Interview with Oscar Fendler
[missing figure]TY_OWf1w6rk
QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

That's right. Can you tell me about the union's efforts to go to Washington and appeal to FDR to help them?

OSCAR FENDLER:

They didn't, the unions, without money, you know, they had barely just existed. For instance, a man, like H.L. Mitchell, I think he drew a salary when he could find it, maybe thirty, forty dollars a month. But they did save enough money. Thomas had told them and others that, "Your solution is not in Arkansas, it's in the Congress and in Washington. And you need to organize and group. And you get up there and you tell them about how terrible it was and I'll meet you in Washington." And he met a bunch of them up there in Washington, Norman Thomas did. They made, to my recollection, about three trips up there. And, and the first one's '34 maybe, '35, '36. And they accomplished very little. Nobody really paid much attention to them. If Norman Thomas hadn't been their leader or whatever their spokesman, and they paid attention to Thomas, they wouldn't have known they were in Washington. But at least they were making an effort. You know, they finally obtained, I would say in Arkansas, maybe there's a few other states around here, twenty-five, thirty thousand members. That was big. Nobody ever thought they'd get that many people interested or have the nerve to do it. The, right in Arkansas, I was trying to think of real support they had from the established—they had one lawyer. No, the lawyers were afraid to represent them. They knew they wouldn't get any money out of it. There's a very fine lawyer over in Marked Tree named C.T. Carpenter, graduate of Washington Lee, a very fine lawyer, and he had the nerve to represent him. And they threatened him over there, these landowners and others over there, if he didn't stop represented them, they're going to run him out of town, ruin his law business and so forth. It didn't bother Mr. Carpenter at all and he continued to represent them. And in Mississippi County, we only had one lawyer that ever represented them, and that was a guy named Cooper, C.F. Cooper, he's a lawyer, Cooper, a representative. And he was a shyster and he, they couldn't ruin Claude's business because he didn't, he didn't have any business. [laughs] You know, nobody substantial over here ever hired him as a lawyer.

INTERVIEWER:

How much of a threat was the union? If it had twenty-five, thirty thousand people, how much of a threat to landowners was it, do you think?

OSCAR FENDLER:

In, in my observation of the union as a threat to the landowners, I think it was over, it was exaggerated in the minds of the landowners. They thought if they don't stop it we're going to have riots and mobs and you know, going to take all the labor away from us. They're going to make us pay them two dollars for picking cotton instead of seventy-five cents, you know, a hundred. And, and, and so I think they lived in sort of fear of what the unknown and everything. My observation at the time, I cannot remember why, but I thought at the time I saw the dangers they, these landowners, my clients would tell me about it, and so they sat there and you either agreed or you just kept your mouth shut. But observation and study of the Southern Farm Tenants' Union, it served a purpose for the time, helped these poor devils when they needed the help and everything. In the long run no good at all, it just sort of water drifted away. The, it's almost impossible to organize a group of, of, of, farm people. One you, we haven't mentioned, one I, I haven't mentioned today is the other side of the association that was together and that's the Farm Bureau. About the same time this was happening in '34, the Farm Bureau started in Arkansas. The National Farm Bureau organized and in this county, right here, we had a very strong Farm Bureau which consisted of the, the tenants themselves or the landowners. And they did a lot of good, the Farm Bureau did, for the benefit of these people.

INTERVIEWER:

OK.

OSCAR FENDLER:

Mostly leaning toward the landlord, of course, the owners.