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Gastonia 1929 The Story of the Loray Mill Strike ByJohn A. Salmond University of North Carolina Press, 1995 226 pp. Cloth, $24.95 Reviewed by Michelle Brattain, lecturer in American history at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. In the preface to Gastonia 1^29,John Salmond describes his purpose as "simply to tell the story of the events of 1929," but this book, an elegandy crafted and insightful synthesis, defies such a modest description. Although Salmond provides no new overarching thesis, the work reflects the author's research into new archival and oral history sources, an exhaustive survey of both the radical and mainstream press, and the best ofrecent scholarship in southern labor history.Judiciously argued and thorough, Salmond's retelling of the story from the perspective of the organizers, the workers, the press, and numerous contemporaries, with the benefit of sixty-plus years of hindsight, casts new light onto such contemporary historical subjects as race, class, gender, communism, and religion in the Bible Belt. Beautifully written, it is also, above all, a thoroughly enjoyable read. Salmond begins by surveying the New South histories of Gaston County workers and managers and the conditions in the 1920s that led to the infamous "stretch-out" and finally the strike. In traditional southern fashion, Loray mill workers' anger had already erupted into spontaneous demonstrations on the streets of Gastonia. Into this tense situation stepped communist organizer Fred Beal, a member of the radical, revolution-minded National Textile Workers Union (ntwu), an affiliate of the Communist Party of the United States of America's (cpusa's) Trade Union Unity League. In Gastonia Beal found a "disaffected workforce . . . itching for action." Though Gastonia workers may not have fully understood cpusa rhetoric, they responded enthusiastically to the call for action. Loray managers countered with the expeditious firing ofunion members . On ? April 1929 a mass meeting of Loray workers voted unanimously to strike, and in Beal's words, "obscure Gastonia [leapt] into the limelight." The narrative of the conflict that followed will be familiar to historians of the South. With the support of the red- and race-baiting Gastonia Gazette, antiunion Reviews 95 Gastonians supplemented the state's law-enforcement powers with the vigilante Committee of One Hundred. Marchers defying antipicketing injunctions were "punched, kicked, pricked with bayonets, and bashed with rifle butts." Long after the strike itselfwas defeated in a practical sense, ntwu members hung on and violence escalated over the summer. InJune a scuffle between police and strikers at union headquarters erupted into gunfire, and police chief Orville Aderholt was killed. Finally, in an armed confrontation with neighboring Bessemer City union members, vigilantes shot and killed organizer and balladeer Ella May Wiggins. In a series of notorious trials receiving international attention, the state of North Carolina acquitted all those accused ofWiggins's murder but imposed strict sentences on strikers accused of killing Aderholt. Salmond's narrative shows how the real issues of the strike quickly became subsumed in the fight between what North Carolina conservatives and the strident Gastonia Gazette defined as "Americanism" and the seemingly alien forces of international communism. The ntwu's unflinching commitment to racial equality, atheism, and international communism—ideals which had already alienated some of the textile workers —made the Union anathema to traditional southern authorities. Likewise, when the conflict shifted from the streets of Gastonia to the courts, the beliefs ofntwu leaders were put on trial as much as their actions. Exacerbating the situation, chronic disagreement over strategy between some leaders of the radical International Labor Defense (ild), the American Civil Liberties Union (aclu ), and liberal defense attorneys rendered the courtroom defense ofthe strikers less effective, ild leaders, who sought to use the witness stand as a "vehicle to 'propagate' Communist principles" repeatedly compromised the efforts of the defense attorneys, who sought above all to deflect questions of communism. In their initially lukewarm support of the strike and ideological rigidity, the communists, Salmond suggests, may have inadvertentiy sabotaged the local workers' cause. But, in agreement with historian Theodore Draper, Salmond explains that the communists' ideological rigidity and their insistence on using the witness stand as a vehicle to propagate communist principles even though doing so hurt the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 95-97
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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