Monthly Archive for April, 2013

From the Archives: North Carolina Workers Strike in Gastonia

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

Photo of an eviction following the Gastonia strike, Guy Benton Johnson Papers, Folder 1294, Item 8

84 years ago in April of 1929, textile workers at the Loray Mill in Gastonia, North Carolina, initiated a historic strike. The strike lasted for months and drew national attention, becoming a representation of the larger ongoing battle between Communist-led labor unions and factory bosses. The Gastonia strikers demanded union recognition, a 40-hour work week, and a minimum $20 weekly wage, hoping to improve the grueling hours, low wages, and poor working conditions that workers at that time were forced to endure. In response, mill owners evicted the families of strikers living in mill-owned houses, leaving hundreds homeless.1 The National Guard was called in to keep the peace, but in June of 1929, union headquarters and the homes of strikers were attacked at night during a police raid, and when laborers fought back to defend themselves, the chief of police was killed.

Letter from the International Labor Defense, Guy Benton Johnson Papers, Folder 1294, Item 4

Seven labor union leaders, including Fred Beal of the National Textile Workers Union (NTWU), were arrested and sentenced to terms of up to 20 years in prison. In response to the Gastonia case, the International Labor Defense wrote a passionate letter to rally support for the Gastonia prisoners and other workers facing charges that included sedition, inciting to riot, conspiracy, criminal syndicalism, illegal entry, and even murder. The International Labor Defense felt strongly that labor organizers and strike leaders were being targeted as part of a “terror wave” constructed by factory bosses who “intend in this way to stop the workers from organizing and fighting against misery and starvation.”2

A key figure in the Gastonia strike was Ella May Wiggins, a textile mill worker and ardent unionist who testified regarding inhumane labor practices in the South.[3] Wiggins’ involvement in the workers’ rights campaign is also notable for her support of integrated unions, and through her influence, the local NTWU branch expanded to admit black workers to its ranks.3 As the Gastonia strike dragged on into September of 1929, Wiggins was on her way to a union meeting with fellow strikers when she was shot and killed by a mob outside of Gastonia. Though five men were initially arrested for her murder, all were quickly acquitted; her fellow unionists refused to forget Wiggins’ sacrifice, and through her death she became a figurehead for the labor reform movement.

Despite the publicity created by pro-union organizations and the many who sympathized with the Gastonia strikers, the Communist ties of the National Textile Workers Union made some wary of unionization, and ultimately the violence in Gastonia set back union organization efforts and left strong anti-union sentiments in North Carolina which persisted for many years. In the Guy Benton Johnson Papers you can find more information relating to the Gastonia mill strike, and examples of the material circulated by pro-union groups like the International Labor Defense to publicize and gain support for the labor reform movement.

1. Guy Benton Johnson Papers, Folder 1294: Labor, Scan 9.

2. Guy Benton Johnson Papers, Folder 1294: Labor, Scan 4.

3. “Ella May Wiggins, Labor Activist,” by Beth Crist. North Carolina Museum of History.

CCC Progress Update: Helen Grey Edmonds Papers completed

Image of Dr. Helen Edmonds

Image of Dr. Helen Edmonds from the NCCU Faculty and Staff Photograph Records, Image Folder 80, Scan 17

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

TRLN’s Content, Context, and Capacity project has completed digitization of the Helen G. Edmonds Papers, and all digitized content is now available through the collection’s online finding aid. Dr. Helen G. Edmonds is remembered as a noted historian, educator, and civil rights activist who achieved a number of “firsts” during her lifetime, including being the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. at Ohio State University and the first African American woman in the US to become a graduate school dean.1

Edmonds spent the majority of her career at North Carolina Central University in faculty and administrative positions, and she was also heavily involved with local, national, and international organizations including Links, Inc., the National Coalition of Black Women, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the United Nations (where she served as an alternate delegate), and the United Negro College Fund. Throughout her life, she worked tirelessly as an advocate for blacks and women, a mentor to students and youth, and an activist for race relations in North Carolina. In the early 1970s, the Durham Herald praised her by saying, “The nation needs people of Dr. Edmonds’ sound judgment and keen analytical powers in advisory, administrative, and policy-making posts.”2 And in 1982 she was honored by Charles Markham, Mayor of Durham, for her outstanding contributions to the community.

The Helen Edmonds Papers include correspondence with civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers and NC Governor James E. Holshouser, speeches delivered by Edmonds across the country, as well as newspaper clippings, programs, research and lecture notes, reports, and educational materials, which document the incredibly active life of this remarkable woman.

