Gaston County Public Library Awarded for Project on Greater Gaston’s Textile Past

Front: Cindy Moose and Carol Reinhardt. Back: Harlan Gradin and Robert Allen. Photo by Les Todd/Duke Photography

The North Carolina Humanities Council has named the Gaston County Public Library the 2011 recipient of the Harlan Joel Gradin Award for Excellence in the Public Humanities for “Standing on a Box: Lewis Hine’s National Child Labor Committee Photography in Gaston County, 1908.”

Directed by Gaston County Public Library’s Carol Reinhardt, “Standing on a Box” used photographs taken in 1908 by Lewis Hine – a sociologist, reformer, and National Child Labor Committee journalist – to explore child labor conditions in Greater Gaston’s textile mills at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Reinhardt says that the project “embraced hundreds of people who came together to examine and celebrate our local textile/mill village history. For the first time in the forty-plus years I’ve lived in Piedmont North Carolina, I heard people talk with pride about family roots in the textile culture, share family stories in the Gaston Gazette, and claim their own past.”

Robert Allen, Logan Godfrey Professor of History at UNC at Chapel Hill gave the “Standing on a Box” keynote lecture. He explains that a descendant of an area millworker wrote to him: “My grandfather was nine years old, worked a twelve-hour shift at Loray. He had to stand on a box to reach the spinning frame.” 

In a North Carolina Conversations article about the project, Allen wrote, “For those living in Gaston County today, Hine’s 1908 photographs bring family home. The images in these photographs are of places they know, of places now gone that their parents and grandparents knew” – Loray Mill, Trenton Mill, Ozark Mill, Melville Manufacturing Company in Cherryville,   the High Shoals Mill.

“Standing on a Box” included discussions of early twentieth-century textile industry history, music of the era performed by the Possum Hollar Old Time String Band, a community book-read of Elizabeth Winthrop’s Counting on Grace, and poetry by the acclaimed Ron Rash, author of Eureka Mill. Project events were podcast and segments aired on cable-access television. A weekly companion column appeared in the Gaston Gazette, written by and profiling local residents who grew up in a textile village.

Cindy Moose, director of the Gaston County Public Library says, “Beyond a shadow of a doubt ‘Standing on a Box’ was the most ambitious and significant project the library and community partners ever launched.”

Project partners included the Gaston County Museum of Art and History, Gaston County Historic Preservation Committee, Friends of the Gaston County Public Library, Gaston Arts Council, Preservation North Carolina, Levine Museum of the New South,county schools, and local churches.

“Standing on a Box” debuted at the Gaston Museum of Art & History, then traveled to the Levine Museum of the New South, which hosted a Humanities Council Teachers Institute on textile history during the exhibition’s stay there. From the Levine, it moved to Gaston College’s Dallas, Kimbrell, and Lincoln campuses. An expanded version of the exhibition appeared in 2011 at the North Carolina Museum of History.  The exhibit will be permanently housed in the Loray Mill in Gastonia, after renovation of the historic site.

View selected exhibition photographs in the Gallery section of the North Carolina Humanities Council website. Read more about the project by downloading the Council’s Crossroads publication “They Are Not Strangers to Us: Lewis Hine’s Gaston County Photographs, 1908.”