Digitized Martin County, NC WWII Scrapbook And 1965 Gaston County Yearbook



A couple months ago a patron donated a very fragile Martin County World War II scrapbook.  It is a comprehensive collection of newspaper articles related to that crucial period of world history and Martin County’s place in it.  Martin County has very few artifacts that have been digitized by the Digital Heritage Center so I was very  happy  to  take it to Chapel Hill for them to scan, and it is now up on their website.

I also brought a 1965 Gaston County, Ashley High School yearbook that was my father’s.  Gaston County only has three yearbooks digitized and two of them were brought by me!  Pick up the slack Gastonians!

spinner 1965

spinner 1965 2

Dad was a lot more outgoing in high school than I was, but I was in high school during the the age of the slacker.


Martyr of Loray Mill, New book on the Loray Mill Strike of 1929

martyr of loray millKristina Horton, great-granddaughter of Ella May has written a new book on the murdered labor leader, mother of nine and balladeer titled, Martyr of Loray Mill: Ella May and the 1929 Textile Workers’ Strike in Gastonia, North Carolina. 

I have personal interest in this book in that I grew up in Gastonia and worked in textile mills putting in air conditioning units and duct-work during the summers that I was in college.  Moreover, my great-grandfather was employed  at Loray Mill, although he had gone into business for himself before the strike started.  But not everyone had that option, especially not Ella May who was a single mom working to feed nine children, 4 of whom died of whooping cough in one day.  This is her testimony in Washington DC about the labor conditions of southern mills:

“I’m the mother of nine. Four died with the whooping cough, all at once. I was working nights, I asked the super to put me on days, so’s I could tend ‘em when they had their bad spells. But he wouldn’t. I don’t know why. … So I had to quit, and then there wasn’t no money for medicine, and they just died.”

The strike began because of the “stretch-out” system.  A system where weavers and spinners were required to double their work for less money.  Ella May thought that the union would be the best way to  improve conditions for her children so she joined the strike and eventually became one of the leaders and rallied the workers with her ballads.  Here is a description of peoples reaction to her taking the stage at a rally from the book’s introduction:

“Journalists sprang to Gaston County North Carolina. One of them witnessed a scrappy young female textile worker with guitar in hand ascend a speaking platform.  At once the reporter was “transfixed” by her presence and the music that “bubbled” from her.  Other textile workers were drawn in, attentively listening to her “full, throaty voice,” chuckling at her attacks on mill bosses, nodding at testimony to hardship.  The crowd delighted  in how she “gave songs in the mountain style, with an odd sort of yip at the end.”  Another female striker commented, “Purtiest singing I ever heard.”  Others agreed.  The balladeer with the magnetic aura in the center of a national controversy was Ella May.”

Soon afterward Ella May was “…deliberately shot (and killed) for her interracial organizing and her role as balladeer and speaker,” by a group of vigilantes called the Committee of 100 hired by the mill owners to break the strike. No one was ever indited even though there were over fifty eyewitnesses.

The strike was one of the most import strikes in the history of American labor.  Although it achieved little reform at Loray Mill (they lowered the hours to 55 a week) it galvanized people wanting better wages and living conditions all over the US and Europe.  Ella May herself was influential and was called by Woodie Gutherie “…the pioneer of the protest ballad”  (Huber 2009). Pete Seeger even recorded some of her songs (3).

I have not quite finished the book, but so far I have found it to be a well researched and personal account of Ella May’s short but consequential life.  The author deftly navigates a city and surrounding county that has never celebrated the strike as a pivotal event in the history of American labor, but as an embarrassment and something to be forgotten.  One thing I like about the book is the fact that Horton has a compilation of ballads composed around the strike, including Ella Mays famous, Mill Mother’s Lament.  It also has an appearance the director of Barton College’s Hackney Library and Gaston County native, George Loveland.  He wrote a book on the strike, For Our Little Children: Growing Up in the Shadow of the Loray Mill Strike, which I have read and found to be richly drawn and like Horton’s book, a very personal account of the 1929 event.

sam lowry

My great grandfather’s WWI registration card stating that he worked at Loray Mills.

ella may grave

Ella May’s grave and her surviving children, all of whom went into an orphanage.


Loray Mill Strikers. Sign in the lower right says “To Hell with the Hank Clock.” These clocks timed each task on the looms and weaver to make the worker go at a quicker pace and were a major grievance of the strikers.

eleven year olds who worked in Loray

Young boy employees of Loray Mill. They would advertise for children of small stature so they could easily go into the looms and fix thread breaks. The boy with the coat is listed as eleven years old.


