The Old Mill Village
I have wanted to write an article on this topic for some time but for whatever reason just never have gotten around to it. I was born in rural South Georgia where my parents were sharecroppers.
For those that might not understand the concept of sharecropping, land owners would allow usually poor whites to come live in usually a dilapidated or at the very least housing that needed some attention. They would farm the land on what was called halves. My mom and dad were involved in this in the 30s and 40s in South Georgia. I am not so sure the land owners were fair in the way this was handled according to stories told to me.
Anyway, usually when the harvest came in, the goods would be taken into town and sold and part of the money would go back to the landowner and the sharecroppers would get the rest of the money.
My dad told me that he would have an account in town at one of the general stores where he would go and buy various items they needed such as toiletries, what little clothing that they could afford, coffee, sugar, and other items that were not grown on the farm.
Usually the landowner would put up a certain amount of money before the growing season to purchase seeds and other items needed to do the farming.
So as you can see, the sharecroppers would almost always be in debt to the landowners.
I have been amazed in the past few years to come across a lot of information that suggested that only blacks were sharecroppers. According to my father, at the time he and mom were involved in this way of life, there were some blacks that did it, but they were few in number.
.My dad and mom finally after tiring from this kind of life decided to move to Thomaston, Georgia in search of a better standard of living. At that time the town had a population of probably 25 to 28 thousand. Today that town has a population of about 30,000. The cotton mills that were in operation then are all closed.
At the that time my parents moved there this town had 5 cotton mills. Dad was able to land a job at the mill, which at the time he thought was a step up for the family. He was paid initially $30.00 to $40.00 per week and was given a mill village house. There were basically two types of mill houses, a duplex with 3 rooms and a bath on both sides and a shotgun house with 3 rooms and a bath. His house rent was about $3.00 per month and was taken out of his check weekly.
The electricity was billed through the mill also and those bills were only $3 or $4 per month. The heating on the mill village at that time was from coal. There was no charge for water that the employees paid anyway.
Some on the village had coal heaters, while others used fireplaces to burn the coal. The coal was purchased from the mill and an order would be placed usually when you gave out of it. The price of the coal was deducted from the employee’s check. We had a coal bin where the coal was stored. The mill delivered the coal to the residents.
It was only later that natural gas was added( late 50s) and the burning of coal in the old wood heaters became a thing of the past.
People who lived at the time on the village were poor whites, who were just trying to make a living and support a family. If your family was lucky, your mom and dad both worked in the mill. Those families would have a slightly higher standard of living than those like my family. My mom did not work in the mill and was a homemaker. There were four of us kids out of six at that time living at home when we first moved to the mill village.
We initially lived in one of the duplexes described above. Later we did live in one of those shotgun houses. As you can see this was a pretty crowded situation.
But, in spite of all of the poverty, I felt mom and dad provided the best they could for us and looking back today, I wouldn't trade growing up on a mill village for anthing. We never had a televison and only had a telephone for a brief period of time.
My dad did usually have an automobile and this was used mostly to go visit his parents in the southern part of Georgia about once or twice per month. The rest of the time, it was used for taking us to church or the grocery store or errands of the like.
As mentioned above, my mom was a homemaker as well as a seamtress and never worked outside the home. We attended a Baptist church, which was built by the mill owners. The preacher at that time had earned quite a name for himself as he was very interested in souls being saved and the poor people were very special to him.
So much was this the case that he had started the Empty Stocking Fund, a fund to help poor families and their children at Christmas.
Also the mill owners built the elementary school system. They actually ran the town so to speak as they had influence far and wide. They even employed the policemen on the mill village. The mills did have good, cheap labor and this helped them in turn to turn pretty fair profits.
Of course, most likely most of these mill employees at that time felt it was a better living than where they came from. Also, keep in mind that for the most part these workers were uneducated with no real job skills.
Growing up on the village, was a unique experience. People in a small town, employed by the mill naturally had a common bond.
This was in a time when people spoke to you when you met them on the street, came over and sat on your porch in the summers for socialization.
We attended the same church with many of our neighbors and we had prayer band meetings at one another’s home at times. Of course the church played an integral part of life growing up in this town. It was our premier support system.
When people died the bodies were brought to the homes where they remained until the funeral. Neighbors went over and sit up with the deceased and the loves ones at what is called a wake today.
If you were out of a grocery item, it was common practice to borrow things such as sugar, tea, coffee or the like.
As you can see it was a very laid back experience growing up on the mill village in a southern town in the 40s and 50s.
Crime was practically non-existent at least in our little town. Cars were not locked at home and many times doors to homes were were left unsecured. It was rare to hear of robberies or other crimes and then it was usually in the bigger cities.
My education saw me attend three local mill village grammar schools from grades one through 8 and a graduation was held for the 8th graders. From there I entered the local high school and completed the 9th grade. My 10th grade year saw me only attend school there for two weeks before my family moved to Macon, Georgia. Not long after graduating from high school in Macon, I begin college and after obtaining a BA went on to earn an M.Ed.
My baby sister, Margie, who is three years older than myself, graduated from the high school in 1960 in this mill village town, the same year that we moved to Macon.
Christmas on the mill village when I was growing up holds some special memories. Even though mom and dad had little resources to provide with for the children, my memories of Christmas are all good. I remember the year I got the new blue bike with a horn that I was so proud of. I rode that bike to school and that was a great thrill. I also remember other gifts such as the timex watch, the red flyer wagon given to me as a kid by my oldest sister and her husband. How can I forget the cowboy outfit with the guns and holsters and hat that was given to me I believe by another sister. Christmas always has been my favorite holiday.
My mom usually would bake several cakes just for the season such as chocolate, raisin, and coconut. We always had a Christmas tree decorated so pretty by my mom. I remember one year when my sister, Dorothy helped me decorate the outside of the door of that mill village house with pine needles. We strung lights around that door and I still think that was the prettiest door I have ever seen decorated.The family of us six kids would usually gather at mom and dads on Christmas Eve and exchange gifts. This was a magical time for me. Although the gifts were meager, everyone always seemed so happy and in turn in that room on Christmas Eve Night you could feel such love.
Other holidays such as Thanksgiving, Halloween and Valentines Day really stand out. I remember on Valentines Day, kids on the mill village threw valentines. They would quietly take a valentine to the porch and gently throw up towards the door. and as they were running off, a rock would be thrown against the house to signify that someone had just left them a valentine.
On Halloween night, we would of course go trick or treating. I vividly remember on day would invite all the kids inside her decorated house and we would be served hot chocolate and cookies. We would go several streets over trick or treating and sometiimes even go back twice.
Back in those days, especially boys would go after school to play pickup games especially of football. I remember after doing my homework, which by the way always came first, getting on my bike and going several streets over to play football with the guys. I don't remember anyone having a basketball goal in those days, but there was some baseball that was played. We played tackle then with no equipment. We did play roller bat, a game in which a batter was pitched the ball until he hit it and whoever got the ball would roll it to the bat lying on the ground facing the batter. If you hit the bat, then you were "in", which meant you were the next batter. If you caught the ball on the fly or on first bounce you were in also. There was a catcher and if he caught a foul he was in and the batter became catcher. In this game a catcher didn't get much of a chance to bat unless he caught a foul ball.
The article serves only as an introduction to my life growing up on the East Thomaston Mill Village in Thomaston, Ga.