Robert Ragan Interview 4

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JUDITH HELFAND: -- an issue with your father too, about not wanting to talk about it. Are we ready?

GEORGE STONEY: Were rolling.

HELFAND: About not wanting to talk about the '34 strike, and you said years ago a historian came to talk to your dad and he talked to you?

ROBERT RAGAN: Oh, Brent Glass, Dr. Brent Glass, yes. He was working with the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at the time and they were going around the state trying to get, put together some stories on the textile industry and the era of the strikes and everything and he was interviewing my father on the history of textiles and one of the subjects that came up was the 1929 strike in Gastonia that is rather famous. And he seemed to think that my father just froze up or, or didnt want to talk about it at the 00:01:00time. And Dad was rather elderly then and so we just let it pass. And I dont really think that he was trying to avoid anything. I think he was probably tired and it was also a subject that, uh, that you know they just did not like to discuss at that time, so. Later Dr. Glass called me and asked if I would do the interview without him there, feeling that my father would be much more open in discussing the matter. And so I said that I would. And uh Dad was delighted to do it, and we had a nice interview. But he did, he was more comfortable and he opened up on talking about the subject, but still you could still tell that it was a sensitive matter, not sensitive in the -- in the 00:02:00context that they were -- had done anything wrong or that it was -- you know, that he felt guilty on anything, it was just in the sense that it was a subject but that it was a subject that had become hard for the community, it reflected on the community, I think thats what it is, that they did -- it was something that was negative to the industry and negative to the community. And that was probably the reason that no one, including my father, liked to talk about it much. All of that said and done, he did talk about it some and uh some right interesting things came out and I think some of them we discussed. And from this point on I dont know what exactly what text we want to take about it, but we had a very nice conversation on the 1929 textile strike.

HELFAND: And what about the -- and what about the 1934 strike? Was that 00:03:00something that was painful for your father too?

RAGAN: Well I dont think they preferred to, you know, to uh, go back on it. They were trying think about the future and not the past, not that they were trying to hide anything. But uh, it was just a subject that no one in the industry, workers or management cared to talk about. Because it was something -- there were deaths involved, there was violence involved. There were people that were hurt, both workers, mills, mill owners. And it was something that they would rather let go of and let it be in the past than to just to carry on about it, but the facts are there. I think the real thing they felt was that they wanted to look to the future, they did not want look to the past, it was not a subject that you would go out for a public relations meeting on and 00:04:00discuss bad things that happened so they just liked to put that behind them and go on with something better. They felt positive about what they had done, they felt positive about the industry, they felt positive about the direction of the industry and those instances like the 1929 strike at the Loray Mill they just preferred to let be buried.

HELFAND: And why are you interested in the 1934 strike? I mean, why is it that you willing to talk about it?

RAGAN: It -- Im very interested in the history of the southern textile industry and have done considerable research on it. And Im writing a book at the present time. And this is just part of what my interest is. Im a -- I am not an expert on the 1934 strike by any means, but I do know some about it and I am delighted to share it with anyone if its of interest to them.


HELFAND: Well, its certainly of interest to us. So, you know, I -- can we just cut for a second? (break in audio) Well -- can you talk about unionism in textiles, and in your case in Gastonia?

