Robert Ragan Interview 1

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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ROBERT RAGAN: At that time. So you can (inaudible).

JAMIE STONEY: [Thirty?].

(break in audio)

RAGAN: In the body of the old central school in Gastonia, it has to be either 1912, ’13, or ’14, because the school building burned down, this particular one, in 1914. But this is my father, with the cap on his knee and his arms on these other two boys, that’s Caldwell Ragan. The only other one I know for sure, this is his buddy Charlton Torrence, T-O-R-R-E-N-C-E, who was also a textile manufacturer, and they went to school at Georgia Tech together. And somewhere, Earl McClane, another textile family, is in here. Uh, I don’t have a list of who the others are, or who the teacher is, or anything like -- but I -- I know that some of these were mill workers as -- as well as uh, mill 1:00management in later years. You’ll notice this one guy doesn’t even have shoes on here. That one guy looks pretty tough here with the stick.

GEORGE STONEY: OK, now Jamie, uh, see if there’s some way we can lie that flat, because we’re getting --

(break in video)

JUDTIH HELFAND: Uh, I wonder if, just to elaborate, if you could tell me about, um, you know, who’s who. If you just get a sense from the way they’re dressed.

RAGAN: (inaudible).

HELFAND: Families they come from there.

RAGAN: Well I don’t have my -- I don’t know who, other than the ones that I mentioned, of who they are.

HELFAND: But you could -- could you ascertain?

RAGAN: I really, really don’t. I think somebody told me that one of these guys in the back was a cousin, Alonzo Ragan. Uh, I’ve had an aunt to tell who some of the girls were, and some, you know, if you gave me an hour to look, I could find a little list that I have, and we may still run into it. The only thing I can -- you know, I can’t even tell who are mill workers and who are 2:00mill owners children at this time. Some of the children do have ties on, most of them have shoes, this guy doesn’t even have shoes. This guy looks like he’s been in the same grade for a number of years. So, the only ones I know for sure are Caldwell Ragan, and Carlton Torrance, and one of the guys is Earl McClane. Maybe this one.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. We’ll get it, Jamie.

RAGAN: We can come back to that (inaudible).

GEORGE STONEY: (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) get it flat.

(break in video)

RAGAN: Here’s something very small, I have a large blow up of it, but I cannot put my hand on it. These are three photographs of the day of the general strike, and this is a picture of the group going into the Ragan Spinning Company. This one you see a little bit more of the mill, and the water tower, and the smokestack, and going across the lawn at the end, this is actually going in the door at the time they were tearing up some of the yarn on the machinery 3:00in the mills. I don’t know whether I can hold that any --

(break in video)

GEORGE STONEY: OK, that’s nice. Who took these photographs?

RAGAN: I don’t know. I never asked that question. Somebody who was obviously there that day.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

RAGAN: (inaudible).

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Move onto the next one.

RAGAN: The eye witness that I had, other than my father, was Mr. Boris Brookshire, from Charlotte, he was the mayor’s brother, and they were in the textile supply business, and he was there that day, said he saw everything that was going on.

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

(break in video)

RAGAN: If I can get a better one.

(break in video)

RAGAN: This --

GEORGE STONEY: Oh, that’s the mill. I’m --

RAGAN: The mill right here, the Ragan Spinning Company, located on the Southern 4:00Railway, near Bessemer City. This -- this -- yeah, one -- the photograph at the end of the mill is right here, out in the yard, and the other is somewhere over at -- they were coming up the Ragan Mill Road, which is right here, and coming into -- this is the --

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible) Jamie, that’s nice, OK?

RAGAN: This is the mill pond right here, that’s a little guard house, these are -- the office was in this part. The mill office. These are warehouses, and the village and church and things were back down here.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. That’s fine. OK.

(break in video)

GEORGE STONEY: Show him going through this, uh, uh, just --

RAGAN: This is an interview in 1941 with somebody who just -- he was a sweeper, just worked in the mill, I don’t know if that has any interest to you or not.

(break in video)

RAGAN: Frank Conrad, operated the first [walk?] machine when but a boy, 5:00[Linton?] was first superintendent, Ragan community and prosperous village, I don’t know if that has any interest or not.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Now the one other thing, Jamie, let’s get those things flat. Then I think we’re through here.

