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The Loray Mill was organized in 1900 with an initial capital investment of $1 million. Upon completion, the mill building, five stories tall and over a half-million square feet, was reportedly the largest factory under one roof in the world. Due to the size of the mill the United Textile Workers of America targeted it for organization. A local was formed in 1919 and the first strike called. The dispute was settled within weeks and labor-management relations remained good through an ownership change in 1923. Soon the situation changed. The Manville-Jenckes Company of Rhode Island initially caused resentment when they erected a high fence around the plant. By the late 1920s the new owners had increased the capital to $39 million and, consequently, pressed for greater productivity. Workers began a walkout on March 30, 1929, and a general strike was called on April 1. Gov. O. Max Gardner dispatched the National Guard to Gastonia on April 4.
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The National Textile Workers Union, widely acknowledged to be under Communist influence, exploited the situation by sending activist Fred Beal and others to Gastonia. “North Carolina is the key to the South, Gaston County is the key to North Carolina, and the Loray Mill is the key to Gaston County,” they argued. The union launched a massive publicity and organizing campaign. The strike drew wide news coverage and the attention of nationally prominent writers such as Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos, and Sinclair Lewis.
The strike dragged on through the summer and fall of 1929. Moderate labor leaders denounced the NTWU and some workers returned to the job. Still, violent incidents increased. O. F. Aderholdt, Gastonia’s chief of police, was shot and killed in June. Ella May Wiggins, ballad singer and union sympathizer, was killed in September. Beal and several fellow Communists were convicted of Aderholdt’s murder, but there were no convictions for the assaults on union backers. The strike and associated violence dealt a setback to union efforts, bolstering anti-union sentiment both locally and, owing to the wide press coverage, across the state and region. The building was owned from 1932 to 1992 by the Firestone Corporation, producer of tire yarns. Preservation North Carolina since has acquired the property and is working with an investor to convert the old mill to residential use.
John A. Salmond, Gastonia 1929: The Story of the Loray Mill Strike (1995)
Brent D. Glass, The Textile Industry in North Carolina: A History (1992)
Liston Pope, Millhands and Preachers: A Study of Gastonia (1942)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)—essay by Brent D. Glass and Michael Hill