RAGAN: Certainly Judith. The 34 strike I think is what you are particularly interested in and I do know something about it, but I think we need a little background before we get to the 34 strike, and that background is the 1929 strike which for some reason has become the one that is the most widely known and the most has been written about it, the 29 strike at the Loray Mill. But that was a concentrated strike, it was a strike at one mill. There was a death there. The police chief was killed and one or two union organizers were killed. And I think this is the part that Gaston County citizens like to forget. That 00:06:00it was -- it was something that was very bad that happened for many, many reasons. No one had control over those reasons. But with that being said, the -- that was only an isolated strike. There was another one I think at the mill in Marion, and one in a -- somewhere up in Tennessee at the time. There were three big strikes But the Loray Mill got the -- in Gastonia -- got the most publicity. We read about it all the time in our history books. You cant start school down here without it being in the grammar school books and the state histories and everything. That was an isolated strike. The 1934 strike that came later was a much larger strike. As I understand it, it was the first nationwide strike that America had ever had. And, uh, it was something like 00:07:00600,000 textile workers, cotton, wool, silk manufacturers, knitters. All of the mills, not just in this sections but from New England to Alabama and Texas were on strike. And before we get into the 34 strike, if I may, the reasons were this was during the Depression. Things were very tough during the Depression. Ah -- business was bad, workers were out of work, all over the country, not just in the textile business. But the textile business was hit particularly hard hit. And the recession, the depression in textiles began two to three years before the nationwide depression. So things were bad in textiles in 1926, 1927, and 1928, and 1929. And then of course in October 1929 is when the Depression 00:08:00hit the country. So by 1933 the textile industry had been in a very serious recession, the worlds greatest depression by that time. And people were angry, people were out of work, tempers were short. And all of this led to what took place, and what took place was the first nationwide strike in Americas history. And it occurred in one major industry, the textile industry, 600,000 people. Ah -- give you a few of the details on it. To give you a few of the details on it, the National Textile Workers Union, I believe Im correct, 00:09:00and the American Federation of Labor called the nationwide strike and it was to be on Labor Day 1934, which was a Monday, I think it was September the 3rd, 1934. It started, and I can speak more to the situation in Gastonia, but it wasnt just happening in Gastonia, it was happening in Providence, Rhode Island, it was happening in Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts it was happening in South Carolina, it was happening in Georgia, it was happening in Alabama, and all of the places. And all of the workers were being organized, they were being, lot of publicity went into it, the union was going all out to organize the situation. Trying to get my thoughts together as to exactly how it, how we think it started in Gastonia and Gaston County and North Carolina. The unions 00:10:00scheduled giant parades in every textile town in the Atlantic Seaboard. And the purpose, of course, was to have speakers at these to recruit people to join the unions. And, you know, I forget what exactly their demands were but part of it was the stretch-out system. As you know about the stretch-out system had been instituted in a number of the mills, particularly the larger mills and particularly in the mills in New England. And uh that was --

HELFAND: What about in the South?

RAGAN: In the Sout, too.

JAMIE STONEY: Sorry, could you say that again?

RAGAN: Yes, sir. The stretch out system had been initiated in many of the mills, mostly the larger mills and many of them in the North and, and some of 00:11:00the larger mills in the South, too. The smaller mills, as I understand it, did not necessarily use an official system like that.

HELFAND: Did your daddy?

RAGAN: No, it was the uh, it was never anything, you know, whether they tried to get more work out of the employees, I dont know, I think that was a, that is a whole story that is different. I think mainly this was in the larger, more publicly owned mills. The smaller mills still, uh it was a paternalistic, if you want to want to use that, it was a family-oriented type of business. Everybody knew each other -- the worker, the superintendent, the mill treasurer, the mill president, the owner, and everybody. And they just tried to run the mill as well and as efficiently as they could, but there was no official 00:12:00stretch-out system in the smaller mills. The Loray Mill in Gastonia was the main one in where this had been instituted, and the Loray Mill at that time was owned by the Manville-Jenckes Company out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. And this was a large company. They had the Nourse Mill and the Social Mills and several other big ones in New England. And at this time those other mills, the New England mills, were taking tremendous losses and causing the company very strained financial problems. And part of the solution was the mills that were maybe running better, like the Loray Mill in Gastonia, they were trying to make up the difference by pushing the workers harder there to produce more, and uh 00:13:00with -- to do more work with, on fewer hours, to have fewer people tending more machines, and this may have been -- it was a management efficiency technique is basically what it was, it was called the Bedaux, Bedaux system in France. But to everyone in this part of the country it was the stretch-out. And I think it got carried away, and particularly in the case of the Loray Mill. And the workers put up such a cry, protested so much about I think it the management in Pawtucket finally realized that maybe they had carried the situation too far. And they recalled the superintendent. Now this was like 1928, to the best of my memory, and before the big 1929 strike. And they sent another superintendent. But I think the damage had been done then. The uh workers were in an uproar. 00:14:00Management was trying to get by this situation. Business was bad. I think, you know, there were workers that were out of work. And so much of this was because many, many workers were out of work. The main strikers, the main people who joined the union were the out-of-work people or the ones that were only working part time. And so thats when the situation became critical at the Loray. Also, I mean, it was the organization. It was well-organized by the unions. Communists were sent in. I think this was a well-known fact. The Communist newspaper, The Daily Worker, sent reporters down there. Communists from New York arrived and anywhere else. It was a communist-inspired strike at that time 00:15:00-- Im talking about now the 1929 strike at the Loray. And thats a matter of history. But getting back to the 1934 strike and using the 29 as a little background and uh and giving you the reasons that business was very, very poor and had been poor for four to six years in the textile industry, this is the atmosphere in which the 1934 strike occurred. And to give you some of the details --

