outsiders?
BW: Oh, that was just a way of life. If you worked you caught hell for that, and if you didn't you caught it for that. So it was just a way of life. You didn't worry about it one way or the other.
TS: Did you feel like you were doing something daring to go to work in the aircraft industry or did it just seem a normal thing to do?
BW: It was just something I wanted to do; so it didn't seem like it was daring.
TS: How long did you work at Republic?
BW: Probably a year. By that time Bell was getting ready to open, and they had started bringing the people in.
TS: So you went straight from Republic to Bell?
BW: Right. It started out as eleven, but there were nine of us that came down together. We were chosen by Gene Shippee. I can't think of what his title would be--he's the boss. He told us to come to Georgia with him. I wish I knew if Gene was still alive; Gene could tell you everything you needed to know.
TS: So Gene Shippee was the foreman and he picked . . .
BW: He was more than a foreman; Gene was a . . .
KW: Departmental manager.
TS: Department manager at Republic.
BW: He was over the fuselage and everything as far as the assembly part.
TS: So he's a major supervisor then in the company that has to do with everything with the fuselage. BW: Right. The reason we came was not that we were so good. It was because there was no one here for them to hire that had experience. So they gave us a few tests. Then also they wanted to make sure that we wanted to come. But as far as the tests were concerned they weren't anything difficult. Then. when we passed, we came on down. There were only two of us that stayed though.
BW: Yes, within two or three weeks everyone else had gone home.
TS: They just didn't like it here?
BW: They just didn't like it. They didn't like southerners, because we didn't know that we were Yankees until we came down here.
TS: You thought Yankees were in New England?
BW: [laughter] Yeah.
TS: Did you come down here before the B-1 building had opened up or after? In other words, did you work in Atlanta for awhile? I understand that they had some training programs in Atlanta that they operated before the plant actually got into production; I think it was at least March of '43 before they actually start production in the B-1 building.
BW: I took some classes that were in there. But when I came in, the first thing I remember was that a machine shop was over in the next aisle. It actually had men working there--and I do say men too because I didn't see a solitary woman in there. The building would have had to have been partially completed.
TS: So this is probably after March of '43 then, would you say? Do you think it was before? They started building that B-1 building in March of '42, and it took them about a year to get it completed.
BW: Okay, the building was completed when I was there except for warehouses and things. But, as far as where the plane was actually assembled, there was nothing there. They had nothing started.
TS: So you were in on the ground floor, at the very beginning of any construction.
BW: Right, right. It was two years . . . let's see what this date says.
TS: You're looking at a document.
KW: You graduated from here. November 27, 1943 was when you got the elementary blue print certificate.
TS: Right, it says "Certificate of Merit, Georgia Division, Bell Aircraft. This is to certify that Betty L. Morgan"--which was your name at the time--"has satisfactorily completed the Bell Aircraft training course in elementary blue print. In consideration of the results achieved, this certificate is awarded." It gives Charles A. Britton, Training Manager, 11-27-43. Then there's a later certificate, July 3 of '44 where you've completed a foremanship training course and by that time it says Betty M. McLean. So I guess you were married between November and July.
TS: Would this elementary blue print course be before you actually started working on the plane or were you already working?
BW: I was already working.
TS: You were already working and then went through this course.
KW: And it says she's been building them since August '43, August 8.
TS: Okay, all right, great. This is her son, Ken Williams, handed this to me: "The bearer, Betty McLean, has been helping us here in Bell Aircraft to build B-29 bombers from August, '43 until this date." Okay. So you came apparently in August of '43 when things are really just beginning to hum inside the plant.
TS: When you came down here and you said they gave you some kind of a little test to test your knowledge of airplanes or knowledge of particular things?
BW: Mostly, like one of those little IQ tests.
TS: I see.
BW: One time they gave us partners in this school. You had to get together for homework. You were going to make a speech that explained to the class about an item. After we studied up on everything they wanted us to know about the airplane, we got up there; and they said, "Your speech will be about the fountain pen." So you had . . .
TS: They just wanted to test your ability to get up and say something.
BW: Right. So we had to get up and explain how a fountain pen worked. And all kind of things like that.
TS: So it's just kind of a general aptitude test. Now, speaking of partners, did you have a cousin that came down here with you or a close friend?
