Cecil and Mertie Jackson
May 23, 1937

Cecil and Mertie Jackson, unemployed textile workers.

Gastonia, N.C.

Tim Stallmann and Ken Knoy, Writers

        Cecil and Mertie Jackson live together in Gastonia on a small farm. Normally the house is filled with the rest of their relatives, but when I came, it was ten on a Sunday morning, and everyone else was at church. I had arranged with the Jackson's to meet with them on Sunday, because that was the only time they weren't out looking for jobs. They were living in a large farmhouse that belongs to Mertie's mother. The farmhouse was painted off-white with wood grain shutters that looked like they had not been varnished. Looking like they hadn't been cleaned in a while, the windows were covered with dirt and mold. The room that we were in had some old family pictures hanging on the walls. In the corner on pegs, hung an old double-barreled shotgun that looked like a family heirloom. Mertie and Cecil were sitting on an old sofa that said "Property of Loray Mill, Gastonia," that looked like it had been taken from a house in the mill village. Cecil asked me if I had a cigarette that he could have. I gave him one from a pack I always keep in my pocket. I don't smoke, but I find that a cigarette loosens up someone that I'm interviewing.
Picture of a Mill
        Cecil took a long drag from his cigarette, and proceeded to begin with his story. "I was born in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1906. My mother's maiden name was Blanch Martha Gibson. My father's name was Andrew Jackson. He worked at a mill in Gastonia all of his life. When he was 40, he expected the mill to fire him because he was too old, but because of World War I, times were good, and wages had gone up. The manager of the mill told my dad that he could keep working at Loray Mill for $12 a week, if he could keep the same workload. When I was born, my family worried whether my mom could still take care of me and work at the same time. See, the mill said that for a family to live in its mill village, one person per room lived in had to work in the mill. Pretty ridiculous, don't you think? But it worked out okay because my mother didn't have too much work, so she could take breaks and check on me. Ever since I was a young boy, I learned to work the looms. I must have worked them all. I got a job at Loray Mill when I was 20. When I finally started working, things weren't as good as when my father worked there. The big boom from WWI was over, and now the factory was making fabric for car tires. When I started working, in 1925 (I lied about my age since my family needed the money), I was making 30-35 dollars a week, working 6-8 looms. In 1927, the mill hired a new manager. His name was G.A. Johnstone. He fired 1300 of the workers that were there and reduced the remaining women's wages. After he came I had to run 10-12 looms at 10-15 dollars a week. We were tired of all the stretchouts, so we started protesting."
        He started to chuckle. "One time, some of my friends carried a coffin with a dummy of our manager in it. Every so often, he would stand up and say 'How many people are carrying this thing?' and they'd say 'Eight.' So then, and this is the funny part, he would say 'Lay off 2, six can do the work!' But that didn't convince anything to change. Finally, Johnstone was fired, but those dam' mill owners just replaced him with another stupid manager. More work, less pay. Oh well, at least they still payed us. I guess the mill manager remembered that all work and no pay makes Jack a dull boy. So all of us workers got pretty darn mad at the mill management. So we decided to join a union. "

        "The union was called the NTWU, or National Textile Workers Union. It was 1929, and we were just going about our business, when suddenly, out of the blue, comes this New York yankee on a motorcycle. He said his name was Fred Beal, and that he was here to organize us workers. So, on March 30, this wee, frail little girl, named Nellie Dawson made a speech. 'What about the stretch-out?' she said 'How about God and the bathtubs?' Just so you know, she was talking about what our preacher said a couple of months ago. He said that God didn't like to take baths, so bathtubs were not needed in millhouses. The nerve of him!"
       "So we decided to strike, and we struck. The mill owners called us commie's, but we didn't want to change the government, we just wanted more money for our work. Oh, there was a lot of violence and all, but luckily I was spared. I finally got a job as a guard for the union management. One evening, I think it was June 7th, some policemen came up to the headquarters, and told us to move aside. One of my buddies asked him if he had a search warrant, but he said he didn't need one. He looked kind of drunk to me. Anyway, the policemen tried to take our weapons, and when we refused, they fired on us. I was hit in the arm in the first couple of shots, and they started it, but when it was all over, they destroyed the tent village where we were living, and arrested about 80 of us. Our lawyer, Mr. Jimison, filed some sort of legal document. Habeas Corpus, he called it. Anyway, it meant that they had to have a hearing early, so they did, and about half of us were released, finally."
        "Of course, we were all fired for striking. Oh, we tried complaining to the courts, but in Gastonia, the mill owners owned the courts. They just argued that I was disabled, so I couldn't work, even though I only have a little trouble with my arm. And Cecil, well, they were getting rid of the women's jobs anyway, so they didn't have to have a reason."
        "We went to live with our grandparents. They own their own farm, so we can live ok here. I heard from some of my old friends from the mill that some government agency called the NRA made them raise the wages and make working conditions better, but then they had another strike. Those people are so stupid, they just got themselves fired!"
        I thanked Mr. Jackson for his time. I would have asked more questions, but I've gotta get home to the office. As I walked out, I saw the rest of their family arriving. I don't know how that many people live in one house, but I guess in these times people have to have a roof over their heads.

This Page Was Created By:

Tim Stallmann and Ken Knoy
You can email us at:
Tim Stallmann- fenris@geocities.com
Ken Knoy-        k2taboo@aol.com

Pictures and Information from:

"American Memories Collection." Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/

Salmond, John. Gastonia 1929: The Story of the Loray Mill Strike. Chapel Hill: UNC Press

Last Updated on May 21, 1998

For questions or comments for the facilitators contact Deborah Pendleton or Jackie Brooks.
Ligon GT Magnet Middle School
706 East Lenoir Street
Raleigh, NC  27615
(919) 856-7929 (Main Number)
(919) 856-7935 (Media Center)
(919) 856-7939 (VM)(919) 856-3745 (FAX)