Cordia Ross Oral History

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[Ben Grillot] Today is April 11th and I'm here with Cordia Ross at her home, 840 Pinewood, Toledo Ohio. And we're going to talk about Acklin Stamping.

Tell me about when you started at Acklin.

[Cordia Ross] Well, when I first started at Acklin it was in I think 1956, I think. It may have been the year before or year after. But I think I'll be safe and say in 1956. And I was hired in as a machine operator. I was the first afro-american woman hired over there. And then later on there was another afro-american woman hired, just two of us working until they hired more. And then I was working as a press operator and I went from there to the brazing room as an inspector. And then you mentioned about the time that we were doing government, making parts for the government. They had Navy men there to work in that department, it was roped off from the other employees at Acklin stamping. As I said I don't remember too much because I didn't think that I was going to need to remember it. That was just about what I remember.. I think they were making shells or bullets or something.

[BG} But you didn't take part in that production? It was all Navy men?

[CR] Right, we weren't allowed in that department. That was roped off so we wouldn't go in there. Just the army people were the ones who took care of.. who worked in that department. We wouldn't have seen too much or we wouldn't know too much about what happened in that department because we weren't allowed in there.

[BG] And you worked on the small line? What sort of parts did you make?

[CR] Well, we were making stuff for the air conditioners and at one time they made parts for bicycles. Sometimes I'd work on the um.. See when you don't think you need to remember all of this you just forget it and throw it out of your mind. So then I worked in the brazing room. That is where they put these parts together, we had a little group that we put on there and we'd run through a furnace and it melted em, it melted the goup they put on there and then we would change positions on the back end of the furnace by taking them out and putting them in a barrel. And thats what I did, and then they were shipped out to Tecumseh where they put it where they wanted it somehow. But that was the way that part worked. It was a nice place to work. I had no problems. Because there was mostly all Polish women out there and you didn't know one from the other because everybody got along real good together.

[BG] That was my next question. How would you describe your co-workers? Was there a good sense of family?

[CR] Now we all got along fine. A little later on they began to hire more afro-american women and I had good relationships with all of them. You wouldn't know whether I was Polish or not because they tried to teach me Polish, tried to teach me how to talk Polish and everything. Right now I don't have any dentist.. its kind of hard for me to get my words out too. So everything went well, they tried to teach me how to do Polish cooking.. Just a part of them, you know. We were just one big family.

[BG] Do you remember the Picnics and the bowling leagues? Did you take part in all of that?

[CR] Yeah, and my niece just left just a few minutes ago that worked at Acklin Stamping, and she was part of the parties and things and helping to set em up. They tried to teach me how to do the Polka which was too fast for me. And they had nice parties and nice picnics and everything.. we just had a nice relationship.

[BG] So when you were hired in 1956 Tecumseh Products was already in charge?

[CR] Let me see, was it 56 they had.. I guess they did have that army department set up back then at that time. Did you get a report on that? Was it 56?

[BG] I'm talking about Tecumseh Products. They had purchased Acklin when you started?

[CR] Well see, Acklin Stamping is a part of Tecumseh Products. Tecumseh bought Acklin.

[BG] And you came after they bought Acklin

[CR] Right. Because Acklin was already set up when I went to work there.

And then of course one time there I worked in the shipping department. And course when the parts came in I would check em in and go out I'd check em out but I didn't stay on that too long.

[BG] So you spent most of your time on the small line?

[CR] Small line, yeah.

[BG] How do you remember the management?

[CR] Well, the management .. the management.. What was his name? Anyway. We used to call him "Big Man" you know. And.. what was his name? He used to give us turkeys for Christmas, thats when he was over us, he retired and passed away and after he passed away they didn't give out any more turkeys. And he said he gave us turkeys for Christmas so we would have something on our tables for the holidays because when he came along they were poor and they couldn't afford turkey so he gave us a turkey for christmas so we could have christmas dinner. But after he passed away they didn't give out any.

[BG] And when was that? Early 70s?

[CR] I don't remember. Because I retired in 1974.

[BG] Tell me about safety. Was it dangerous to work at Acklin? Were there a lot of precautions you had to take?

[CR] In what respect? What are you referring to?

[BG] Was it dangerous to work at Acklin?

[CR] Was it dangerous. Yeah it was dangerous but they had what you call a safety cord on the machine and of course if you put your.. The machine was coming down to cut out the part, if your hand was going under that by that time it'd jerk it back. You had to put it on your wrist, that was a must, you couldn't work with that on. Because there were a lot of people who got their fingers cut off and things like that. But and then it was a must that women had stools to sit on. Of course when you work a machine you have to have something to sit on. And there was parts over in the housing department where they stood to operate the machines of course some of em could use a stool because it was tall enough it didn't matter if it was a little bit short, then they couldn't always get their feet on the pedals. They had to work with their own because I didn't work in that division.

SoI mostly worked on the small line and then inspection and for a short while on shipping and recieving.

[BG] Which was your favorite of all of them?

