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Transcription of Dreadful Memories

Transcript of
DREADFUL MEMORIES: THE LIFE OF SARAH OGAN GUNNING, 1910-1983"
(Courtesy of Mimi Pickering and Appalshop Films, Inc. Copyright 1988 Appalshop, Inc.)

PETE SEEGER, Singer: I remember Sarah in her very calm, earnest voice saying, "My name is Sarah Ogan and every word of this is true. (singing) I hate the capitalist system, I'll tell you the reason why. It's caused me so much suffering and my dearest friends to die.” She went on verse after verse on how her husband had died, her child had died. (singing) “Them rich and mighty capitalists all dressed in jewels and silk, While my darling blue eyed baby she starved to death for milk.” I'll never forget that in all my life. And me, I'd never gone hungry except just by accident, and I realized that here was the side of America which people like me never would normally see.
Titles Roll over photos: Appalshop and Headwaters present
DREADFUL MEMORIES
copyright 1988 Appalshop, Inc.
The Life of
Sarah Ogan Gunning
1910-1983
SARAH OGAN GUNNING: (singing "Dreadful Memories," while titles roll over historical photographs)
Dreadful memories, how they linger, how they ever pierce my soul.
How they live in old Kentucky, die from hunger and from cold.
Hungry fathers, wearied mothers, living in those dreadful shacks. . . .

ELLEN STEKERT, Friend & Folklorist: She was one of the finest singers I have heard in southern mountain a cappella, no instrumental accompaniment, style. She was so tremendously moving because what she was singing, in many cases, were not just traditional ballads which, and traditional religious songs and the ditties that she liked, she was singing her own material. Now that's really material that she was tied up in knots over. She was singing about the tragedy and the sorrow in her life.

ARCHIE GREEN, Folklorist & Labor Historian: In a society that can honor Loretta Lynn and, say, honor Emmy Lou Harris but not honor Sarah Gunning, clearly something is wrong. It means that we haven't been able to deal with our roots. We haven't been able to deal with our giants.

Titles roll over photos: Produced, Directed and
Edited by
Mimi Pickering

SARAH GUNNING: (singing “Dreadful Memories” over titles and historical photographs)

Oh these memories how they haunt me, make me want to organize.
Makes me want to help the workers, make them open up their eyes.
Really friends it does not matter, whether you are black or white.
The only way you'll ever change things, is to fight and fight and fight.

Titles roll over photos: with
Andrew Garrison Martin Newell
Anne Johnson Suzn Wheling
Debra Bays Buck Maggard
Dee Davis, Executive Producer

SARAH GUNNING: I was born and raised in a coal mining camp and, and ah, I've composed a lot of songs. But most of them is about my own life and about the life of other coal miners and their families. Sometimes I compose a song about when I get lonely or a lot of things, but anyway it has to be something that concerns me, my life, you know, something that affects me. And I'm kindly sad, I'm a sad singer, they say.

NARRATOR: Sarah Garland was born a coal miner's daughter in eastern Kentucky in 1910. The Garlands were singing people, especially Sarah's mother. She passed on a large collection of ballads, hymns, love songs and stories to her fifteen children. Sarah, her brother Jim Garland and her half sister, Aunt Molly Jackson, are known today for their traditional singing and original songs of protests.

HAZEL GARLAND, Sister-in-Law: Oh, she was between fourteen and fifteen when I met her. And I met her and we hit it off. We become very good friends right away. And it went on and then I met Jim, her brother, and we not only was good friends, why we became sister-in-laws. And we was pretty close from that day on.
The Garland family they liked to sing. And Jim and Sarah, they was always a-singing and they'd gather, even go out on their porch and sit down and go to singing, and, oh, in ten minutes our yard was full of people. And we'd go to church. And that's just about the entertainment, they wasn't a lot of entertainment those days. We had no movies, no nothing, no radio, nothing.

SARAH GUNNING: (singing “Loving Nancy”)

I wish I was clerksman could write a fine hand.
I'd write my love a letter that she'd understand.
I'd send it on water that never overflow.
Go back in Kentucky try Nancy once more.

Loving Nancy, Loving Nancy, I have returned home.
I always did love you and for your sake mourned.
We're going to get married. I'd die for your sake.
I threw my arms around her and felt her heart break.

