"Like Fire in Broom Straw": Southern Journalism and the Textile Strikes of 1929-1931

"Like Fire in Broom Straw": Southern Journalism and the Textile Strikes of 1929-1931

"Like Fire in Broom Straw": Southern Journalism and the Textile Strikes of 1929-1931

"Like Fire in Broom Straw": Southern Journalism and the Textile Strikes of 1929-1931

Excerpt

‘Textile mill strikes flared up last week like fire in broom straw across the face of the industrial South,” Time magazine’s southern correspondent reported breathlessly in mid-April 1929. Time was reporting on a wave of labor unrest that began that month in Elizabethton, Tennessee; crested later in Marion and Gastonia, North Carolina; and climaxed in January 1931, in Danville, Virginia.

It was a bitter season. Writing from Marion, in October 1929, just after deputies had fired on a crowd of strikers, killing six of them, a New York Times reporter captured the region’s grim mood: “An atmosphere of veritable civil war pervades this community, with sullen, embittered mill workers, many of them assembled in groups at street corners throughout the town, pitted against the rest of the community, which, with few exceptions, seems to be dead set against the union organizers and the mill workers’ organizations.” The reporter continued:

[Labor union attorney D. F. Giles] impressed it upon Solicitor [J. Will] Pless that it would
be in the interest not only of what the union considers justice but also of the public peace that
some action be taken against the Sheriff and the others accused by the strikers if retaliatory
moves on the part of the union men are to be avoided. Such actions, he said, might well
mean the inauguration of a period of bloody guerrilla warfare against the officers of the law.

After reporting for months on North Carolina’s labor troubles, the Times editorialized: “Each new outrage … serves to reveal the extent of the social and economic warfare” raging in the Piedmont.

Just weeks earlier, in September, after an explosion of vigilante violence, the Greensboro Patriot grimly warned:

Where capital is willing to take an arbitrary stand, where labor is willing to take the law into
its hands, there can be expected a warfare of bitter words and cowardly strife. Both these
conditions exist in hundreds of southern manufacturing towns. Unless the state authorities
can arrange a system of immediate and effective arbitration, and unless public sentiment is

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