J.G. Krause and Wingate Interview

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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 GEORGE STONEY: All right, sir, tell us about your book.

J. G. KRAUSE: This is a book, I think it was my third or fourth book. The name, The Noble Experiment of Warren C. Coleman by J.K. Krause. It was published by the Crabtree Press in Charlotte, and --

GEORGE STONEY: Who was Mr. Coleman?

KRAUSE: Mr. Coleman was a black man who was a slave, but later on got his freedom and that he become very successful. He went to Howard University in Washington DC a year. He was a shrewd business man. He sold real estate in Concord and Cabarrus County. He promoted -- lent money to the black churches in 1:00Cabarrus County, quite a bit of money, and he also promoted a college -- Levinson College. He was run a store right in the center of Concord and the people came from all over the county to do business with him. And one old fella came there, they run a harness shop over near Mount Pleasant. He say he always come in to see Mr. Warren C. Coleman to hear his jokes and to listen to his keen business sense, and said Mr. Coleman was such a smart man that he could climb up a tree naked and come down with a good suit of clothes on. So that’s to describe Mr. Warren C. Coleman. Best I know he was a shrewd man.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about his work with the cotton mill.

KRAUSE: Well, all I know about 19-- I think it was in the last century, about 2:0019-- it’d be 1898, he decided that he would build a cotton mill to employ only colored help and which he did. He had some help from up North and but he created this mill sole stock and he had the backing of Duke University, people that organized Duke University, some of that group. And so he operated the mill and did a pretty good job until his death. Then when he died he didn’t have a will so his property was sold by the Means family in Concord and it was put on the market all at once and didn’t get the proper value. He’s buried over there 3:00at the old Brown Mill cemetery for the colored people.

GEORGE STONEY: What happened to that mill?

KRAUSE: Oh, Mr. Judd -- William Cannon, imagine, Mr. Cannon -- J.W. Cannon bought that mill after it was closed down at a public sale. That’s where Cannon got it. Bought it but at the time being he worked more or less with the Cannon influence, you know, I think, but he had backing all over America.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, did -- when Cannon bought it, did the coloreds continue to work in the mill?

KRAUSE: Oh, yeah, I got a picture here. Yes, I got the pictures here where it was strictly all colored ’cause it was a colored mill. They worked a lot -- they still -- I guess they still work a lot of colored people. I’ve got the deed in here in this book.

GEORGE STONEY: Now we understand that we’re -- from everywhere we’ve been 4:00that only in terms of blacks, they only worked in the yard or they worked in the picket room -- I mean the picking out room, but they couldn’t work anywhere else in the mill and this is the first time we’ve heard about colored people working anywhere else in the mill.

KRAUSE: Well, in my mind this particular Warren Coleman I’d say they worked anywhere they wanted to. He’d bring in expert supervisors, quite a few from up North and anywhere else he get, but I wouldn’t say that didn't they could work anywhere they wanted to work. There’s pictures in this book. You must read this book where it says around this book now to get your opinion on Warren C. Coleman.

GEORGE STONEY: Now finally, could you tell us looking back, way back to the 1920s, could you describe the change you see, the difference between this community now and when you first came here.

5:00

KRAUSE: Well, that would be very difficult for me to try to describe. I’ve lived here for 70-some years. But all I know is that period of 1920 they only paid $2 an hour for -- $2 a day for wages and the wages were low. But as time has come it increased all along. So I wouldn’t be critical of that. It just seemed like the events or the conditions as a country has went from $2 on up to the present level. Mr. Rainer will be glad to give you that.

GEORGE STONEY: From your perspective, we’ll ask him in just a minute, what is -- what do you say is the big difference in terms of living in this town now?