HAZEL GARLAND: She didn't tell her mother she was getting married, she told me. We were pretty close friends. So I knew everything that was going on. And she told me they were going to Middlesboro, Cumberland Gap, to get married.
He was a miner, same as the rest of them. He worked in the mines as long, he worked in the mines and him sick. He had this lung trouble. He worked until they got, you know, they struck. Naturally he struck with them. He was a strong union man.

TILLMAN CADLE, Retired Coal Miner: During this depression, they was no demand for coal. The mines were only running about one and not over two days a week. And you could hear these miners say, "Well you can strike and starve or you can work and starve. There's no difference." You see. And what it finally came to, it was a war against starvation.

HAZEL GARLAND: You didn't have enough, sometimes when you come out you hadn't made enough that day to get food for your dinner that night. And they wanted to cut it down I think to thirty-five or thirty-two cents a ton. And they was no way in the world that they could live, they'd just be working for the company. So they said, "Well, we'll just strike." Well, after it got started, well then we had, it wasn't doing too good and this new union come in they called the National Miners Union and they really got into it then. They were organizing and bringing people in. Had quite a thing going there a while.

ARCHIE GREEN: In the early '30s --'30, '31 -- when the National Miners Union came to Kentucky, now the NMU was a communist-led union in a period when the communists were very sectarian. They believed that the revolution was imminent, that capitalism was on its last legs, and that only militant workers could bring the revolution to bear. And so the class-conscious Marxists came from New York City, largely, to Kentucky to help organize the NMU.

SARAH GUNNING: (singing “Down on the Picketline”)

Come on friends and let's go down, let's go down, let's go down.
Come on friends and let's go down, down on the picket line.

We went out one morning before daylight and I was sure we'd have a fight.
But the scabs was cowardly and ran away, we went back the very next day.
Come on friends and let's go down, let's go down, let's go down.
Come on friends and let's go down, down on the picket line.

As I went down on the picket line to keep the scabs out of the mine.
Who's a gonna win the strike? Come on and we'll show you the way.
We all went out on the railroad track to meet the scabs and turn them back.
We win the strike I'm glad to say. Come on and we'll show you the way.

TILLMAN CADLE: These thugs was running loose just beating up miners and throwing them in jail. They had rules out there that there was not more than three people allowed to congregate together, and if they caught more than three people in a group, why they would arrest them and the charge they'd make against them would be "banding and confederating." And it finally came down to the point, if you was trying to feed any of these starving people, you was trying to overthrow the government. And if they beat you up or killed you for doing this, why that was law and order.

HAZEL GARLAND: People from all over the country was up in arms about it. And any of them that thought they could do anything, they come down to see what they could do to help out. And Harry was one of them, a young kid, he'd just graduated from school and come down. He was a great organizer, he was very great kid.

ARCHIE GREEN: He was very close to Jim Garland and the gun thugs killed Harry Simms and then Jim Garland wrote a magnificent eulogy. With the collapse of the NMU strike, people like Sarah, Jim and Aunt Molly and others were dispersed.

SARAH GUNNING: (singing “Come All You Coal Miners”)

Come all you coal miners, wherever you may be.
And listen to a story that I'll relate to thee.
My name is nothing extry, but the truth to you I'll tell.
I am a coal miner's wife, I'm sure I wish you well.

I was borned in old Kentucky, in the coal camp borned and bred.
I know all about the pinto beans, bulldog gravy and corn bread.
I know how the coal miner worked and slaved, in the coal mines every day.
For a dollar in the company store, for that is all they paid.

Coal mining is the most dangerous work in our land today.
With plenty of dirty slaving work, and very little pay.
Coal miner won't you wake up, and open your eyes and see.
What the dirty capitalist system, is doing to you and me.

They take our very life blood, they'll take our childrens' lives.
Take fathers away from children, and husbands away from wives.
Oh miners won't you organize, wherever you may be.
And make this a land of freedom, for workers like you and me.

I am a coal miner's wife, I'm sure I wish you well.
Let's sink this capitalist system in the darkest pits of hell.