HELFAND: Could -- when you -- could you cut for a second? (break in audio)

CREW: (inaudible)

RAGAN: At the uh 1934 general textile strike was spearheaded by the United Textile Workers Union and the American Federation of Labor. And it was very well organized and in Gastonia in particular they started with a giant parade that met in the city -- that marched down the main streets to the city park where 00:16:00leaders from the union and communist leaders, supposedly, had come to speak to them the purpose of course, being to try to try to interest them into joining the union and, and to getting their particular mills organized. So many of these workers were not employed at the time they were unemployed workers at the time because of the Depression. Most -- many of the mills in Gastonia and Gaston County were not running. Those that were running were running only two and maybe and three days. There were only a handful of them that were running full time and very fortunately my fathers mill, the Ragan Spinning Company, had orders sufficient that they ran full time, six days a week right through the Depression. So it was one of the mills that was running at that time. The 00:17:00tactics of the strikers on Labor Day, 1934 was to close down all of the mills, this was the purpose of it, to close down all of the mills, not only in Gaston County but throughout the country until their demands were met. The demands being primarily shorter hours, less work, more pay, the, the normal things that union people want. Some of the details of the strike itself with the background in mind that many of the mills were not running anyway was to, as I have already said and I'm repeating myself a little bit, was to close the mills down. After the parade, the Labor Day Parade, they started going around the county to close 00:18:00the mills down. And before all of this had happened, I mean we -- the owners, the managers knew that the strike was coming. They knew that the organizers were trying to organize. And they had made known through the newspaper and other medium and had talked with their workers that rather than have any trouble, any possibility of violence, that they would close down that Labor Day and allow their people to go to the big Labor Day rally. And they asked their workers first. And they made it known that they would close and those that voted that they wanted to go to the rally were allowed to go to the rally. So many of the mills did not operate on that Labor Day. Ragan Spinning Company and about eight 00:19:00other Gastonia mills did operate only because they had business enough to run, which was very usual, but they also asked their employees in advance, they polled them, Do you want to close Labor Day? And Ragan Spinning Company and several other mills they said no, we would prefer to work, they were happy to have a job. All right, now, that was Labor Day, Monday, September the third. Now --

HELFAND: I have a question.

RAGAN: Okay.

HELFAND: Was Labor Day generally -- was Labor Day a day that anyone ever honored in North Carolina for workers?

RAGAN: No. Are we back on?

HELFAND: Yeah. Oh, yeah, sure.

RAGAN: In the South, Labor Day was not generally recognized as a holiday. I 00:20:00understand that in New England and some other places that it was recognized as a holiday. So this was something new in the South, and this was a holiday that owners were being asked to grant and workers were asking them to grant it that had not been recognized as a holiday before. And so giving the background there.

HELFAND: Do you think Gastonia had ever seen a parade like that? Its not -- excuse my questions.

RAGAN: Not that I know of. Im sure there must have been some type of parade, not on any scale like this during the 1929 strike. And here again that was concentrated at one mill.

HELFAND: How do you think your father and the others reacted to this, to even -- for their workers to ask if they could march in a parade like that and be part of this union festivity?

