In 1929, strikes began to break out at textile mills across the American South. The mill workers’ discontent stemmed from long hours at low pay, deplorable working conditions, and the general callousness with which they were treated by their employers. In the spring of ’29 a strike began in Elizabethton, TN followed by Greenville, SC and Gastonia, NC.
In May of that year, workers at Marion Manufacturing sought assistance from the United Textile Workers Union after they were ordered to work additional time each day without additional pay. In about a month, the union was strong enough in Marion to hold an open meeting at the county courthouse with employees from Marion Manufacturing and nearby Clinchfield Mill attending. Officers were chosen and soon the organization boasted several hundred members.
Differing opinions about the unionization of Marion’s textile mills tore families and the community apart. Tensions escalated through the summer and confrontations increased.
In the early morning of October 2, 1929, workers who had “walked out” and other workers picketing outside Marion Manufacturing soon found themselves in deadly conflict with the sheriff, six of his deputies, and seven anti-union employees who had been deputized on the spot. Tear gas was released and a flurry of shots followed. Three mill workers died immediately and three more died of their wounds over the coming days. Dozens of workers were wounded. The events at Marion Manufacturing became front page news across the country, and famed author and columnist Sinclair Lewis came to town to write about the situation.
In 2004, Mike Lawing published his book The Marion Massacre, the most comprehensive examination of the Marion events to date. The next year, Kim Clark and Ellen Pfirrmann of public radio WNCW produced “Strike”, a week-long series about the Marion strike largely based around Lawing’s work.
WNCW and its license holder Isothermal Community College have granted permission for all five segments of this program to be made available here:
Part One: Part Two: Part Three: Part Four: Part Five:
In segment 2 of “Strike”, we hear about the discovery of the union-related personal effects of Roy Price, an early organizer at Marion Manufacturing and the first president of the union. In the video below you can see many of these materials along with related photos and newspaper articles. The song that accompanies the images is “Cotton Dust” by The Carburetors, written by Jay Goree and used by permission. To hear a happier account of life in the Clinchfield Mill Village, listen to our interview with Mrs. Glenys Gilbert, lifelong Clinchfield resident, by clicking here.
An interview with Sam and Vesta Finley, union members at Marion Manufacturing during the strike, was conducted in 1975 by the Southern Oral History Project. A transcript is here.