[CR] I liked them all of them. But there was different machines that I liked to work on. And shipping and recieving wasn't too bad because when any parts returned you had to take those back to the department you know and that was a little heavy so I didn't like that too much. But it didn't bother me. I liked wherever I worked.

[BG] What changes did you see in the time from when you started to when you left?

[CR] Please?

[BG] What changes did you see?

[CR] Well, not too much. Of course I didn't go out there.. I think I made one or two trips out there.. And last year I went to the Christmas Party and it was really interesting because everybody was glad to see me and I was glad to see them, you know. And a lot of good music for dancing and it was pretty nice. But uh, of course they had change but I don't know what the changes were because I haven't been there to see. It think, as I said before I was there once.. And then we used to go around like when you're retired, around and visit, but I had too many things to do so I didn't do much of that. Of course before I went out to Acklin I was an elevator operator down at Lasalle and Cook. So then I left LaSalle and Cook and I was there..

[BG] How'd you decide to go to Acklin Stamping?

[CR] Well, my uh.. A friend of mine was working and she told me they were hiring. So when I went out there they hired me. And uh, I guess shortly after that they hired other afro-american women and they were there for 30 days and they didn't work out their trial date so all of them were fired. I mean, periodically, you know, they didn't lay them off in a bunch but just as they did things that was not legitimate to do at the plant or something. I don't know what they did because that wasn't my job to track it down. But after they were all layed off or what have you, the person in the employment office he called me in the office and told me "Cordia, I'm sorry that I couldn't get any more help for you, but I hired these women thinking that we would have more of you working out here." so he said "Do you know the reason why you was hired and no one wasn't hired for a while" I guess he was trying me out too. I said "No." He said "Well, I wanted to make you supervisor over them." And so after they left then that throwed out my supervising job. (Laughs), but that still left this other lady and myself there. And I stayed there. Of course they had hired several more afro-american women after that but uh I stayed until I retired in 1974.

[BG] Were there african-american men working there before you?

[CR] Oh yes, there were afro-american men working there, but there wasn't women.

[BG] Was it a pretty solid division? No women worked on the big lines and no men on the small lines?

[CR] No, there were women on the big lines. My niece who just left here she was on the big line and they made these housings, kind of like a bowl-like, you know, for air conditioners and thats what they made over there mostly. And then thats where they stamped the holes like in the housings and they did different over there than what we did on the small line. The small line we'd make the parts to go in to the parts on the big line, on the housings.

(The tape was stopped while Cordia Ross placed a phone call)

[BG] How would you describe the Union while you were at Acklin? Was it a pretty effective Union? Did you guys have any trouble with the management?

[CR] Well, yeah.. They went on a strike during the time I was there. Because this other Polish woman that worked there, she and I, we would supply the coffee to the tent you know. We'd make the coffee and take it out there for them during the strike and I guess that was about two weeks I think we made coffee to take out there to the strikers. Because they had a tent set up out there in front of the plant. But I wasn't familiar.. Now I was sent off once for a conference that they had.. I think it was in Fremont, Fostoria I think it was. But thats been so long that I don't remember. Every so often they would have these conferences that they would send different employees there but I was sent out on one of them. But that was about all.. Oh, they'd have Christmas parties for the children and it was nice and I enjoyed working at Acklin of course you know they had an age limit, you had to retire, I think it was 65 or 62 and I reached that retirement age so I retired in 74... Lets see, how long was I there?

[BG] 56 to 74.. About 18 years?

[CR] Yeah about 18 years.. Just missed 25 years. So thats they way that worked.

[BG] Do you remember when the strike was?

[CR] Uh I don't remember when the strike was. Now my grandson should have been there. He might remember. Because at different times he would go to these meetings, but I didn't go because I always had something extra to do on Saturdays like clean house and stuff like that, you know. And I didn't always go to the meetings because I figured whatever was needed they could take care of it, you know. Cause you really didn't need a woman to take care of it, but they say that sometimes it takes women to help the men to run the job whatever it is, you know. But Dwight he went all the time. Of course he went in the service while he was working out there.

[BG] He went in the service while he was at Acklin? And then he came back?

[CR] Right. They hired him back when he came back. In fact he didn't lose his seniority when he went in the service.

[BG] Do you remember Lewis Mattox at all?

[CR] Yeah. Lewie was my buddy. Lewie, he was over the Union and everything, he was a good Union man. In fact he lived out near where I lived. I lived just about half a block from where he did. Yeah I knew Lewie real well.. Knew his family and everything.

[BG] And he was a big Union man?

[CR] Yeah he was a big union man. He was a rough one too.

[BG] What do you mean by rough?

[CR] Well I mean he didn't take no stuff off the plant, I mean off of the big bosses out there. He'd talk to them just like he was a big boss and he'd raise his voice with them. He'd come back at em, you know. No he didn't back off of em. He was a good Union man.

[BG] And then what happened to Lewie?

[CR] He retired and then he passed away.

[BG] Shortly after that?

[CR] Mmhmm.. I don't know if his son his still working out there or not. I when I retired he was there but I don't know whether he has retired or not.

[BG] How old's his son?