RAGAN: I cant completely answer that completely. I have never -- and Ive studied the matter and Ive listened very intently to my father, and I am an 00:21:00historian. Ive never heard that they objected to them asking for it at all. And I think it was very clear in the paper that it was for Labor Day itself. And I will explain myself a little bit further. On that particular Labor Day most all the mills asked their employees if they wanted to go to the parade, and if they did they were allowed to, if they wanted to work and earn money and stay on the job, hey were allowed to do that. Now the following day, and this is where the trouble begins that things were different. In Ragan Spinning Company they ran on Labor Day, and they ran the following day, which was Tuesday, September the fourth. And uh at this time the rally had already taken place downtown. And the labor union officials had now, uh the headlines of the 00:22:00paper read, Labor union dares mills to run on Tuesday. So this was the text. You know, Labor Day, the Labor Day itself and to go to the meeting were one thing, but United Textile Workers' Union wanted to close down now all of the mills for an extended period of time until all the demands were met. And the mills that could run were not willing to do this. You know, one day off, that was fine, but if they had business and their employees wanted to work, they were polled and they were allowed to work. So in the case of Ragan Spinning Company and a number of other mills, they ran also on Tuesday. And the labor unions, this was their chance to -- to do what they had come to Gastonia and to Gaston 00:23:00County, what they said they were coming for. So on Tuesday morning they had made known through the newspapers that they dared mills to run. And so they started out very first thing on Tuesday morning the purpose of closing down every mill in Gaston County. Now, youve got to realize that this was during the Depression, and I know that I repeating myself, but its very important to understand this, but half the mills were not running anyway, so asking time off was no problem for the mills to do. The other half were running mostly part-time. And a very few of the mills were running full time. So that was the situation. But the mills that did start work on Tuesday morning, were -- they were hit by these groups of flying squadrons. They were roaming bands of men 00:24:00and women that were part of this organization, and they would go to the mills and literally close them down. Without rambling too much to give some specific examples, on this Tuesday morning, they started at the three Hanover Mills in south Gastonia. They went to the mills -- and these mills were running -- they went to the mills, they came in groups of hundreds, they were in cars and trucks and carrying sticks and bats and things like this. And they broke the door down to the mill, entered the mill, the mill was running, announced that they were shutting the mill down. They would go through the mills and do some destruction. They would pull the switches, but -- anyway they started at 9:30 00:25:00on that morning at the three Hanover Mills. They did -- they stopped those mills. Then at about 10:00 or 10:30 they went to Threads, Inc., which is out in west Gastonia. They did the same thing. At 11:00 they reached the Ragan Spinning Company, which is further out of town. And I can speak specifically to that. My father, Caldwell Ragan, ran the mills at that time. They produced combed cotton yarns. And they knew the strikers were, as my father quoted in the paper, were on the warpath. But the mills were running, the workers wanted to work that day. And uh, Im trying to think of the sequence of events. They were -- my father, the superintendent Mr. Miller, the assistant superintendent, Mr. Mason were all sitting in the office not knowing what was 00:26:00going to happen. They know that things were going on. And Im sure they must have been receiving telephone calls from other places at the time. But unknown to them, the hundreds of the flying squadrons hit the Ragan Spinning Company at 11:00. They stormed the mill gate, came through the mill gate, did not announce themselves at the office, which they had been led to -- the management had been led to believe they would come in and request that the mill be closed. They went directly to the mill, entered the door, pulled the switches. They walked up and down the spinning frames, tearing the cotton yarns out of the frames, stopping the frames, doing minor damage. And of course while this was happening, my father saw what was happening, saw the crowds coming in to the mill grounds. And he went out to talk with them. It was a very dangerous 00:27:00situation, I understand. And uh, but he went out to talk to them. He was naturally very upset and very angry at the time, and he said some pretty rough things to them. But the first -- and nobody else in the mill followed him out because it was a dangerous situation. Finally he got to the leaders of the union and finally got them -- got their ear. And he got on a platform at the mill, and you know, said "I want to talk to you a minute." So he got their attention for a while. And he was very angry at the time. He said everything that he had was tied up in this mill, and that they would have to go through him if they were going to destroy it. That he was not going to let them do that. He said uh --

HELFAND: How do you think he said it, in his own words?

RAGAN: Oh, I -- I, uh, the newspaper

JAMIE STONEY: Can you start that again? (inaudible)


RAGAN: OK, where do you want me to start?

HELFAND: I mean, I mean - because -- Im sure you know your daddys voice, right?

RAGAN: Oh, yes. Oh yes

HELFAND: Okay. Could you quote him, could you almost say, can you say my father said it like this, put it in the first person?

