"Donnie Cole," The Song

Lonnie Cole, 11 years old, Village of Avondale, Birmingham, AL, November 1910. Photo by Lewis Hine.

"OUR BABY DOFFER" they called him. Donnie Cole. Has been doffing for some months. When asked his age, he hesitated, then said, "I'm Twelve." Another young boy said "He can't work unless he's twelve." Child Labor regulations were conspicuously posted in the mill. Location: Birmingham, Alabama, November 1910, Lewis Hine.

For those who have not read it, the full story of Lonnie can be seen at this link

Lonnie's photos, especially the one above, inspired me to write a song about him. I decided to call it "Donnie Cole," since that is what Hine incorrectly called him, and what most people who have seen the photos think his name is. I discussed this with his niece, the one who was interviewed for this story, and she agreed. The song is written from Donnie's point of view, as if he is talking to Hine while he sets up his camera. The lyrics are posted below.

In December of 2011, the song was performed at a concert by the Drury High School chorus. The school is in North Adams, Massachusetts. In addition, three seventh and eighth-grade boys from the choruses at Drury and Greylock School (also in North Adams) recorded a version of the song at the Drury recording studio. In this recording, one of the boys is the lead singer, and he is backed by the two other boys. The live performance by the chorus has been posted on You Tube (see link below). The recording by the boys can be heard by clicking the link below.

Thanks to the three boys; the Drury High School chorus; the director of the chorus, Aldonna Girouard; and the music technology teacher, Jamie Choquette, who also played the guitar on the recordings.

Listen to song sung by the boys

Video of performance by the Drury High School Chorus

Donnie Cole
by Joe Manning

My name is Donnie Cole.
I work here every day.
I think I'm 12 years old,
That's what my momma say.
Sometimes I'm a doffer,
Sometimes I sweep the floor.
I used to go to school,
But, I don't do that no more.

Hey, Mister, who are you?
And why you hangin' ‘round?
That thing looks like a camera.
I seen one up in town.
The boss man don't like trouble.
He chase you out the door.
I ain't s'posed to talk,
Mister, what you lookin' for?

My momma don't like livin'
Down here in Avondale.
My daddy ain't around much
‘Cause he's workin' on the rails.
My brothers and my sisters
All work here in the mill,
‘Cept for the baby boy,
Someday I guess he will.

So take my picture while you can,
If that's what you gotta do.
And if the boss man catch us,
I know what he'll say to you.
He'll say us kids is legal,
He ain't breakin' any rules.
My momma needs me here,
She don't want me back in school.

My name is Donnie Cole.
I work here every day.
I think I'm 12 years old,
That's what my momma say.

©2010 Hopalong Songs (BMI)

History of Avondale Mills

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