BW: She was actually not my blood cousin; we worked together at Republic and then we came down here together. She was one of the two that stayed. Then we married cousins, the McLeans. So then everybody said that we were cousins that married cousins. It was too hard to explain; so we let that go.
TS: What was her name?
BW: Sylvie McLean.
TS: What would she have been before McLean?
BW: Gallanettie. Italian name.
TS: So you two became good friends at Republic; is that where you first met her?
TS: And came down here together.
BW: She was one of the nine.
TS: Okay, what was your first job at Bell Aircraft when you first started working here? What was the first job that they had you doing?
BW: I started on the wing.
TS: On the wing.
BW: Right. Well, your first few weeks you're actually not working; you're only observing the few people that do know how to work.
TS: So you're watching somebody assemble the wing.
BW: Right. Then it won't be long until they would pick someone out of that group, and they would be a leader. It works like that.
TS: So you start out observing the wings being assembled.
BW: Right. The wing would be brought in to our department just as a frame and then . . .
TS: Oh, so the frame's already made before it gets to you.
TS: Do you remember what department you were in, what the number was on it?
TS: So the framing comes in. Then what all do you do to it?
BW: When you say it comes in, you don't pick up something and move it. You move what it's on. When it would get to me it would be fastened together. Then we started to put the big sheets of metal to . . .
TS: So it's already fastened to the plane by the time you're working on it?
TS: How do they move the frame to your work station?
BW: There's a picture with the stair-step things on it. Just as if we'd lined up six of these chairs, and they're fastened together. Then you would build on there. What we would do is move the whole chair thing down, so it would be the whole . . .
TS: So the main thing you're doing then is putting this sheet metal on the plane? Is it aluminum or what kind of metal is it that makes the wing?
BW: Steel, isn't it?
TS: I guess it would be steel, wouldn't it? And does it have any kind of. . . ?
BW: Well, now, you have huge, huge cranes up overhead that will bring in these big sheets of metal and things and set them down where you need them and various parts and frames and things.
TS: These are really dumb questions on my part but do you rivet them on or how do you attach them to the frame?
BW: The blue prints will show you exactly where the rivets are supposed to go, and that has to really be exact. If you threw a foot off here you would throw, you know. . . .
TS: We're looking at a picture of a team of riveters on the center wing section at Bell's Marietta Plant Number 6, which, of course, is the plant here in Marietta. It shows the workers going up steps. They're on a platform where they're high enough to work on the wing that is turned sideways, isn't it?
TS: And so they're doing the riveting and I guess various other jobs.
BW: The metal and things are brought in by that crane. It would set it down on this right here.
TS: So a crane brings in the wing and puts it . . .
BW: The wing will be built right there, but it brings in this heavy thing.
TS: This is from a book, Building the B-29, by Jacob Vander Meulen. So that's the kind of work that you were doing then?
BW: After it had an inspection stamp on the whole thing, then I would check my blue prints. Then we would start the counter sinking. Counter sinking is completely different from riveting, because it's making a little funnel shaped hole so that the rivet will fit down in it. Now, if the counter sinker makes the hole too large or too small, they are in trouble. Of course, too small, is easy; but too large well, that's more trouble. Then they have the inspectors come and decide what they want to do about that. Generally, most of the time it would pass by using such and such size rivet, if it wasn't going to put too much strain on the part.
TS: So if they've drilled the hole too large you use a larger rivet.
BW: Right, but they don't like to do that because actually it weakens the wing. Too many of those holes in that piece would cause the section to have been junked. But that was all I was responsible for was that top of the wing.
TS: Now when you started working at Bell, were you already a sub-foreman or sub-supervisor?
BW: No, they had not . . .
TS: Okay, so you were just building the wing when you started out, right, and then you get promoted . . .
BW: They weren't building any yet.
TS: Right, when you first got here. How long does it take before you're in a supervisory position?
BW: Like I told you before, it wasn't that I was intelligent. It was just that they did not have any people here that had experience. That's why within three or four months I was in the supervisor capacity.
TS: Now how many people did you supervise, would you say?
BW: It would be between thirteen and twenty-five on a crew. It was according to how fast they had to have that job done. For instance, if my counter sink people were not doing their job, then they held up the riveters that would come in behind them. Then in turn they would hold up something else. It would get to where it would hold up the actual assembly line. It's quite a sight for them to put all these wings and everything together like you were doing a toy thing. When they're all lined up over there getting ready to. . . .