1. Helen G. Edmonds Papers Finding Aid: Biographical Information. http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/e/Edmonds,Helen_G.html#d1e316

2. Helen G. Edmonds Papers, Folder 365: Harry Walker, Inc., 1971-1972. Item 7. http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/50003/id/9073/rec/7

LCRM in the News: Weekly Round-Up

We are adding a new regular feature: a round-up of recent news stories that touch on the theme of the LCRM blog. We hope that this will be useful to our readers.

 

New Enhanced E-book from UNC Press: Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens

Cooking in Other Women's Kitchens

Cover of Cooking in Other Women's Kitchens

The UNC Press is happy to announce the publication of a special enhanced e-book version of Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960, by Rebecca Sharpless. Produced with the cooperation of libraries and archives, the enhanced e-book features twenty letters, photographs, first-person narratives, and other documents, each embedded in the text where it will be most meaningful.

First published in 2010, this book tells the story of African American women who left the plantation economy behind to enter domestic service in southern cities and towns. These women fed generations of white families and, in the process, profoundly shaped southern foodways and culture. Rebecca Sharpless argues that, in the face of discrimination, long workdays, and low wages, African American cooks worked to assert measures of control over their own lives. As employment opportunities expanded in the twentieth century, most African American women chose to leave cooking for more lucrative and less oppressive manufacturing, clerical, or professional positions.

“The sources on African American cooks are the reward for persistent curiosity,” Sharpless said. “This e-book provides a glimpse into the riches that are to be had if one but looks. The digital format provides the reader with a taste of the raw materials of which the historical narrative is assembled.”

Browsable and searchable from anywhere in the text, the enhancements include twenty letters, photographs, first-person narratives, and other documents, as well as additional commentary written by the author, each embedded in the text where it will be most meaningful. Featuring close to 100 pages of new material, the enhanced e-book offers readers an intimate view into the lives of domestic workers, while also illuminating the journey a historian takes in uncovering these stories.

The enhanced e-book is available from the Barnes & Noble Nook Color and Nook Tablet, Amazon’s Kindle app for iPhone and iPad, and Google Play for desktop and laptop computers.

The enhanced e-book is published under the aegis of the Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement project, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The project’s first enhanced e-book was Freedom’s Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark by Katherine Mellen Charron, and the project’s second enhanced e-book was Blowout!: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice, by Mario García and Sal Castro.

From the Archives: “The Participation of Negroes in Southern Life,” a Sociological Study from the 1930s

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

 Folder 1312: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 5

Survey on Discrimination, circa 1930s. Guy B. Johnson Papers, Folder 1312, Scan 5

A former Kenan professor of Anthropology and Sociology at UNC, Chapel Hill, Dr. Guy B. Johnson was a researcher and scholar with strong interests in African American culture and society. Dr. Johnson spent much of his career studying race relations in the American South, and often collaborated with other well known academics, such as Howard Odum and Guion G. Johnson.1 A particularly fascinating study conducted by Johnson during the 1930s distributed questionnaires to African Americans seeking their perspectives on stereotypes, racism, discrimination, and the treatment of Blacks in the South. Hundreds of handwritten responses were collected and contributed to a larger study examining “the Participation of Negroes in Southern Life.” The Guy B. Johnson collection contains hundreds of responses that this survey received. Answers often contain emotional stories of individuals being mistreated, disrespected, and misunderstood, and include details that are arresting and often appalling.

One powerful account from the collection is a narrative written by 20-year-old Onah Belle Hawkins, a junior in college from southern Georgia. As she responded to the questions of the survey, Hawkins described her frustration with the lack of opportunities for blacks in higher education and the daily reminders of racial discrimination present in shops, movie theaters, and restaurants wherever she went. She wrote about segregated trolley cars and how she was always led to the back of the store when trying on shoes, and even how a white debt collector came to her family’s house armed with a revolver and threatened her and her mother. Her candid replies fill the space provided and even continue onto the back of the questionnaire.2

In the 1930s, Dr. Johnson and his colleagues hoped that the information gathered through this study would help “to open the minds of white people of the South.”3 The wealth of information contained within the survey responses can still present a fascinating and revealing resource for researchers today. Survey responses can be found in Subseries 5.8.3, Folders 1311 through 1320 of the Guy B. Johnson Papers.

1. Guy Benton Johnson Papers Finding Aid, Biographical Information
2. Folder 1312: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 9
3. Folder 1311: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 1