HAZEL GARLAND: She went through things that is almost unbearable to even, it scares you to even think of it. She lost one of her little babies, died from starvation. She couldn't get any food there in Kentucky at that time. The strike -- you didn't have any way to earn a penny. There was no milk, nothing for the kids, you know, and she couldn't get any work. She's go to Pineville or anywhere if she could have got work, you know, a day's work She'd of worked for anything, just for milk for her baby. But there weren't such thing as work. And it just starved to death is really what happened to it.
Then it went on from one to the other, and she lost another little boy. She lost her husband there. Her husband was sick during all the trouble, strike. He had quite a cavity in his lung. It was pretty bad. And there was no way to get a doctor for him, get any medication for him. So she went down to the courthouse one day and they thought, well, Sarah did anyway, she's go see, try, ask them if there was any way that they could get him in the hospital to help him. They said “No.” Said, “We have no hospital, we can't get him in any hospital.” But said, “You know, “ said “That's contagious and you shouldn't have him in the house with you and the rest of the family. The kids is gonna get it and you're gonna get it.” Said, “Best thing he could do, if you have nowhere else for him to sleep is to take a pillow and a blanket and let him sleep under the floor.” Well you know, that didn't go too well with her. That was an awful thing. I've never heard of such a thing. But that's what they told her.

TILLMAN CADLE: Barnacle, she did her collecting of songs all down through this section. And she had got to know Jim and Aunt Molly cause, see when this Dreiser Committee took Aunt Molly to New York, of course this was something new to hear a woman like Aunt Molly sing labor songs and it made a hit in New York City at that time. Well everybody that was interested in any type of folk singing or anything, well, they knew Aunt Molly then you see. Well Barnacle, naturally she got acquainted with Molly. And then when she came down, we was recording Jim's brother Bill, and he told us about Sarah. And when we went to see Sarah, why, it was too pitiful a sight to ask her to sing, and Barnacle took the whole family back to New York with her. The old shack they lived in was all torn apart and holes in it. I'm sure you heard her songs describe it. Well her songs is the truth. She didn't have to make anything up.

SARAH GUNNING: (singing “I Hate the Capitalist System”)

I hate the capitalist system, I'll tell you the reason why
They caused me so much suffering, and my dearest friends to die.

Oh yes I guess you wonder, what they have done to me
I'm going to tell you mister, my husband had TB.

Brought on by hard work and low wages, and not enough to eat
Going ragged and hungry, no shoes on his feet.

I guess you'll say he's lazy and did not want to work
But I must say you're crazy, for work he did not shirk.

My husband was a coal miner, he worked and risked his life
To try to support three children, himself, his mother and wife.

I had a darling mother, for her I often cry
But with those rotten conditions, my mother had to die.

Well what killed your mother, I hear these capitalists say
A debt of hard work and starvation, my mother had to pay.

Well what killed your mother, oh tell us if you please
Excuse me but it was pellagra, that starvation disease.

I had a blue eyed baby, the darling of my heart
But from my little darling, her mother had to part.

The rich and mighty capitalists, they dressed in jewels and silk.
While my darling blue eyed baby, she starved to death for milk.

Well they call this the land of plenty, and to them I guess it's true.
But that's for the rich old capitalists, and not workers like me and you.

Well what can we do about it, to right this dreadful wrong?
We're all a-going to join the union, for the union makes us strong.

What can I do about it, to these men of power and might?
I'll tell you mister capitalist, I'm going to fight, fight, fight.

ARCHIE GREEN: To the best of my knowledge, she didn't begin to compose songs till she got to New York City. And there, in part encouraged by Mary Elizabeth Barnacle, in part by meeting radicals in the Communist Party orbit in the folk song revival, and in part probably because she was lonely and missed Kentucky, and then you know she had four children and two of them died when they were infants. All of those things came together and turned her into a song composer. She had not composed many, perhaps a dozen, but each was a gem and each really stood for the tension in Appalachia in the '30s.

SARAH GUNNING: When I first composed that song, I said, I called it "I Hate the Capitalist System." Then when Moe Ashe and them heard me sing that song, they said, "Oh that sounds too radical. Don't sing it. The company bosses was the ones you hated, not the capitalist system." Well I didn't know what the capitalist system was at the time so I got, you know, I done a little research on it, you know; they all the time researching something, so I thought I'd research that and find out what it was, about the capitalist, you know. So I found out it was the people that had all the money. Then I said, "Well after all, they was the ones that I meant in the first place."

