Cecil and Mertie Jackson, unemployed textile workers.
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.
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. "
"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