Blood on the Cloth: Ella May Wiggins and the 1929 Gastonia Strike
Amid the strife and upheaval in the American South of the 1920s, the 1929 Loray Mill Strike in Gastonia serves as an emblem of the violent textile labor disputes of the time. During this calamitous period, textile worker Ella May Wiggins became a labor leader who rallied people to the union cause with her impassioned speeches and moving ballads. In a letter, Wiggins wrote: “I never made no more than nine dollars a week, and you can’t do for a family on such money. I’m the mother of nine. Four died with the whooping cough. I was working nights. . . .So I had to quit, and then there wasn’t no money for medicine, and they just died. I couldn’t do for my children any more than you women on the money we git. That’s why I come out for the union, and why we all got to stand for the union, so’s we can do better for our children, and they won’t have lives like we got.” Wiggins was murdered by vigilantes, in part because as a union leader, she successfully united the African American and white workers in the Communist-affiliated National Textile Workers Union. Ella May Wiggins’ story figures prominently in NC’s labor history and the state’s violent and bloody clashes with unionists in subsequent decades.