RAGAN: Oh, I can see my father standing out there. He had a lot of gumption and a lot of nerve. He was standing on a platform talking to three hundred or four hundred striking flying squadron people, uh, who were coming across the lawn with baseball bats and sticks and who knows what, what else. But anyway they stopped and they did listen. Some of it was quoted in the, in the local papers and in the Daily News Record, which was a trade publication in New York. And one of the things he said was that it was a damnable outrage that something like this could happen in a civilized country. And he, of course, asked them, he said why didnt you come to the office and talk with us and tell us your 00:29:00demands and if they were within reason, I think he used the word that he used if your demands were within reason, we would have been willing to treat with you, using the word treat. And uh, (brief pause in audio) finally the leaders admitted that they should have done that, but that the strikers got out of control. And anyway their demands basically were to shut the mill down. They also demanded that the mill be shut down until the strike was over. My father would not agree to that at all. He said I will shut the mill down right now, and said, give us time, and its so typical of my dad, he was so neat and methodical and clean, he said give us time to clean the mill up and to put it in condition before the workers go home. And they were allowed to do that. They gave them an hour or an hour and a half or two hours or something to clean the 00:30:00mill up from the destruction that the strikers had done. And they closed the mill down for that day and an indefinite period but he would not -- and this was in the paper, too -- agree to close the mill for any length of time other than the moment that they were closing it. At the -- another interesting event that took place while -- you have to visualize these three or four hundred strikers were coming towards him - was -- uh, yeah, I have a picture right here, that I dont know if the camera can see it. The -- Im assuming that one of the newspaper photographers, and I think even the Associated Press and a lot of the national news media had already come to Gastonia. This is a photograph of the flying squadrons entering the Ragan Spinning Company, and somewhere close by was 00:31:00a cotton loading platform that my father stood on to talk with the workers. And I dont know if they can see that good or not. And --

HELFAND: Huh. Ummm, you know -- could you point to your dad, and in pointing I mean -- dont get up.

RAGAN: Okay, sure.

HELFAND: Maybe you can just turn and to your dad and say thats my father, and I can just imagine him talking to these strikers. You can even hold the picture in your other hand. Yeah, just like in one hand. I know m directing you. Just make it natural. I imagine that your father must have been completely outraged that these workers came in like that.