PETE SEEGER: I was a teenager in New York City. I meet Sarah Ogan--pretty as a picture, golden curls, blue eyes, snub nose, already had three children as I remember. And she and her brother Jim Garland and her half sister Aunt Molly had come to New York. And they lived in a little walk up flat in the Lower East Side, just enough room, no more than just enough. And they ate their same old southern food. It was like stepping into a little piece of Kentucky when you stepped into their apartment. And full of jokes, full of laughter. Sarah had a raffish, rakish sense of humor. They were in church once, and sitting right in front of her was a woman who had just come back to her husband after leaving him three times for various love affairs. And they're praying and everybody's praying loud and Sarah leans forward and says, "Oh Lord cool down her ass so she won't leave her husband no more.”

TILLMAN CADLE: They sang a lot in New York, and Barnacle and Alan Lomax finally got them a program on the city station there, on WNYC. And a whole group of them sang on that-- Jim and Sarah and Hazel, and Woody Guthrie, and Leadbelly, and a whole bunch of them.

HAZEL GARLAND: Yeah, there's this song that she sings, "I'm Going Around This World, Babe of Mine." Well, she made this song. And Woody liked that song. And she had to go in the hospital in New York for a while, her lungs had acted up on her again, and she wasn't there too awful long but she was pretty sick. So Woody decided, well she's not going to do anything with that song and he recorded it. Well, she come out of the hospital and she come home and the first time she saw Woody she didn't say a word, she just walked over and got him by the hair and said, "You curly headed 'so and so'! Why'd you record my song for?” And he said, "Why shucks, Sarah." Said, "Why you'd a never done anything with that song. It was a good song and it should have been recorded." And that's all he said, and they went from there. She laughed you know. It was all right from there on.

SARAH GUNNING: (singing “I'm Going Around This World, Babe of Mine”)

Oh you're going to be surprised, babe of mine.
Oh you're going to be surprised, babe of mine.
Oh you're going to be surprised, for I'm going to organize.
Yes I'm going around this world, babe of mine

Oh I love the union men, babe of mine.
Oh I love the union men, babe of mine.
Oh I love the union men, the way they're treated is a sin.
So I'm going to organize, babe of mine.

Oh I'm going to write you a letter, babe of mine.
Oh I'm going to write you a letter, babe of mine.
Oh I'm going to write you a letter when the living gets better,
But I'm going to organize, babe of mine.

HAZEL GARLAND: We were with Pete all the time when we were in New York, and Woody, we was always around with them. And Leadbelly, and also Burl Ives was there for a while. And we knowed the whole group -- Lee Hays, Bess Hawes. Good memories I have of them, the times we had.
FILMMAKER: Did Sarah come and join with you?
HAZEL GARLAND: Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah, she'd join in and she'd sing. Everybody would have a song they'd sing. They'd go to the hootenanny. When they'd have their hootenannies, why each one of them would sing. And they'd get up and sing their song, whatever they wanted to sing, they had their turn to sing. And I remember one time we was having a hootenanny the day they declared war on us and they was dropping the bombs on Pearl Harbor. We was at a hootenanny in the Greenwich Village. After that, soon after that, the war separated everybody. Pete went in the Air Force. Woody went in the Merchant Marines and some of the other, the rest of the gang, they was in something. And Jim and I, we went to the west coast. That separated everybody.

ARCHIE GREEN: Sarah remarried a man named Joe Gunning. He was a metal worker in New York City. He was a New York City urban industrial worker. A big fellow, friendly.

ELLEN STEKERT: Joe married Sarah when she was ill and after, I think, a nervous breakdown and heavy drinking that she gone through, a brief period in her life, maybe a couple of years, in New York. And Joe married her while she was still in the hospital, evidently, and the kids were sent off. Bill and Dorothy were sent off to camp. And then they all packed up and went out to Aunt Molly's in California, and then went up to Washington, and then came back down to Kentucky, and then went up to Detroit.

