Roosevelt Williams Recalls Moving for Work in Alabama and Mississippi

Roosevelt Williams, who was born in 1912 and lived in Mississippi, was interviewed in the 1990s about living in the segregated South. In this excerpt of the interview, Roosevelt describes different jobs he held and how he moved between Alabama and Mississippi to find work.

ORTIZ (INTERVIEWER): Was that your first job outside of the house?

R. WILLIAMS: Well, my first regular job. Like I said, during my spare time, when I wasn’t farming, I’d get a little job around sawmills and things like that. I had left home one time and went up in Detroit, but at that time, I stayed up about three months during the winter. I tried to get a job, but I wasn’t able to get one. That was somewhere along about 1936 or ’7. I didn’t get no job then. I come back and farmed about two or three years before I left there, you see.

[ . . . ]

ORTIZ: There must have been a point when you were farming after you married that you felt like things were getting especially hard and it was hard to make a living.

R. WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah, it was. Yeah, it was, that’s right.

ORTIZ: How did you come to the decision to go to Meridian [Mississippi]?

R. WILLIAMS: As I said, I had a cousin down there. He was working at—well, he was sort of in charge of the lumber department down there, and so he kept on after me and told me, “Come on down here. We’ll give you a job down here, and you can make some money.” Well, I went on down there, but they wasn’t paying nothing much, and working from sunup to sundown. I didn’t like that. Then I had a guy over here, one of her cousins, he told me—it was TCI at that time, the steel mill, TCI. He said, “They’re fixing to hire some people. Why don’t you come on over there? You might get a job over there.” And so I did. I left there one weekend, and that Monday morning they were hiring out there. It was sort of hard to get a job then. That was just after the war had broke out—just before the war broke out. So they finally, he hired me. It was lots of people there, but somehow or another, through all that I did get a job there. I stayed there for thirty-five years.1

  1. Citations

    • 1 Roosevelt Williams, interview by Paul Ortiz, June 24, 1993, “Roosevelt Williams interview,” Behind the Veil, Duke University Digital Collections, accessed May 6, 2014, Duke Libraries Digital Collections

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