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Conclusion In early February 1953, during the last gasp of Operation Dixie, the Textile Workers Union believed that it had a good chance of winning an NLRB election at the Rhyne-Houser Mills in Cherryville, North Carolina. Three days before the scheduled election, seven Cherryville ministers—two Baptists, two Methodists , a Lutheran, a Presbyterian, and a Church of God—addressed a letter to the workers at Rhyne-Houser. The ministers asserted that the arrival of the union “threatens to disturb the good spirit and fellowship of our Community.” While professing deep concern over the welfare of the workers, they said, “[We are] thoroughly convinced that it would be greatly to your disadvantage to have the Union to represent you.” The ministers added, “Many of the benefits and special favors that you have had would no longer be yours under the Union.” Concluding , they advised: “Consider this matter prayerfully before voting and May God guide you in your decision.”1 Three days later, the Textile Workers Union lost the election. The episode in Cherryville is pertinent because it appears to confirm widespread popular perceptions about the influence of Protestantism on the CIO in the South. At the end of the CIO’s most ambitious campaign, southern unions still had only about half the union density rate of the North. Equally devastating for the CIO, the AFL had more than three times the number of CIO southern members. Where the CIO had concentrated its muscle—in the textile towns of the Carolinas—fewer than ten percent of the workers were in unions.2 There is another side to the Cherryville incident, however. The ministers’ letter stirred a surprising amount of controversy. Textile Workers president Emil Rieve wrote a long rebuttal letter in which he contrasted their fears for the “good spirit and fellowship” with the “right to dissent,” which he assumed that “most of us in this country agreed . . . outweighed the advantages of autocratic unanimity.” Rieve asserted that the labor movement and the church “should not be enemies, but allies.” Trade unionism’s “whole effort is on behalf of the weak, the poor, the oppressed.” “Our goal,” he wrote, “is to provide men with an instrument through which they can help themselves by helping each other. And when we succeed our greatest reward, like yours, is of the spirit.”3 Rieve’s letter touched a chord with many in the South. Many southern newspapers ran the story and excerpts from Rieve’s response.4 For all of the deflating numbers that reflected the CIO’s inability to crack the southern wall of resistance, there were bright spots. In Tennessee, 208 Conclusion Alabama, and Kentucky, where manufacturing was less reliant on textiles, nearly one-quarter of the workers were in unions. In Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi, union density rates had doubled between 1939 and 1953.5 In many respects, the Cherryville episode also underscores the differences within southern Protestantism. A number of ministers and laypeople in the South met with labor people to express their dismay at the stand taken by the local clergy. The Lutheran Church censured its Cherryville minister, and the Methodist Church denied that its Cherryville ministers reflected Church policy.6 Officials of the Presbyterian Church and the Church of God, however, defended the “consciences and discretions of the ministers,” and acknowledged that there was no official church policy on this matter. Evidence of a Baptist response is lacking, which was in keeping with church polity.7 Thus, the two national churches with headquarters in the North and hierarchical church governance tried to distance their denominations from such blatantly anti-union sentiments. Those more distinctly southern churches—the Church of God, the Presbyterian Church in the United States, and the Southern Baptists—fell back on the individual consciences and beliefs of their ministers. They would not dictate either to clergy or to congregations on social issues, but they also would not protect their ministers against the powerful forces in their communities that sought influence over local clergy. In most southern communities, the most powerful forces were the employers. The religious autonomy of local communities nevertheless left considerable latitude for workers who wanted to join unions. There are plenty of stories of individuals who defied their ministers and chose the CIO. Recall, for example, Wilt Browning, whom we introduced at the beginning of chapter 6. Browning and his parents were in church when their Pentecostal minister condemned followers of the union as bearing the mark of the Beast and doomed to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780252097003
Related ISBN
9780252039034
MARC Record
OCLC
903246012
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2015-02-24
Language
English
Open Access
No
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