[CR] Well he didn't talk too much so you didn't know how he was thinking, you know. But Lewis' family was a nice family he was a nice man.. A lot of fun and everything. And he saw to it that we were treated right.. And when I say "we" I mean the employees, you know. He was always looking out on our behalf.

[BG] Thats pretty much all the questions I have.

[CR] Yeah thats about.. thats about all I can remember. Of course about the army over in that corner, I know they were in the corner in the back of the plant in the corner like, way in the back and we weren't allowed back there so we don't know what went on back in there. Because we weren't allowed in there. And they didn't associate with us on the floor.

[BG] All those people came from outside?

[CR] Mmhmm..

[BG] Were you paid by the piece? Was it piecework?

[CR] Yeah, by the piece work. mhmm. And of course when you catch on to it, it wasn't bad. And I tell everybody now thats whats wrong with my knees. Any time you pump your knees up down say for 8 hours or for 7 1/2 hours doing maybe 700 or 800 or maybe even 2 or 3000 pieces in an hour in a day, you know you've done a lot of bending knees and thats the reason why so many of us are having knee replacements and everything and I'm supposed to have it but I'm afraid of it so I just hobble along on mine like I got.

[BG] Did you have good health care? Were there good benefits?

[CR] I started out at 75 cents an hour, before I was onto the machines, well enough that they could put me on the machines. So when I did working by the hour I made 75 cents an hour.

[BG] But did you have health care?

[CR] No, they had their own.. Acklin Stamping, they were insured with Aetna.

[BG] So you did have some insurance. There was a credit union there too, did you have any money in it?

[CR] Well, a little bit. Of course they would take it out, you know, you could have it taken out if you wanted it too. Of course thats what I did, I had them deduct what little bit that I had taken out and put into the credit union. It was nice because you know.. What else did they have? They had a stipend that you paid, now when you retired that was extra and different from what the credit union was, you withdraw that out when you're retired, you know, but you still have your credit union. And I still have mine with just a few pennies in it but they haven't bothered me. I'll let it stay and draw a little interest. At least probably buy a loaf of bread.. Because, at that time, everything was inexpensive. So now, they're fighting for the retirees and elderly people to cut down on these medical expenses because thats quite high. Of course at one time we was going to get discounts but they soon stopped that, so on medicine now we don't get a discount. So but when you come over the years, see I'm 90 years old, you don't remember a lot of these things you did when you were young. And after you leave I thought I could've told him this or I could've said that or the other but at that time I wasn't remembering but as you think about it, it comes to you some.

[BG] Who were some of the people you worked with? Some of your favorite co-workers.

[CR] Well I just talked to Aggie, what is today? Friday. She was a Polish girl, real nice and friendly. And to tell you the truth just about all of them that I worked with have.. have expired. And I talked to another one of the girls out there last week, Ann Francis.. And she has a very bad heart and shes getting ready to go to the doctors. And her sisters in the hospital with Alzheimers and you know just about all of them have passed away. And then this one friend of mine, her son called me and told me that she had passed away and then you know when you think back its a little sad that you liked people so well and get along so well together and just about all of them have passed away.

[BG] Well you're doing pretty good for 90.

[CR] (Laughs...) Yeah, 90 years old, I'll be in 91 next month. I don't remember much like I used to. I used to just.. could write a book sometimes on what I know, with all the different organizations and what have you. I've done.. umm.. Are you familiar with the Masons?

[BG] A little bit.

[CR] Are you? I belong to an auxiliary of the Masons called the Eastern Stars, we're the matrons of that and for different houses. I got a call this morning, they've got me on the arts and crafts committee and I told em, I said "My hands is doing something that I cannot and thats stay off the stuff that I can't handle and I can't handle arts and crafts so I told them I was sorry but I could not accept the chairmanship but I would work on that committee.. and all that involves. It was real nice.

[BG] How long have you been in the Masons?

[CR] Well, I've been in the Eastern Stars, its an auxiliary of the Masonic body.. I've been in it for almost 35 years because I have a 35 year pin coming up. And that was a lot of fun, traveling and what have you. So I have nothing to complain about.

[BG] Where did you work before you worked at Acklin? You said you worked at LaSalle and Cook..

[CR] Yeah, LaSalle and Cook.

[BG] And that was your first job?

[CR] Uh, no I worked at the union station. At one time I was working at union station and also at Riverside hospital. I was the first... I don't know how I get to be these firsts! I was the first afro-american nurses aide at Riverside hospital and I was the first afro-american sales clerk hired at LaSalle and Cook. So I've been a guinea pig right along... Let me see.. LaSalle and Cook, Union Station, and of course Acklin Stamping, oh! and I worked at Secor Hotel. And of course by that time I was quite grown up and getting older all the time.

[BG] And you said there was no tension, no problems, everyone got along really well?

[CR] Oh yeah... yeah.. I've always been a person that if I can't make friends with you I won't make enemies because I won't have no association with you. If stay away from me you won't get involved so thats the way it works. But I've always made friends with most people, I never was a.. I was a quiet person when I was young, very quiet. I have a daughter...


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Last Updated: 6/9/16