TS: When you supervised say thirteen to twenty-five, does this include the counter sink workers and the riveters?
BW: No, mine was counter sink only.
TS: So you're supervising all those that are doing the counter sink.
TS: Or would you say the people who are counter sinking? Would that be right? Is that good English?
BW: [chuckle] Or sinkers.
TS: What would they call them? Did they have a title?
BW: Just a counter sinker.
TS: You would be a counter sinker.
TS: All right. I understand that this was men and women that you were supervising? BW: Right. Mostly men though because there was a greater amount of men there than women.
TS: How unusual or how typical was that to have women who were supervising men on the assembly line? BW: Very bad. [chuckle]
TS: Not too many were there? BW: No, no, and they did not like it. Oh, mercy.
TS: They didn't?
BW: No, no, I had three strikes against me to start with. Like I told you, I didn't know I was a Yankee until I got here. I was much younger than they. The men would have a wife and three or four kids. There I would be, eighteen years old. They didn't care for that. If a new job came in, they'd hand me some new blue prints to check. I would have to prove by doing. I couldn't just tell them, well, let's do this this way. I would have to actually do it to show them that I knew how before they would do it.
TS: They just automatically assumed you didn't know how until you showed them that you did.
BW: Well, they weren't against me. It was just that I was a woman; "You're a woman and you should be home doing the pots and pans and cooking cornbread."
TS: [chuckle] So there weren't very many women in supervisory jobs then?
BW: No. I didn't know of any others except Sylvie and I that were on the assembly. I don't know how many they probably had as far as the secretary and the office workers and this, that and the other. It was just more or less this is your space. Do it and that's it.
TS: So you didn't pay that much attention to what other people were doing.
BW: No, you didn't run around and say, "How's your department doing today?"
TS: Right, you minded your own business. But still this had to be very rare for you to be supervising men.
TS: Probably not many in the whole plant who were doing that. But Sylvie had men under her supervision too?
BW: Yes. And she was on down on the fuselage, though she wasn't in my department.
TS: What part of the fuselage did she work on?
BW: Up at the nose.
TS: Up in the nose section?
BW: Yes. In fact, I think in that picture we were looking out her window.
TS: Oh, I see, right. So you are in the nose section for the picture to be taken.
TS: Now, what did she do in there? She's just working on the fuselage, I guess, isn't she, finishing that nose section?
BW: She had to make sure that these beams were set straight and fastened in the way they're supposed to be.
TS: I understand that in places like the nose section they used a lot of women because the men were sometimes too big to get in there comfortably. Had you heard that before?
BW: That's mostly on the fighter planes.
TS: Not so much true on the B-29's?
BW: Yes, you could get Elvis in there. [chuckle]
TS: It looks like there's a lot of room in there. How long were you in the supervisory job? It's at least a year, wasn't it that you were supervising?
BW: I guess it'd be in the year and a half until I left. After my husband got killed I left and went back up to Indiana for awhile. Then when I came back that's when they were closing Bell down. I didn't see any point in going back to work for that little bit at the time.
TS: I understand you met your second husband, Paul Williams, while you were working on the wing section at Bell. He also worked at Bell, is that correct?
BW: Yes. He was on the bottom of the wing, and I was on the top. He actually had the real heavy riveters down there. I don't know exactly what they called it. It was actually in the center where the fuselage was; that's where he was. Where the wing fastened on.
TS: Where the wing fastened to the fuselage?
TS: So that was his job to fasten the wing to the fuselage?
BW: Well, to get the wing set up so it could be fastened to the fuselage. It wouldn't be in the right department.
TS: Okay, so you have done your work, and the wing is assembled. Then it's moved to where the fuselage is and fastened to it. That's where he was?
BW: No, he was there at the same time I was. He didn't have to be there at the same time, but that's just usually where he was.
TS: So he's doing riveting work. He's a riveter?
BW: Doing counter sinking and riveting because they were huge, huge rivets. He was a sub-foreman and he had a crew.
TS: Now when did you get married?
BW: In 1945. When he was about sixteen years old he ran off from the farm. He was real tall. He ran off and joined the army. He was from Toccoa, Georgia. His dad came out here to Conley and got him out. Said he couldn't be in because he's sixteen years old.