RAGAN: Oh, I'll tell you a story I have a firsthand experience on it. But this is my father behind me. Im very proud of this portrait of him. For one 00:32:00reason he was 83 years old when it was made and its a good likeness of him. And I can just picture him now the way he was that day in 1934 out talking to the strikers. And one interesting amusement that I remember him telling me very vividly about was that one of the section hands by the name of Sid Black, who was called the Bear because he was such a big strong guy, was, unknown to my father at the time, was standing right behind him with a twenty-inch metal pipe in his hand. And afterwards he told my father, he said Mr. Ragan, if they had so much as touched you, I would have busted the heads of as many as I could before I had let them come through. So thats the dangerous situation that 00:33:00it was. And another story, Mr. Boris Brookshire of Charlotte, whose brother was the mayor of Charlotte at one time, anyway they had a textile supply company. And Mr. Brookshire was at the Rag-- getting ready to call the on the Ragan Spinning Company that morning when all of this took place. And he told me personally that this is exactly what happened, that he had never seen anyone as mad as my father that morning, and very rightly because of what was being done and the possibility of destruction of the mill and everything. And he verified that it was a very dangerous situation. And uh -- but anyway the mill was closed, as were others that day. And this was just the first day of, I dont know, twenty or twenty-five days that the strike took place, so it was just now beginning. And with the destruction of mill property and windows broken and 00:34:00doors broken and all of the spindles thrown out on the floor and things like that, the mill owners immediately took means to protect their property. Several things were, were done. The first thing was that they did things themselves. They hired, in the case of Ragan Spinning Company, six or seven farmers in the area, who are, as you know, are a very independent, anti-union type of people, I think in general. And these farmers had their own shotguns. My father took them downtown to the courthouse and to the sheriffs office and had them deputized. Right across from the courthouse the Standard Hardware was the place to go with ammunitions, so he along with, he took personally, took these men to the hardware and got them ammunitions for their guns. And at the time many of the 00:35:00unemployed workers were standing in front of the courthouse, and they knew him and knew what was happening and everything. And they made all kind of insulting comments and said a lot of bad things as they were going to have this done, but that didnt deter them. They had to protect -- they wanted to protect their property. And so they were deputized and got ammunition. And these men worked at the mill, on I think, it was twelve-hour shifts. There would be two or three of them that would work for twelve hours, or maybe it was eight hours, I dont know. And they would stay at the mill to protect the mill property to be sure with their guns. And not only were they in and around the mill, I know in particular that the same boxcars, railroad boxcars that are -- were used to 00:36:00bring cotton to the mill, were rolled back on the sidetracks to the mills. And they would stay inside and on top of the boxcars, day and night, for the period of the strike to protect the mill. And I think most of the mills did this. There was one particular mill that I know my father mentioned in Lincoln County, good friends and good customers of my father, that probably went a little overboard. They supposedly mounted a machine gun on the roof of the mill. And my -- probably with some prompting from the Southern Cone Yarn Spinners Association, which is the trade association, they knew my fathers close connection with this man, and they asked him, they said, Caldwell, would you mind calling this man and just suggesting to this to him that this might not 00:37:00appear too good to have a machine gun on the roof. So Dad called this man and suggested that it might be a little overpowering and that the public relations part of it was not good, and the man agreed. And the machine gun was taken down immediately, and that mill used procedures very similar to Ragan Spinning Company in protecting their mill. It was a little overpowering. Of course, by this time, going a little further into the situation, the trade associations were involved in it. The National Guard was called out to help protect mills. Thousands of National Guardsmen were sent to places all over the state. The mill owners and the mill workers, the ones who were working, asked the governor for protection where they could go back get their jobs back and go to work and earn some money. And so that was happening. The trade associations were 00:38:00beginning to get involved in it and to negotiate. Trying to think who was head of -- Arthur Wingate, I think was head of Cone Yarn Spinners Association. He was from Gastonia. And I remember my father telling me that every few mornings they would have meetings in the boardroom of the Old First National Bank uptown on Main Street. And all of the yarn spinners -- a representative from all of the yarn spinners would be there. And not just Gastonia. Men like -- Mr. -- Ive heard him speak of Mr. George West and Mr. Burton Frierson from the Dixie Mercerizing Company in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And then there were people from all other parts that would come to Gastonia because that association represented the spinning mills in the entire South. And so they would discuss the matter of 00:39:00what to do. Mr. W.D. Anderson, I believe, was head of the American Cotton Manufacturers Association. He took part in negotiating, I guess, with the union. And -- and it was a national strike. The White House was consulted. One of the things that the union tried very hard to do was to get Roosevelt to take a stand on the strike in the form of, of, of public support for feeding the strikers and, you know, helping them with their financial situations while the strike was going on. I think then you as a historian will be better qualified to give the details on that. But I think the White House tried to stay away from 00:40:00it at that time, that, uh, they did not want to become the center of the focus for the strike. And I remember so much of the newspaper was regarding working through Harry Hopkins, who was Roosevelts assistant and did a lot of that work. But to make a long story short, the government did not underwrite the strike, the first nationwide strike in Americas history. And that was partially responsible for them finally having to give up after twenty or thirty days of striking. And Im sure on the other side, the mill owners made pleas to the governors of their various states, and those governors in turn talked with the congressmen and senators and the senators talked with the President. And they were trying to keep the government from getting involved, whereas on 00:41:00the other side the strikers and the unions were trying to get the government involved. But the long and short of it is, is that the government did not underwrite the strike, and they made that announcement. Anyway, were only up to about the second day of the strike. But this went on day after day. Riots broke out at mills. There were -- and to show that this was a much bigger strike that the 1929, there were a number of deaths. I do not remember exactly how many, but there were like ten or twelve or fifteen deaths. One or two were in Gaston County. Several were at Bibb Manufacturing Company in Georgia. Others in Tennessee. Others places in North Carolina, some around Hickory. But there were some were some very violent situations that were even more violent than 00:42:00what took place in Gastonia. And this went on day two and day three and day ten and day fifteen. National Guardsmen were coming tosome of the mills to protect them. Not only protect them but to provide an environment where the workers could go back to work. And this was tried on several occasions. The workers -- the National Guardsmen would come, the workers would go back work but they might be closed down again before that day was over. And uh, in some cases there were two or three thousand strikers thronging around a particular mill, all going back to what they had originally tried to do, was to close the mills until their demands were met. But the uh, the management would not agree to those demands. And I think another thing thats historically important, and Im maybe 00:43:00getting a little away from the situation, is not only the 1929 strike -- it started with the 1929 strike --

JAMIE STONEY: [inaudible]

RAGAN: Umm hmm. One of the other things that is historically important about the 1934 strike probably starting with the 1929 strike was the fact that the -- they were not - the unions were not successful in unionizing the South. And that set a trend, a policy for the next fifty years, sixty or seventy -- or however many years its been since then -- that the South was not unionized. I may not be saying that exactly right. But the, but the trend was set at Gastonia and places like Gastonia when the unions tried to organize it, they 00:44:00were unsuccessful and this created, I think historians call it, a trend against unionization in the South which has carried forth to this day. There have been some exceptions and some places have become unionized. But primarily the Southern textile mills and industry in general were not unionized, and a lot of it goes back to these events that we are discussing.