(break in video)

RAGAN: It’s in US history. It was, during its day, a real growth area. Even though, you know, today, you think of textiles is low growth, but it was putting people by the thousands to work. Some of these things are beginning to -- yeah, 6:00so are we out -- oh, I thought y’all were getting set up.

GEORGE STONEY: No, he’s just -- he’s getting close shots (inaudible).

RAGAN: Oh, OK.

(break in video)

RAGAN: Labor Day (inaudible).

M1: Got a (inaudible).

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible) how does it look?

M1: It matches.

GEORGE STONEY: And it indicated the paragraphs we’re reading.

JAMIE STONEY: Yeah where -- where are the ones you were quoting from? The paragraphs.

RAGAN: Uh, the one about the strike -- the general strike, yeah, this is the one, October the 15th, 1934.

GEORGE STONEY: Oh, hold it just a moment. All right.

RAGAN: Here, this one.

GEORGE STONEY: Just focus.

7:00

RAGAN: And the headlines ought to tell what the whole thing’s about. I wish we had more headlines on the papers now, then you wouldn’t have to read the whole article.

JAMIE STONEY: You haven’t read USA Today.

RAGAN: No. (laughter)

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible).

GEORGE STONEY: Jamie, you think that’s going to be steady enough? I think you ought to get (inaudible).

JAMIE STONEY: Well, I --

(break in video)

RAGAN: Uh, they had a -- has a 1910 picture of the employees at the Arlington mill. And here, that’s the courthouse, which is still there, (inaudible) today. That was the old depot. That’s -- that’s the school that --

GEORGE STONEY: Mm-hmm. (break invideo) Yeah, about that Inman Mill. It’s still completely family-owned. It seems to be. They haven’t -- how do you 8:00think they’ve managed to survive as a family business?

RAGAN: I don’t know that much about (inaudible) was just a very, very big, and very prominent and...

GEORGE STONEY: Because the mill isn’t all that big. Of course, (inaudible).

RAGAN: (inaudible) there.

GEORGE STONEY: They’ve got a whole new section of (inaudible).

RAGAN: Can you tell the resemblance, even at the different ages? That the --

GEORGE STONEY: Yes.

RAGAN: -- (inaudible) was stockier there.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah.

RAGAN: Well, I just can’t -- there’s just (inaudible). Four, five. (pause) 9:00I think this is the one I was talking about, 1915. And that’s Jake Gray’s sister, the one that I mentioned.

GEORGE STONEY: Mm-hmm.

RAGAN: And several of that family, maybe it wasn’t Jake, Joe C. Park, OK, that was the guy that ran the Gray mills, that was Jake Gray’s sister and his uncle. Excuse me, and his cousin, little Joe C. Park. And now, so that’s the one I was talking about. It’s the same school, the same situation, but a little later here.

GEORGE STONEY: It’s interesting, the -- the class division in schools seemed to come in the ’20s. You know, where they had the mill schools, and the -- 10:00the (overlapping dialogue; inaudible).

RAGAN: Well now, they were mill schools, but they’ve -- I don’t know how to explain that, but still, mill children went to the -- well I guess wherever you lived the closest.

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah. I know (overlapping dialogue; inaudible). I went to a school in uh, Salem. Winston-Salem. And we had a very mixed, uh --

RAGAN: The Arlington had its own school, right from the very beginning, out there. But it was just the people that lived in that area, see, some of the mills were right downtown, four or five of them.

GEORGE STONEY: But the -- now, and we all went to RJR High School, now there are different high schools, very definitely class-oriented. And -- I never knew that when I was in school.

(break in video)

JAMIE STONEY: But they had it in one of the museums.

11:00

GEORGE STONEY: But this -- this fellow was so interested in that, he’d studied at night, he had old books, all of this. And I told you about the small exhibition we found over at Columbus. But that’s -- that’s a --

RAGAN: Yeah.

GEORGE STONEY: -- no, it’s just a gesture.

RAGAN: Right.

GEORGE STONEY: He’s going to have to go to New England, I think.

HELFAND: I know (inaudible) are they going to put together a textile exhibit at the Gadsden County Museum, they’re planning it right now, so I gave them Fred Fussell.

GEORGE STONEY: Mm-hmm.

