A Fabric of Defeat: The Politics of South Carolina Millhands, 1910-1948

By Bryant Simon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Searching for Answers to the Great Depression

Blumer Hendrix lived in Prosperity, South Carolina. After her husband lost his job, the family had no money for food, clothes, or a weekly church offering. Adding to their trials, Hendrix had just had a baby. She named him after Olin Johnston. In exchange for this tribute, she told the millhand- turned-politician, "I am expecting a big present." She addressed her letter, "Dear Olion Johnston." 1

Soon after G. L. Ridger and his son were fired by the Marlboro Cotton Mills, their backs started to ache. Later, after their mouths began to throb, they broke out in a deep red rash on their hands, feet, and faces. Following a bad case of diarrhea, Ridger went to see a doctor, who asked about the family diet, only to learn that they subsisted on fatback, cornmeal, and molasses, two, sometimes three, times a day. The physician told Ridger that he had pellagra, a classic hard-times disease, and instructed him to eat fresh meat, green vegetables, and eggs. The unemployed millworker said he had no money for these items. There was nothing the doctor could do. 2

W. H. Riddle lost his job at the Ware Shoals Manufacturing Company after the 1929 strikes. For months he searched for work, wearing out his only pair of shoes before he found a new job. Struggling to support his family of five, he exhausted his savings and tapped every available source of credit. By winter, he reported that there was "no relief in sight." Despite having "always been honest hard working and law abidin'," Riddle lamented, "[m]y family is almost on starvation." Desperate, he determined that "It would be a fine time for me to blow my brains out if I knew my wife could collect my insurance." 3

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