HELFAND: Why do you think thats so? [inaudible]

RAGAN: Ask that again and -- what --

HELFAND: I mean Why do you think that trend has been able to, to [keep holding?]?

RAGAN: Well, I think the historians say that it didnt take hold at that time. They -- it was not success- they were not successful in 1929. They were not successful in 1934. There were other minor attempts before and after 00:45:00that and that each time they were not successful, and that in itself created the trend that the South was not unionized. Maybe to get into it deeper, I guess, I suppose the workers themselves did not want the union. They were, for whatever reason, and I think were really getting into a deep subject there, is that maybe its their background. They were -- so many of the millworkers were very independent sort of people. And I cant speak for the other areas of the country, but I know this area of North Carolina was primarily inhabited originally by Scotch-Irish, independent Scotch-Irish and German settlers, who were the first employees in the mills. And then as the textile industry grew in the South after the turn of the century, they had to have more employees. So 00:46:00from the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, came many -- their original heritage had been of the Scotch-Irish, who had been very isolated in the hills of the Carolinas and Tennessee. And they came down the mountain to find jobs in the mills, some of the very first jobs they had. Even going back to the Civil War, how hard things were at that time. And they were only too glad to have a cash-paying job. But anyway, Im trying to get to the point that these were very independent type of people who did not accept charity, who had no understanding or use for the unions. They were very pleased to have a job. 00:47:00They were very clannish type of people. I think they enjoyed very much the mill community life. It was very similar to the mountain communities that they came from where everyone was family and friends. I know my father in an interview with the Charlotte Observer one time on the closing of the Trenton Cotton Mill, which was another mill that he was associated with in Gastonia, when they sold the village, he was interviewed, and he said he could remember hiring these families that came from the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. And they needed the help in running the mills. But it was always a family. One wouldnt come. There was the mother and the father, and there was always a grandfather and a grandmother, and uncles and aunts. The whole family had to come. And unless you would give -- you know, there might be several good 00:48:00spooler hands or twister hands or weavers, in that family, but there were the grandpas and the grandmas, if you didnt give them a job also, an easy job, they wouldnt come. So it was a family type situation in the mill village just like it had been from the places where they came from in the mountains. And -- I think this all ties in, that they had no use for unions. And they did not see where the union would help them. And so, you ask me why did unionization not take root in the South, and I think probably this is the root of it, was the independent type people they were trying to organize, that were not inclined to unionization. There may have -- it gets into a subject thats 00:49:00deeper than Im able to discuss. There may have even been a feeling that their religion was not conducive to unionism. I cant answer that specifically. I cant give you any facts to do it. But I think their religion taught them the -- I know my religion does, Im Presbyterian. Its a self-work, its a work ethic type of religious atmosphere. And I think so many of the religions that were in the mountain areas, whether they were Methodist, or Baptists, or whatever, had sort of that work ethic feeling, even for the lowest form of textile worker. They were very proud of their jobs. And it wasnt such a bad heritage. It was a very -- it was a very honest living 00:50:00for them, and they were good people. And I think this was important to them, and unionization was not important to them at that time.

HELFAND: Do you -- could we go back to when your father was deputizing, ummm --

RAGAN: Oh yes, thats an interesting


RAGAN: -- story.

HELFAND: Yeah. Well, did he tell you that? How did -- did he tell you that, with what kind of feeling?

RAGAN: Well, its -- a lot of these stories are interesting that I -- I am a historian. And Ive -- all through -- ever since I was a child I remembered these stories, and I would write them down afterwards on little slips of paper and keep them. And, you know, then twenty and thirty years later I wanted to put it into some form. So Id take these pieces of paper and try to do some writing on it, and Im writing a book as I mentioned now. And a lot of this is coming to light. But, and then I said well, I dont want all of this to be just hearsay. I want to verify some of it. So I started years ago verifying so 00:51:00much of this through newspapers and my -- I spent hundreds of hours on microfilm machines and talking with other people and everything. And these stories that I were -- was told many years ago came to light when I would see almost the same thing printed in a magazine or a newspaper. So I feel very comfortable that the stories were accurate. Now, again your question was -- refresh my memory, your exact question of how they felt -- ?

