03709_0170: I Don't Know What's the Matter

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Edward J. Bacon, no date given, Athens, Black, brick mason, Athens, 31 May and 14 June 1939

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"I was working my way through school, and at the time I was there they were tearing down old buildings and putting up new ones. Until I got to where I could use a trowel myself, I waited on the other boys that had already gotten more training. My first work was laying brick, and the whole time I was there my earnings were from work on the buildings on Tuskegee campus.

"It was while I was a student at Tuskegee that I really learned to play baseball. I had always liked it, but I found there was a whole lot more class to college baseball than to the scrub games I had been used to playing in vacant lots or just anywhere a bunch of boys could get together with room enough. Once when the Tuskegee team was playing Atlanta University I got my collar bone broken. When I come back home I was captain of the Athens Red Socks team, and we were considered the best in the South. We played all over Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. I haven't forgotten the game we played at Acworth, Georgia, once, and the Acworth team had hired a white pitcher from some big baseball league. Well, we beat 'em, and did we feel like we were big stuff! For a fact, we won every game we played that year but two. We played four games in Chattanooga, losing two and winning two. Wherever the Red Socks went to play ball the white people were mighty nice to the members of the team and turned out in good crowds to the games. When I was playing baseball I weighed a hundred and sixty-two pounds; now I just weigh a hundred and forty-two pounds.

"I'm so fond of football that till this good day I go to

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every game, hard as times are with me. The largest crowd I ever saw in Athens was when Yale played Georgia to dedicate the new stadium at Sanford Field. I paid two-fifty for my ticket and for some reason tickets were not taken up at the gate; all we had to do was show we had one. I kept mine for a souvenir.

"When I left Tuskegee, I went out to work for myself, and since that time I've done bricklaying in five different States. Most of my work has been done in Georgia, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Building the power house at Wheeling when I was working for the Foundation Construction Company was the largest job I was ever on. On that job I was paid a dollar and a quarter an hour, and that amounted to $55 a week. When that power plant was getting near on to being finished I saw a workman - he was just a common laborer - fall a hundred and fifty feet. Everybody thought he'd die when he was sent to the hospital, but in three days he was back on the job. What saved him was the fact that he fell on a mortar board that was covered thick with fresh-made-up mortar. If he'd fallen on a pile of brick instead of landing on that soft mortar there mightn't have been any use in taking him to a hospital.

"The Georgia Power Company paid me $70 a week for my work on the power plant at Tugalo. I used to get plenty of work to do, and that's one reason why it's so hard for me to understand why I can't get it anymore. One of the leading white contractors in this town started out about the same time as me and he used to give me lots of work, but in the last few years he claims his foremen refuse

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to work colored men. It seems like this attitude toward colored workmen has developed since the government took over public building work. Down at Macon they have let the colored men work on PWA jobs, but not in Athens. I think Mr. Roosevelt is the best President we ever had. He had the money put down here for us, and he don't know that we colored folks sure ain't allowed to get the benefit of it. I'll just bet he don't.

"One time, when I was making $25 a week, building a stable for Dr. Jago on the lower end of Clayton Street, a scaffold broke and the brick and mortar fell on us. While we were all terribly bruised up, we were thankful that no bones were broken.

"Not long after that, I was called out on a fifty-fivedollar-a-week job at Barnett Shoals by an Athens construction company that had a contract to build some seventy-five or a hundred houses for mill hands to live in. They were all plain little fourroom houses owned by the mill. My job was to build the pillars after the frame work had been set up. One day when I was bending over to put up a corner pillar, some careless person at the far side of the little house pulled a brace and the house gave way and fell on my back. It took a hundred or more men to lift the corner of that house off of me. When they did get me out I was drawn almost double, and I was in the hospital nine long weeks. They kept me packed in ice all that time. They would have kept me in the hospital longer, but I begged so hard to be taken home to my family that they finally gave their consent. After that I had to pay our family physician

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for any medical attention I got, and my expenses while I was laid up took all I'd saved. The insurance the construction had on its workmen took care of the ninety-dollar-hospital bill that was run up during the nine weeks I was there, but the company didn't pay me a cent for the time lost; they wouldn't even give me part time, although they knew that I was hurt in their employ and that the accident was not caused by any fault of mine. After I got up and about they never would take me back on the job, and I've been going down hill ever since. I'm sure that that accident is the cause of my feeling bad all the time now. Sometimes when I sit down I can't hardly get up again.

"I never was foreman of but one construction job, and that was when we built the Ford Motor Plant at Cordele, Georgia. They paid me a dollar an hour. When the building was completed and inspected the owners and contractors all told me how pleased they were with the work I had directed for 'em.

"During the World War I was employed to work on construction of warehouses for ammunition to be stored in. The building was going on about twelve miles north of Charleston at a suburb known as North Charleston, on Cooper River. There were about thirty-five thousand people working there. As fast as the laborers could get a little bit of space cleared up in the swamp, they started putting up a building on the clearing. That's the only time I ever worked under military regulations. Soldiers guarded every move we made. We weren't allowed to have lights in our camps at night and if we wanted to go out at night or any other time we had to have a pass to come and go

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on. We were searched when we went out and again when we came back in. The rules were extremely strict, and we knew better than to tell anything about those warehouses and our work to outsiders.

"There's where I was when the Armistice was signed. That was one terrible time with all the noise of the bells ringing, people hollering like mad, whistles blowing, folks rtinning like they were crazy - all laughing and crying at the same time. It was hours before it got around to everybody just what all the commotion was about. When we learned for sure what it was, we were all the gladder and happier. While I was working on the ammunition warehouses they paid me $80 a week, and every week I sent $40 home to my family. One thing sure, no matter what came or went, whenever I was working out of town I always kept enough money with me to pay my fare back home to Athens. If a man told me I couldn't go home, I always told him I certainly could, whenever I wanted to.

"The reason I left Charleston was that my family had the flu's. Some of those buildings never were completed. While we were in Charleston I saw all sorts of people die by the hundreds. Nassau laborers died there in droves. At the express office I saw their coffin boxes piled to the ceiling, waiting to be shipped back home for burial. I was told the flu's like to have wiped out those Nassua laborers, but they might have died of some other cause; I don't know. One thing I do know; I wouldn't give one American laborer for a hundred of 'em. They didn't have a bit of sense. Why, some of 'em even claimed they'd never seen a frost till they landed in Charleston.

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