ARCHIE GREEN: When I visited her in the early '60s, in Detroit, her husband Joe then, the war work had ended, he was a custodian in a slum building in an area of black and white mountain people from Kentucky, black people from the South, a combat zone of violence and drugs, unemployment. In exchange for rent, Sarah and Joe lived in the basement in a small room through which steam pipes ran, and I will never forget that until I die. It was hot in the summer anyhow but it must have been a hundred and ten or a hundred and twenty degrees with that steam coming out of there. They grew plants. It was a jungle because the plants just twined over everything. They throve on the steam. And you know, the tenants would keep knocking on the door: the toilet was stuffed up and someone had defecated in the hall. So I persuaded Sarah to come to the studio and we were able to issue our first LP on tapes made under pretty good conditions.
After Sarah's record appeared and we began inviting her to concerts, to the University of Chicago. She sang in Carnegie Hall. She was invited to the Smithsonian Festival. She sang at a big banquet for Walter Reuther, you know, in Detroit and shared the stage with him. And she loved those years.

HAZEL DICKENS, Singer: I met her in Washington, D.C. It was the Folklife Festival. And I had not grew up with anyone like that. I grew up with, most of my relatives were in the church and they really didn't go out on the picket line or write songs like that, so since I had just gotten into song writing, it was really important to me to meet some other women like that especially, and that was my first meeting with her. And of course she was very receptive and wanted to talk and share.
And from there on in, we met periodically over the next few years, being on tour together. Some of my most vivid memories are of those times, of like being up all night with Sarah and us wanting to, us younger folks wanting to sleep the next morning and Sarah waking up at the crack of dawn wanting to talk, ready to go again. And there would be a time, even after we got to know her real well, that we knew that we couldn't open our eyes in the morning. We had to keep our eyes closed even if we was awake because soon as Sarah saw your eyes open she wanted to start in again.

ARCHIE GREEN: When she was invited to the Newport Festival in '63 or '64, she met Joan Baez, who was then at the height of stardom, you know, just known all over the world as, you know, the American folk singer. When Sarah came back and Louanne and I visited her, we, we asked her, "Well, how did you like Newport?" "Oh it was fine.'' "Well, did you meet any people there?" "Oh yes. I met them all." "Did you meet any of the stars?" "Yes." "Did you meet Joan Baez?" "Yes." "Well, what did you think of her?" "Well, Joan was a nice young lady but she sure couldn't sing." And I said, "Sarah, what do you mean by that?" She said, "If I just could have worked with her for a little while, I could have taught her Appalachian style."

PETE SEEGER: I was just one of the first of hundreds of thousands of Yankee college students who fell in love with southern folk music. And some of us ended up making a living at it even. I feel kind of funny because the people I learned it from often didn't make a living. Sarah never made a living as a musician. Jim never made his living as a musician. I was able to make a living. . . . Of course, Sarah was in ill health and dead broke. I helped a little here and there. When we recorded her songs, we made sure that she got the royalties. But my records don't sell very much. If I, I record for Folkways, if they'll sell a thousand records, that's a big seller. So Sarah would get twenty dollars. If I had sold two million, she would have gotten two hundred thousand dollars.

ARCHIE GREEN: Sarah was important far beyond her skill as a singer and beyond her repertoire. You see, Sarah took traditional melodies and old conservative style and when she wrote songs of radical content, that is when she took, say, a Marxist concept of the evils of capitalism and put it into a song, she didn't feel that she had to set it to an uptown melody or a jazzy melody or a protest melody. These old songs were to her of such beauty and such depth and such continuity that they were appropriate to carry new messages. And she made a synthesis. This was not just a mechanical melding of two elements. Rather it arose out of a unity in her own personality, and we should take courage from Sarah's ability to fashion that kind of a synthesis.

HAZEL GARLAND: Well, the last time I saw her was the evening that she passed away. We had all gathered in and there was a house full of us, all relatives had come in to see her. We were all sitting there and they were singing and playing music and Sarah had been singing. And ah, they was taking turns, one would sing a song and then the other. And somebody said, "Sarah should sing 'Cabbage Head'," I believe they wanted her to sing, "And she can do that one." So about that time she just put her head back like that, and she was gone. Well, a couple of us thought that she was just thinking over the song, maybe she had forgotten a verse or two and was just thinking it over before she started singing. Because she didn't make any noise or anything, and so she was gone. So that's the last time I saw Sarah, but she did, I think, die a-doing what she liked to do best. She seemed to be very happy that evening. She was singing and enjoying herself. And I think that's the way she would have liked to have went.