KRAUSE: Well, I’ll tell you the truth, there’s always been a group here that worked in Cannon Mills but owned their own property, and I happened to be one that owned my own property 25 - 30 -- 30-something years ago. So, I went ahead 6:00and bought property outside of Cannon Mills, but there wasn’t no conflict, you buy anywhere you want to. Mr. Cannon didn’t try to tell you where to buy land. So I bought land and I’ve always lived in my own home here. I’ve been here 25 years. So, I’m from Davey Cannon, which is very independent people and we don’t take anything from anybody. (laughs) That’s about it.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, that’s -- I know how the people from Yatkin and for some --

KRAUSE: Well, Davey’s the same way. We’re under the present time, I don’t know. So, we just -- we do what -- we may listen, but we don’t take the point of view. That’s about all I know to tell you. Let Mr. Wingate do some.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Thank you very much.

(break in audio)

JAMIE STONEY: We have speed.

7:00

GEORGE STONEY: All right, sir. Could you tell me what this town looked like when you first came here and tell me when you came here?

WINGATE: I first came to Kannapolis in 1934. I was fresh out of school and came to help the publisher of the newspaper who wanted to go back to college, and I was to take his place for a few months. Main Street was the only business section we had, just a few stores, none of them very pretty. The residential section extended up to the Baptist church which was there then and still there.

GEORGE STONEY: How many people in the mill at that time?

WINGATE: I’m not sure how many, just how many people were in the mill at that 8:00time. As well as I remember they employed about eight or nine thousand in the chain -- the -- Kannapolis was the headquarters for the Cannon chain and they had mills in other towns surrounding here and a couple mills in South Carolina at that time.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, that was a pretty exciting year. Could you talk about that year at Kannapolis?

WINGATE: Well, did I say ’34? I meant ’35. I came here right after the -- the big union push in the textile industry. In fact I was in the National Guard at that time and was on strike duty at Shelby and Kings Mountain before I came up here I got the -- in fact, I got the call from Mr. Brody Griffin in Charlotte 9:00that they needed somebody up here, and he got me out of the Guard a few days early so I could come to work.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell us about being in the Guard on that duty?

WINGATE: It was -- it was nasty.

GEORGE STONEY: The guard duty.

WINGATE: The guard duty at that time was -- it was tense. They’d had some trouble at a strike in Gastonia. The police chief had been killed and some other people hurt and there was a lot of ill feeling. That’s the reason the National Guard was there. And one reason I don’t care (break in audio) -- I’m a slow talker anyway.

GEORGE STONEY: All right, so could you tell us about being in saying, “Well, I 10:00was in the National Guard” and then go ahead from there and give us dates, OK?

WINGATE: I was in the National Guard in 1934 and my unit happened to be called for strike duty because of troubles they were having in Gastonia and Shelby and Kings Mountain and that area. We were assigned to Shelby. My -- we were heckled and spit on and had rocks thrown at us and things like that. In the course of looking after the -- trying to preserve order, the mill company’s unions -- they were on strike at that time. They tell me that those -- the unions sent what they called flying squadrons in to towns like Kannapolis and other places that were not unionized in an effort to get more members of course. In 11:00Kannapolis, I was told, there was one company of National Guard people that were brought in. They deputized a lot of other people for special guard duty and the so-called flying squadrons came through Kannapolis, but none of them ever stopped. So that Kannapolis was not organized at that time and continued to work, what work there was. The Cannon people tried to work even during the Depression. They w arehoused a lot of goods just to give people one or two days 12:00a week work even when the materials weren’t selling.

GEORGE STONEY: We’ve heard a lot about that, and so we’d like to get a little -- just a tighT thing. Just say, “Well, Mr. Cannon spread out the work when the mills had to go short time.” Could you tell about that?

WINGATE: Yeah, during the Depression, and there wasn’t much work available, and Mr. Cannon spread out the work to give people a few days work a week rather than not have any income at all.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, could you go -- just remember when you were in Shelby, did you say, on the National Guard duty?

WINGATE: I was in Shelby for a short time and Kings Mountain, yes, sir, and while I was on strike duty.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you tell us anymore about that? What are your memories of it?

