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“This Is the Pressure That They Used”: Genora Dollinger Recalls the Flint Sit-Down Strike

by Genora Johnson Dollinger/Sherna Gluck

Strikes affect an entire community, and in the end they need that community’s support to succeed. This is especially true in the case of a sit-down strike like the legendary sit-down strike at Flint, Michigan, in 1936, when the strikers occupied the GM plants. The strikers, isolated at first inside the Fisher Body Plant Number One, needed food; they also needed information and advance warning on what management might be up to. The Women’s Emergency Brigade, formed during the Flint strike, proved indispensable to the union effort more than once. Genora Johnson Dollinger helped found the Women’s Emergency Brigade and became one of the strike’s key leaders. In this interview, conducted by historian Sherna Gluck in 1976, Genora Johnson Dollinger described first how the strike affected her family.

Listen to Audio:

Genora Dollinger: During this period, I was renting an apartment above my mother, on the third floor of the building that my father—or the building I was raised in. And I had one little boy in school and the other little fellow was only two. Now, I started leaving him downstairs until my father became so anti-union, they’d cut off all of my father’s funds at the bank, all of his business transactions. That included not only his real estate building, but also his photograph studio. He had no funds that he could write any checks. He was frozen. And he went down to see them, and they said, “Until you get that communist daughter of yours out of your apartment building, we’re not going to—” This was just pressure, when I stop to think about it. Just his daughter moving out of the building? This is the pressure that they used. And it was—I remember the banker’s name very well because the son-of-a-beehive was a KKK member with my father through the church minister where I belonged. And so he told him, “You get your daughter out.” And so my father marched home and he said, “For God’s sake, I’m frozen here. I can’t move in any of my business enterprises, and your nonsense, so you’ll have to move.”And I said, “I’m sorry. I haven’t got time to move,” and who would take care of my kids anyway. So then he said, well, then he was going to shut the heat and water off, and I said, “You do that, and I’ll issue a statement to the press that their grandfather is—” you know, from their grandchildren,“and call the health department.”

So my mother at this point didn’t dare to defy my father, but she let me know that whatever I thought was right for working people, you know, she would be in agreement. She may not understand, but she understood that I had my reasons.

And what would happen is that—you know, I had two young sisters, remember. One was eight and the other one was twelve. And they would take turns. They would get up and eat breakfast with mother and dad in the morning, and then they would kiss them goodbye and go off to school. One would go to school and the other one would go up the back stairs and stay with my children during the day, and then they would take turns. And that was primarily how my children were being taken care of.

Source: Oral history courtesy of Sherna Gluck, Feminist History Project.

See Also:"I Was Able to Make My Voice Really Ring Out": The Women's Emergency Brigade in the Flint Sit-Down Strike