HELFAND: My question was -- yeah, my question was how your father, you know, what -- how did he feel about protecting his, you know -- handing these guns over, and did he care if anybody saw him doing it? Did the media see?

RAGAN: Oh, Im sure. Oh, yes, I dont know that its -- that care was the word. He would prefer that the situation not be there at all. He was 00:52:00not at all a violent man. He was a very, very good man. He was very good, and I can tell you many instances with the employees at the mill that they liked very much working for him. He was a very fair man. But he had a Scotch-Irish temper, and this was one of the times that, that someone had potentially or possibly come to destroy his livelihood. Everything he had was tied up in that mill. And there were two hundred workers that were depending on that mill for their livelihood. So, yes, he was worked up about it. And Im sure he, you know, had no hesitation about dputizing the people to protect the mill. It was just a self-protection thing. He was not going out looking for trouble. But if it would come -- and the other mills were doing exactly the same thing, that 00:53:00they were trying to protect their property.

HELFAND: And did the media see it? And they did it for everyone to see?

RAGAN: Oh, yes, none of this was hid. Everybody knew that this was going on. They wanted the strikers to know that the mills were being protected and that they were not welcome to come and destroy the property. I dont think it was any secret about it at all. I think everything was very, very open. My father and the other owners would be interviewed by the Gazette, and the Charlotte Observer and the Daily News Record from time to time, and they would talk about these things. Now how it was, you know, communicated to the strikers, I dont know. The superintendent of -- obviously had communication with the -- all of the workers, and the workers had communications with the strikers, and the workers had communications with the organizers and -- but everybody knew, I 00:54:00mean, how the others felt. I dont think it was anything secret behind it. You had one side trying to unionize and the other side trying to stay independent.

HELFAND: Now how, could you talk some about the textile manufacturers and their relationship to the governor? I mean, you know, calling out the Guard. Was it a close relationship that they had with local government or state government?

RAGAN: Well, Im sure, I dont think its any closer than the workers would have. You -- uh, its a very -- you can do the same thing today. Its a very simple procedure. You call your -- whoever you can call, you can call the governor direct, you can call your congressman, you can call your mayor. Im sure the mayor did whatever he was supposed to do. Probably -- you had channels to go through. Maybe the mill owner called the mayor of the town. I think George Mason was the mayor of Gastonia at that time. And Mr. 00:55:00Mason may have called Governor Ehringhaus, I believe, was the governor during that particular strike. And the governor would call whoever he did. I think, I think it was a chain of command. And well, initially, and the one I left out, was the workers asked management to get some help for them to come in and work at their jobs safely without being -- you know, without feeling that they were endangering themselves or their family.

HELFAND: [inaudible]

RAGAN: And here again these were the workers that were working. There was also, this was during the Depression, and so many of the workers were not working. The main strikers were the non-working people, the people that did not have jobs. The people who were without jobs. They were going to the mills that were 00:56:00running and trying to close them down and put people out of work.

HELFAND: What if some of them werent work -- I mean, what if some of them were working, and they had worked all the way through, but theyd actually organized unions because they had that right under Section 7-A? Would that -- would -- how would -- would that flip things a little?

RAGAN: Let me have the question again and --

HELFAND: I mean, I was under the impression that a number of these workers were actually working and organize local unions and had done so for like a year and a half?

RAGAN: Some -- some were, some were, and particularly at the larger mills. I cant speak for the other -- for the other mills. But most of the strikers were ones who were out of work. Certainly there were some strikers at some mills that were trying to organize those mills. At the Ragan Spinning Company, and this was in the Gazette when the strike was over, as far as they knew, and 00:57:00my father made this statement from the very beginning and to the public media, there were no union members in Ragan Spinning Company, not one. And the -- when the mill resumed operation, however -- week later or ten days, whatever it was, every one of those workers was back at work. There was no union at Ragan Spinning Company, there was no stretch-out system at Ragan Spinning Company, there was no one on public welfare rolls. And here again this is not helping your interview. There were some like that were like that. And I cant speak to those situations. There were some union sympathizers at other mills where the majority did not want to be unionized but there was a minority that wanted 00:58:00to be unionized. And I think part of that was what the whole strike was about, that it did not take hold. The minority never became the majority of the mill workers that was strong enough to get a union organized in that particular company.