TS: At where?
KW: Conley Base, it was a big supply base.
BW: Forest Park? BW: Well, it's a suburb of Atlanta anyhow.
TS: Okay, so you married Paul Williams in '45. What about McLean?
BW: In '43. Allen was my first husband. He got killed.
TS: Did he ever work at Bell?
BW: No, he was from Okanogan, Washington.
TS: Where did you meet him?
BW: Here in Atlanta at the Fox Theater.
TS: Was he here because he was stationed here?
BW: He was a paratrooper over in one of the Carolinas.
TS: Ft. Bragg probably.
BW: Yes. And they came up here on the weekends to . . .
TS: I see. And you just met him at he Fox Theater.
TS: How long did it take to get married after you met him?
BW: Oh, it was a long time, probably about two weeks.
TS: Two weeks. [chuckle] Things went fast during war time, I guess, didn't they?
BW: Right, right, right.
TS: So he was up here on leave?
BW: Right, he and his cousin who was also a McLean. That's where you get the two McLeans there.
TS: Oh, where your friend married the other one. So you two were at the Fox Theater and you met them there?
TS: I see. And then married two weeks later.
BW: Yes. T
S: How long did it take Sylvie to get married?
BW: Oh, we married at the same time.
TS: Same time?
BW: It was a little longer than two weeks; it was probably about two months. Allen always told it was two weeks, but it was probably two months. Really, people didn't wait around for anything; if you were going to do something, you just did it.
TS: Okay, so you get married after about two months, but you continue to work at Bell?
TS: And he goes back to Ft. Bragg I guess and then gets sent overseas.
TS And then I guess you didn't ever see him again after that. So he was killed in Europe or Asia?
BW: In Europe. Actually I've always felt like he just committed suicide.
TS: You think so?
BW: Whenever they would deliberately do something to save somebody, that was just a bad way of thinking.
TS: He was killed trying to save somebody?
BW: His men were going to be killed, and he got up with the hand grenades. They were shooting at him, and he kept on letting them shoot at him while he crawled under barbed wire. He kept going until he could get close enough to throw a grenade to save his boys. So to me that's just killing yourself.
TS: But he saved his platoon or whatever.
TS: Do I understand that you left Bell after that? You left Bell Aircraft after he died?
TS: And went back to Indiana?
BW: I did. And then by the time I came back well, that's when Bell was winding down. It was going to be no more.
TS: When was he killed by the way? Was that still in '44?
TS: Late '44? Okay. So you stayed up North for awhile and then came back to this area, but by then the War was almost over.
TS: What did you do once you came back here to this area? How long did it take before you got married?
BW: Well, we married the next year. But there was nothing to do. There were no jobs to be had. You had all these people here, but the jobs were gone that brought them here. I think Paul went to work in the grocery store for $33.00 a week.
TS: Is that right? Took whatever he could get.
BW: Right. And that was the way everyone was.
TS: Here's a letter dated 6 December, 1945 to Mrs. Betty L. McLean of Okanogan?
TS: And that's where he was from, right?
TS: It just says that "Word has been received from the War Department by the direction of the President, the silver star decoration has been posthumously awarded your husband, staff sergeant Allen I. McLean, infantry, who made the supreme sacrifice in defense of his country. It has been a source of inspiration to me to learn of your husband's gallantry in action against the enemy, which has merited this award. His courage, determination, and devotion to duty must be a source of comfort and pride to you at this time." So in '45 you came back to the Atlanta area . . .
BW: Don't quote me on these dates, because I'm not [sure].
TS: But at any rate it was too late to come back to work at Bell by that time.
TS: So Paul Williams went to work in a grocery store. You already knew him, I guess, from when you were working on the plane together.
TS: And you all got married . . .
BW: Within six or eight months.
TS: So was this '45 or '46 when you got married, do you remember?
TS: This [letter] was when he was killed in France. He was reported missing in action on 14 November 1944. In France it says. Why did you come back to the Atlanta area if there wasn't any real work to be had?
BW: I went back up to Indiana, and everyone was gone. Everything was different. The men were still overseas, and the women were working. There was just no one. You thought you were in a completely different country.
TS: So there's nothing to hold you there anymore.