HELFAND: I guess you’re part of that, (inaudible).

RAGAN: What?

HELFAND: The textile exhibit that (inaudible) was telling me about, that they were (inaudible).

RAGAN: Oh I’m the main -- uh, I mean I’m the main person that fusses at them all the time, but that was one of the reasons, the museum, we found, is the museum, and here we are 10 years, 11 years later, and we still really don’t have what I consider to be a permanent exhibit. And -- but now, when the carriage house is completed, we’ll have all that space that’s now used for the carriage house for the textile museum. And know (inaudible) things on.

12:00

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible) OK.

RAGAN: That’s one less thing.

HELFAND: Mr. Ragan, do you have a (inaudible) phone book so I could look up an address that Jamie needs?

RAGAN: Here, sit down right in that chair there, you’ll see on the --

(break in video)

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible) when you’re ready. Walk around (inaudible).

RAGAN: The um, finishing talking about our story, the day -- that day in 13:00September, 1934, following the uh, flying squadron strike at the uh, Ragan Spinning Company, my father came to this place, the courthouse of Gadsden County, to have deputies sworn in, and uh, I -- that was done here in this building, on uh, South Street in downtown, and immediately after the swearing in, they walked right straight across the street to the Standard Hardware building, which is this three-story building here, and they purchased shotgun shells and any other ammunition that they needed at that time, and that’s basically what happened here and in downtown Gastonia.

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible) hold it just a minute.

RAGAN: OK.

GEORGE STONEY: Go back (inaudible).

RAGAN: Go back in?

GEORGE STONEY: Yeah. (inaudible).

(break in video)

RAGAN: He’s getting ready to motion, he’s not quite ready.

14:00

(break in video)

RAGAN: Hmm.

HELFAND: (inaudible).

RAGAN: This is the uh, Gadsden County courthouse, on South Street in downtown Gastonia. And it was here in September, 1934, that my father came on that day after the general strike, uh, at the Ragan Spinning Company, to have several deputies sworn in, uh, as official deputies for Gadsden County, for protection of the mill property. It was done in this building, the courthouse, and then 15:00immediately after the -- these farmers were sworn in, they walked across the street, across South Street, to the Standard Hardware building, which is this three-story building directly across from the uh, courthouse. And it was here that they got shotgun shells and other ammunition that -- that one would, uh, need, in -- in protecting property. And it was outside of the courthouse on their way in, and on their way out, where unemployed workers standing somewhere down here --

(break in video)

RAGAN: We are on the location of Gadsden County courthouse, which is the same courthouse that we had in 1934. It was at this location in September of 1934 when uh, my father came downtown, uh, to the courthouse here on South Street, 16:00and brought several local farmers who lived near the Ragan Mill to have them deputized, and they were deputized here in the courthouse building, and immediately thereafter they went across the street here to what was then the Standard Hardware building for shotgun shells, and uh, other types of ammunition that they thought that they needed for adequate protection, and on the grounds down here, outside of the courthouse, were unemployed mill workers at that time, and of course, we were in a depression, and uh, had been in a depression for a good while, and uh, there were some, uh, epithets called out, and some things that were said to these men, including my father, who had come to -- to do this thing. And so, that’s basically the way it -- it was at that time.

(break in video)

JAMIE STONEY: OK.

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible).

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible).

(break in video)

17:00

RAGAN: After being deputized, my father and the newly qualified --

(break in video)

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible). Turn a little more away from me. That’s it. OK.

RAGAN: Right. After being deputized here in the courthouse, uh, my father and the newly qualified deputies went across the street here to the Standard Hardware, which is the same building we see today, and it was there that they got their shotgun shells and other ammunition that they needed to adequately protect the mills and the villages. And when they were doing all of this, they were standing outside of quite a number of unemployed textile mill workers, it was during the Depression and quite a number of very strong epithets were thrown at my father and the other deputies, because they were doing what they thought was right, in keeping the uh, people employed and protecting the mills, and 18:00basically that’s uh, what happened here in 1934.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. OK.

(break in video)

GEORGE STONEY: All right.

JAMIE STONEY: When you’re ready.

RAGAN: This is the Gadsden County courthouse here, the same courthouse that was here in 1934. And it was here at that time that my father cut -- cut -- I’m sorry, we -- I’m -- don’t go through that, I just -- I’m sorry.