13:00

WINGATE: Of the -- my memories of the strike duty are kind of -- kind of jumbled. In the first place I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t have a job either and when I got out of college, and me and some of my friends joined the Guard just to get a few dollars, and we were not military people, we just wore the uniform, and we were assigned to various places to keep order they said. I remember the main incident that sticks out in my mind is there was a rumor came that they were going to -- the union people were going to attack a mill in the 14:00outskirts of Shelby and we were assigned to guard the -- a portion of the mill. Our unit was lined up on one side of the road with rifles that had no ammunition, and the union people and the agitators paraded down the other side of the road, and they of course called us a lot of bad names and threw rocks and spit, but they didn’t -- there was no actual conflict, no -- at that particular time.

GEORGE STONEY: Could you describe -- I understand that there were a lot of women in that -- among the protestors. Could you talk about that?

15:00

WINGATE: Well, one thing I noticed that apparently there were half the crowd was women, I would say. I’m guessing. I didn’t pay much attention to that angle of it.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, we have some pictures from Shelby and two or three other places -- unfortunately, I don’t have them with me -- of these young women talking with the troops, and yet we’ve had some other people say we had orders not to do it. Could you talk about that?

WINGATE: Well, as far as the troops and the civilians there fraternizing, it was not -- it was ordered not to be done, but it was done. I personally wasn’t so lucky.

GEORGE STONEY: (laughs) That’s great ’cause we can cut right to you to a 16:00National Guardsman holding a picture of his wife he got -- he married from Cooleemee.

WINGATE: But I wasn’t married at that time.

GEORGE STONEY: Oh, that’s good. Good stuff, oh, yes. Now tell us about the kind of tenor of the time of the town when you came in after that here in ’35.

WINGATE: When I came to Kannapolis, of course I was a stranger and I didn’t know -- I knew very few people. The main topic of conversation at that time was the textile strike and the effort to unionize Kannapolis, the Cannon Mills, but in my group the most of the conversation centered around the funny things that 17:00happened. One of our, the Guard people, for instance, was guarding a water tower at plant four, and he heard a noise and got excited and let off -- fired off a shot and he hit the water tower. So, that messed up their sleeping plans for the night.

GEORGE STONEY: Sir, could you tell us about the training you got for that strike duty?

WINGATE: As far as training for strike duty goes, we weren’t trained for strike duty. We were in a -- I was in an engineering unit and we received the standard Army training, which did not include the crowd control or anything. The 18:00only instruction we got was -- when we got an assignment our officers told us where to go and what to do when we got there. We were instructed -- we were not issued ammunition and we were instructed not to answer any insults or anything that was thrown at us during the time.

GEORGE STONEY: That must have been hard.

WINGATE: Just to make a show was our duty -- unspoken duty, I think, was to show the uniform.

GEORGE STONEY: Did you ever meet any of the mill management people or the sheriffs or all of that? Were you making common cause with them or was the Guard separate?

WINGATE: Well, I was a private so I didn’t have contact with any of the 19:00civilian bosses or law enforcement people -- not directly.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, you use the term deputized, I think, before. Could you talk about that activity?

WINGATE: Well, the sheriff’s department in Cabarrus County was also the law enforcement agent for Kannapolis. Kannapolis was unincorporated and the sheriff’s office took care of the law enforcement in this area. The main thing that the mill wanted, from what I hear, was to keep order and to protect their 20:00property, and the sheriff deputized a large number of people just to act during that period. They directed traffic and kept people moving and things like that. They were not armed so far as I know.

GEORGE STONEY: And you didn’t see them being armed?

WINGATE: No, I wasn’t here.

GEORGE STONEY: Here, I’m sorry, yeah.

WINGATE: What I’m telling you about, the 1934 things is hearsay. I was not here.

GEORGE STONEY: No, I understand. Now, one -- two other things. One, in all of the movies we’ve seen -- almost all of them -- the National Guard has their rifles with the bayonets on them. Could you explain that?

21:00

WINGATE: I don’t remember whether our unit used bayonets or not. I know we didn’t use them. I’m not sure that we put them on our rifles. I just can’t -- I don’t remember that detail.

GEORGE STONEY: Let’s stop just a moment here. The reason I’m asking because, I mean, most of the time where you were it was peaceful and so forth. You could tell about that.

WINGATE: We’re not recording now?

GEORGE STONEY: No, we can hold it. Those big fights. All right, sir.