SARAH GUNNING: I'm glad to leave something for the young people to listen to because everything you hear on the songs of mine is the truth. In all the songs that I composed it's the truth, because everything that I said happened in my songs, it really happened. And, ah and the two last verses of that song is left out. And, ah and, anyway one of them says (reciting):

“They'd come up to a miner's wife and say, 'I know how you feel'--
The dirty rich aristocrats, who never missed a meal,
Who never spent a lonely night or heard your children cry,
Or had to tell their children why daddy had to die,
Or had to tell their children why daddy had to die.”

And then the last verse said:

“But now I'm old and all alone and I will soon be gone,
But I want my friends to think of me and always sing my songs,
And always sing my songs.”

CANDY CARAWAN: We will, but we'll never be able to sing them like you…

SARAH GUNNING: (singing “I Am A Girl Of Constant Sorrow” over closing credits)

I am a girl of constant sorrow. I've seen trouble all my days.
I bid farewell to old Kentucky, the state where I was born and raised.

My mother how I hated to leave her, Mother dear who now is dead.
But I had to go and leave her, so my children could have bread.

Perhaps dear friend you were wondering, what the miners eat and wear.
This question I will try to answer, for I'm sure that it is fair.

For breakfast we had bulldog gravy. For supper we had beans and bread.
The miners don't have any dinner, and a tick of straw they call a bed.

Well our clothes are always ragged, and our feet are always bare,
But I'm sure if there's a heaven, that we all are going there.

Well we call this hell on earth friends. I must tell you all goodbye.
Oh I know you all are hungry. Oh my darling friends don't cry.


This program was made possible by grants from:

Folk Arts Program, National Endowment for the Arts
Kentucky Foundation for Women
Kentucky Humanities Council
Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University
Ford Foundation
Kentucky Arts Council
Kentucky Folklife Foundation

Humanities Advisors:
Archie Green, Ellen Stekert, Burt Feintuch, Helen Lewis

Videotape of Sarah Gunning courtesy:
Candie & Guy Carawan, Highlander Research & Education Center
and Richard Ward, North State Video

Archival film courtesy:
"And So They Live," John Ferno & Julian Roffman, 1940, New York University
"The Newcomers," George Stoney, 1963, United Methodist Church
"A Bronx Morning," Jay Leyda, 1931, Museum of Modern Art
The National Archives

Still photographs courtesy:
Alice Lloyd College
American Friends Service Committee
Tillman Cadle
Jo Carson
"Equal Justice"
("Labor Defender")
Hazel Garland & Margaret Harrington
The National Archives
Smithsonian Institution
Ellen Stekert
Herndon Evans Collection, University of Kentucky
Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Wide World Photos

All Songs Written by:
Sarah Ogan Gunning except
"Loving Nancy" (traditional)

"Dreadful Memories," "Come on Friends & Let's Go Down,"
"I Hate the Capitalist System," "Goin' to Organize," and
"Girl of Constant Sorrow" courtesy of 1965 Folk-Legacy Records, Inc.

"Come All You Coal Miners" copyright 1966 Stormking Music, Inc.

Sarah can be heard on the following recordings:
"Girl of Constant Sorrow," Folk-Legacy FSA-26
"The Silver Dagger," Rounder Records 0051
"Come All You Coal Miners," Rounder Records 4005

Special thanks to:
Margaret Harrington Herb E. Smith
Pauline Inman Elizabeth Barret
Anne Romaine Lucy Massie Phenix
Mike Seeger Caron Atlas
Highlander Staff Jeff Hawkins, Sets
Joe & Helen Pickering
Jerri Frazier

Titles and Mastering: Kentucky Educational Television

Produced and Distributed by:
APPALSHOP FILMS
306 Madison Street
Whitesburg, Ky. 41858
(606)-633-0108

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