BW: No, no, so I came back down here to people I knew.
TS: Right. I wanted to ask you a few more questions, if I could, about when you were here working at Bell. First of all, on your job, once you had people who worked for you, did they give you any kind of management training courses to prepare you to supervise other people or were you on your own?
BW: No, they called them meetings or school. Yes, they would have those from time to time. It wouldn't have to be on any certain subject or any planned thing. They could have planned it, and we didn't know about it. But they wouldn't say, "Well, you're going to blue print school tomorrow." It wouldn't be that. It's just, "School's tomorrow," or, "A meeting's tomorrow." You wouldn't know what it would be about.
TS: Well, would you talk over--you have a certificate there?
BW: It's the training course.
TS: Oh, you did go through a training course to be a foreman.
BW: Yes. I thought you were talking about did they call in and have little courses all through the . . .
TS: Yes. That's what I really wanted to know. So all the way through you would have little training sessions. What would you do in these meetings? Would you talk over your problems in supervising people?
BW: Yes, mostly supervising people.
TS: How did you deal with the resentment that men had against you as a foreman?
BW: I mostly laughed it off and let them know that I was just a friend, that I wasn't just a smart aleck in there. I was just there doing my job like they were. So it didn't take them long.
TS: Did you have the power to hire and fire people?
BW: No, what I would have to do would be to put in a complaint against someone. If they had so many complaints--I think about three--then they were called before a board. They would decide what to do. Now, if it was someone that was so bad, just really bad and physically hurting someone or something like that, you could go and say, "This guy's got to go now." And they would do away with him.
TS: Did you have to deal with the union?
TS: Was that a problem?
BW: Not too much, because the union was pretty experienced. We didn't have to start a new union; they came on over themselves.
TS: When you say they were experienced, they knew what somebody ought to be doing?
BW: Right. They weren't brand new people, you know, just working for the union.
TS: Right, so if you had a legitimate complaint they would know that it was a legitimate complaint. So you had a pretty good relationship with the union then, I gather.
BW: In that capacity, I had very little to do; it just wasn't my job.
TS: Do you feel like you were supported by the higher-ups in the administration of the company?
TS: Did you? And I gather from that certificate that your title became foreman along the way?
BW: Well, they had foreman on that one particular thing, but on the wings on my badge it said sub-foreman. Then Jack Langley was foreman over the whole thing.
TS: So you were officially a sub-foreman. BW: Yes.
TS: You were both foreman and sub-foreman.
BW: Yeah, right. [chuckle] If you can imagine that. But I'd just put sub-foreman if I were you.
TS: Now, you lived in Atlanta and commuted out to the plant every day.
TS: And I think you said you lived near the Ponce de Leon Park?
TS: How did you get out to the plant?
BW: If you were fortunate enough to find someone with a car--there were very few cars--then you would share a ride, but you could only get so many in a car.
TS: So you always rode out here in a car with somebody else driving?
TS: I guess they had the ration tickets to get the gasoline if they owned the car, and y'all just shared gas expenses?
BW: You gave the person that owned the car some of your tickets. If you were a farmer, there was no limit on the amount of gas that you could use. Then they had it set up like if you were using it in any kind of mechanical work or anything they would give you a certain allotment. Now, if you were just going back and forth to your work or the grocery store or something like that you were allowed four gallons of gas. So these people that didn't have a car to drive to work, they would give their four gallon tickets to the person that was driving the car.
TS: I see. So you got a four gallon certificate even though you didn't have a car. BW: I wasn't supposed to, but we got it. [chuckle]
TS: That's what you did. Was this a really positive experience for you to work at Bell Aircraft? Do you look back on it fondly as a good time?
BW: Oh, yes.
TS: How do you think about it? What about getting along with southerners? Did that continue to be a problem the whole time you were here?
BW: No. That didn't last long, because more men would be going overseas. So that meant more women were coming into the work place. Then that would step the women up a notch. I knew it wasn't me personally; so it really didn't bother me.
TS: So as soon as there were a lot more women in the plant there was less of a problem?
BW: Exactly. I thought it was funny; it didn't bother me.
TS: What about just in general when you went to the grocery store or what-have-you? How were you treated as somebody from Indiana when you would walk down the street or somebody would hear your accent or whatever? Were people generally courteous or was there a lot of hostility or how would you describe it?