GEORGE STONEY: I know.

RAGAN: I’m going only to the Standard Hardware part.

GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible). I know.

RAGAN: OK, we -- (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) my lead, what -- how did I, wait a minute, wait a minute. What -- how --

(break in video)

JAMIE STONEY: When you’re ready.

RAGAN: After being deputized here at the courthouse, my father and the newly qualified uh, deputies, walked directly across the street to the Standard 19:00Hardware building, which is this cream-color, three-story building behind me. Uh, and it was there that they obtained their shotgun shells, and other ammunition that they thought they needed to adequately protect the mill, and the mill village, and its employees. While both coming in and going across the street, right down in front of the courthouse, were quite a number of unemployed textile mill workers. After all, it was during the Depression and many of the mills here were closed. Uh, they were probably angry, there were quite a number of strong epithets thrown at my father and the other people involved. And quite some strong language was used, and uh, but everybody was doing what they thought they should do, and it was here that this event happened in 1934.

(break in audio)

20:00

[Silence]

21:00

[Silence]

22:00

[Silence]

RAGAN: We are out in the uh --

JAMIE STONEY: Wait.

23:00

RAGAN: We’re in the Ragan Mill village, outside of uh, between Gastonia and Bessemer City. And directly behind me is the Ragan Spinning Company, which is owned by another company now, it’s for many years, J.P. Stephens, and I think [SteveCo. Net?] owns it now. And it’s called the Ragan Plant. It was here in September, 1934, that a group of uh, strikers, flying squadrons, of unemployed textile workers from Gastonia, Shelby, and King’s Mountain, descended on the Ragan Spinning Company in an effort to shut it down, it was one of the few mills that were running at that time. And I don’t know exactly where, but back here somewhere, they came through the gates, and uh, when my father found out that they were descending on the mill, he uh, came out with a couple other people. 24:00One of the people was a section hand by the name of Sid Black, and he was such a big burly fellow, they called him The Bear. Uh, he was standing right behind my father, and uh, it was a very -- a lot of hard words were said, and my dad, of course, was very mad, and uh, he told them that everything he had was in this mill, and if they came through and tried to destroy it, they would have to come right through him. And he found out later that uh, Bear Black said uh, “Mr. Ragan,” said, “I was standing right behind you, and I had a -- a three or four foot iron pipe in my hand,” said, “if they had made one move to hurt you,” said, “I would have come out fighting.” And so, that was one of the stories that carried over, but uh, somehow, I think they probably talked to each other, and uh, Dad agreed to close the mill down, and this was one of the mills 25:00that was working, and that was why the flying squadrons wanted to close it down. They wanted to close down all of the mills that were running, but Dad asked Mr. Miller, Mr. Robert Miller, the superintendent, to close the mill down, tell the employees to go home until further notice. And at that time, they uh, the flying squadron did go into the mill, they did not destroy it, but they walked -- walked and ran through the mill, they busted some windows, they tore down all of the hems on the spinning frames. Uh, which caused some damage, but not great damage. And uh, that was what had happened that day, there were a lot of angry words that were said. But fortunately, there was no major destruction of the mill. Uh, I don’t know where they went after they left the Ragan Spinning Company, they just obviously went to other mills to do the same thing.

GEORGE STONEY: OK.

(break in video)

26:00

RAGAN: -- train gets on your nerves, too.

GEORGE STONEY: OK. Are you shooting?

JAMIE STONEY: Yeah.

RAGAN: Did I scrape the microphone when I was --

(break in video)

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible).

(break in video)

GEORGE STONEY: Today. I don’t -- can’t say that.

RAGAN: Did we want to add what happened, the -- when the workers came back the following day? Or no, no, that’s covered in what we’ve already talked about.

(overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

RAGAN: (inaudible). I feel like I’m (inaudible) something’s going to explode on --

GEORGE STONEY: It’s just a wind screen.

JAMIE STONEY: Um, (inaudible).

GEORGE STONEY: Jamie? (inaudible).

(break in audio)

27:00

[Silence]

(background conversation, inaudible)

(break in video)

28:00

[Silence]

29:00

[Silence]

30:00

[Silence]