WINGATE: Well, about the -- what I call strike duty -- there was really a lot of -- a lot of waiting and very little action if you can call what we did action. 22:00Most of our time was spent playing poker or doing the routine guard duty on our -- at our own encampment. At one time we were encamped in a school building and I remember one night I was on guard duty and it was three hours on and one off, or something like that, and all of us who were all for playing poker, and so we played poker all night. But it was -- and it was mostly something like that and just being there was a -- was boring and we kept waiting for something to happen 23:00and nothing -- nothing ever happened. The biggest thing that happened was to us -- was the march down by the mill and we were armed spectators.

GEORGE STONEY: Do you remember the name Cole Christopher?

WINGATE: No I don’t.

GEORGE STONEY: No reason why you should. He just happened to be a big leader of the union in Shelby. I just wondered if you happened to know him.

WINAGTE: No.

GEORGE STONEY: No, OK. OK, finally, could you tell us something about the nature of the town when you came here, I mean, if it was a company town and then compare it with now. I know that’s a big jump, but when you came here it had one kind of feeling. Now it has another kind of feeling. That’s the thing we want to get and you as a newspaper -- you might identify yourself as your -- 24:00what -- you’re a retired newspaper editor so that we know what that opinion’s coming from. For example, let’s say, well -- let’s try it. All right, sir?

WINGATE: OK. Well, as far as change goes in Kannapolis, it came -- I watched it all of course as a newspaper man, but it was -- it came so gradually that it’s hard to make a -- hard to make a contrast at the -- when I first came here it was a -- the town, of course, was a lot smaller than it is now. The only -- the main dwellings were owned by the Cannon Company and rented to the workers. The business section consisted of four or five stores on Main Street. Now the 25:00business section is four or five streets including one shopping mall. They’re actually now -- there are actually more houses owned by the occupants than there are rental housing owned by anybody here, which was a complete changeover. When I came the sanitary facilities, the sewer and water supplies were furnished by Cannon Mills and only to Cannon Mills houses. That is -- that is been changed -- was changed when Kannapolis sanitary district went into -- came into being. It 26:00was -- at the time it was set up it was the largest sanitary district east o f the Mississippi serving about 20,000 people. That was a -- really, I guess, you could say the first step toward incorporation of the town. It was -- the town was not incorporated, but the sanitary district served that purpose at least for sanitary reasons. Attitudes have changed. When I came it was strictly a Democratic town. Everybody belonged to the Democrat party. Now it’s gone republican for the last four or five elections, much to my regret. Can I get 27:00that in there?

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah. (laughs)

WINGATE: And we now have a Chamber of Commerce. When I first came here and for many, many years afterwards there were no -- was no Chamber of Commerce. The newspaper got all the Chamber of Commerce-type inquiries and requests.

GEORGE STONEY: Speaking of that, we’re interviewing a -- and I just couldn’t put that together. Could you talk about that?

WINGATE: I’ve heard that people say that Cannon discouraged other industries from coming in, but I don’t know what he did, and I never saw any overt action 28:00that would have indicated that he was doing that. I think if I was in his position, I wouldn’t encourage somebody to come in and dilute my labor force. But I do not know his attitude, and I saw no overt actions that would indicate he actively fought it.

GEORGE STONEY: And finally, did the Cannon Company control the media here?

WINGATE: No, no. I was personally --

GEORGE STONEY: Could you put that in a complete sentence? The Cannon Company did not.

WINGATE: The Cannon Company did not control the media here. For a long time 29:00there was no media except the newspaper. Now they have three or four newspapers and at least two radio stations here. I was personally acquainted with Mr. Charles Cannon. I didn’t know J.W., his father, but Mr. Cannon was very opinionated, if that’s a word, and he stuck by his beliefs, but he never once told me what to put in the paper or what not to put in the paper. In fact, my -- I did not come here as publisher of the paper. I came here as an employee and remained an employee. But the man who published it, James L. Moore, was the 30:00owner and we were very close and one time there was a movement to -- it was a movement to rebuild the Cabarrus County courthouse. This was many, many years ago, and the independent after our paper jumped into that by --