BW: How many ways is there to be courteous saying, "Damn Yankee!" That's about it. [chuckle]
TS: Not too many, I don't think.
BW: There would be just kids saying that. I never did run into any of those horrible tales like you hear of.
TS: I've interviewed people from the North who came down here to work and also people from the South. Something that they tend to say is that southerners didn't like to be ordered to do something. So you had to somehow or other request them to do their job without making it sound like, you know, you were . . .
BW: You know, that's one thing that I hate the most about getting old, is for people to tell you the simplest things. They'll tell you to do something like "Watch your purse." Or, "Do like . . .", all kind of stuff like that. I like for them to help me, but I don't like for them to tell me what to do. I like for them to suggest that I do something. But I think that's the way these people felt.
TS: The northerners tended to have a superior attitude about them?
BW: Yes, and then they would speak short . . .
TS: Talk down to them?
BW: In their voice.
TS: At least that's the way southerners often perceived it that these supervisors from the North were talking down to them like they didn't have any sense?
TS: That's a good analogy, I think.
BW: It all worked out, and I think it helped by mixing this hodge-podge of people together. There's more understanding in all walks of life.
TS: Well, this is the real beginning of the modern South, I think, with World War II. When you came to the South--we haven't even talked about this--but it was still a segregated South when you came down. Was that a shock coming from Indiana? First of all, there were a lot more blacks in the Atlanta area than you would have had up in Indiana, I would imagine; was it a shock to come down here and find a segregated society? How did you cope with that when you came down here?
BW: It was different, because there were not as many blacks as I thought there would be.
TS: There were not as many in the South as you thought there would be?
BW: Right, I thought there would be more. I thought they would be just plain out mean, and they were not. They were just regular people if you let them be. So I felt sorry for them more than anything else. All that about not letting them eat here and there, you know, and I always felt real bad about the bus thing. I have seen many times a black woman with a child standing up on a bus with vacant seats.
TS: I'm just about out of questions. I just want to follow up on that a little bit. Your wing assembly I guess was all white, wasn't it? There weren't any black workers where you were working?
BW: No, I didn't have any. We had so few see. People make out like there was so many of them to deal with, but there were so few of them. I don't know where they were working, because you didn't see them.
TS: My understanding is that if they were in any kind of skilled job they were in another building and that most of the black workers were in janitorial and . .
. BW: Well, they wouldn't allow them to be anywhere where they could steal anything, because automatically if your skin was black you were [considered to be] a thief. So they didn't allow them to be something like an inspector at the door. They couldn't do anything like that. About all they got to do was sweep the floor. And that was a big job especially around those machine shops.
BW: Maybe I had a different point of view from working all my life up there in Indiana. We were used to black people doing their job and becoming qualified to do their job. But they didn't have a fighting chance down here. That's for sure.
TS: Were you working as many hours at Bell as you were at Republic? Working twelve hours?
BW: That would be according to [circumstances]. I was reading last night that President Roosevelt was not able to get the first B-29 finished when it was supposed to be. There was something wrong with it. If anything came up like that then they'd work everybody as hard as they could.
TS: Right. So you were often working two shifts at Bell?
BW: Not often, I'd say occasionally. When something arose when an order or a claim had to be at some place at a certain time then they would do everything possible to make it happen. They would even call or have the supervisors and the engineers and everybody working. I mean, if it meant that much.
TS: As hard as you were working I don't guess you had too much time for social life did you?
BW: Well, now, don't kid yourself.
TS: Don't go that far?
BW: When the second shift got off at eleven o'clock, we'd ride into Atlanta with our ride. At that time I had a room out in the West End [of Atlanta]. She'd drop us off there. By getting off at eleven and fooling around it'd probably be about two o'clock when we got home. They'd say, "I think I'm hungry." So we'd go out and get on the trolley and come all the way to downtown Atlanta and get a Manhattan sandwich or whatever. We wouldn't even get on the trolley to come back home till five or six o'clock. We weren't doing anything because there wasn't anything to do. I mean, there wasn't any hanky-panky stuff. But I think young kids can always find something to do.
TS: So that was your shift then, from three to eleven?
BW: That's the one I liked the best, because you could sleep late. I've always liked to stay up late.
TS: Well, thank you very much.
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Updated on June 15, 2001