“Been at it right smart for two years now.”

warping maching

A young girl working at a warping machine at Loray Mill.

national guard

“Two women confront an armed soldier during the Loray Mills Textile Strike.” Photo from the Edward Levinson Collection



1. Huber,Patrick. “Mill Mother’s Lament: Ella May Wiggins and the Gastonia Textile Strike of 1929.” Southern Cultures. (2009): 83. Web. 4 Oct. 2011.


3.Old Hat Records


5.Government and Heritage Library Blog

6.Our State Magazine


North Carolina’s Rich Dialect Diversity

talkin tarheel

My father used to tell me, “I swanny Will if you don’t stop scaring your sister with that Admiral Akbar mask, I am going to tear it half in two!”   Well the mask (I had won it in a Return of the Jedi coloring contest at the mall) was eventually torn half in two.  And according to the book I just finished reading , Talking Tarheel (2014) by Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser, the word swanny is a word found in the rural Piedmont dialect of North Carolina (it doesn’t say anything about half in two though).

The book concerns North Carolina’s regional dialects and I found it to be informative and engaging but also quite innovative in its addition of QR codes that allows you to access video and audio examples of dialects all over North Carolina (check out the audio-visual links here).  The authors, professors of English at NC State, separated the state into 6 major dialect areas: Appalachian, NC Piedmont, Coastal Plain, Tidewater and Outer Banks.  But there are also other dialects and languages within those areas, including: African American, Lumbee, Cherokee and Latino.

Their detailed research has revealed some new revelations in the mosaic of dialects that we are fortunate to have in our state.  One interesting finding is how varied African American Dialects are in NC, which are sometimes viewed as a monolith in “white” America.  But there are some surprising speechways from the rural to the urban and from the Outer Banks to the Appalachians, and many are far removed from the urban dialect portrayed in popular culture.

The authors also try to dispel the myth that the Appalachian and Outer Banks vernacular is some sort of Elizabethan English time bubble.  It turns out that their English is as living and mutable as any dialect, their isolation has just allowed a few words and grammatical structures to survive where in other, more connected, areas it has died out.  If you read my review of John McWhorter’s book  Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, you will have already read about some antediluvian grammar that still lives on in NC, ie. “Mary is a singing.”  Also, one of my favorite examples of how the Outer Banks vernacular has been evolving is their use of the word “dingbatters” for tourists.  They picked up that word from watching Archie Bunker on the TV sitcom All in the Family. However, I do have a beef, I have read a hantle (a lot) of literature about the Scots Irish dialect of the Carolinas (esp. From Ulster to America by Michael Montgomery, who is probably the leading expert in Scots Irish speech ways and Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fisher),  and as an armchair linguist who took one undergraduate linguistics class, I don’t think the authors emphasized the impact Scots Irish had on the Piedmont and Appalachian dialect regions enough.  There are hundreds of words that came out of their distinct dialect that has examples in writings from Ulster (also lowland Scotland and the English border) and their diaspora in America. Examples of Scots Irish words that have occurred in Ulster and America:  jouk- dodge, fornest-next to,  lowp-jump,  hantle- a lot.  But in their defense the researchers for the most part adhered to the results of their own research.

But the part I found most interesting is the chapter on the legacy of American Indian Languages.  Unfortunately, the only language remaining out of the six American Indian Language families that were historically found in NC is Cherokee, and presently there are only 200 to 300 fluent speakers of the language left in North Carolina.  But there is another American Indian tribe living in NC that is the ninth largest tribe in the United States and is the largest non-reservation tribe in the US and they are the Lumbee tribe of Robeson County.  This enigmatic tribe lost their language (or languages) sometime in the 1700’s but they speak a dialect of English that is as singular as the one found in the Appalachians or the Outer Banks and I am going to cover them in depth in another blog post.

The authors end the book covering the great Latino migration into North Carolina and the cultural and language ways that they are adding to our mostly monolingual state.  Drawn to our manufacturing and agricultural job opportunities, North Carolina is now third in it the nation for numbers of rural Latinos and number one in monolingual Spanish speakers.  Also, ten percent of Mexican immigrants speak an indigenous language and some of them do not speak Spanish as their first language but Otomi, Mixtec, Nahuas, Purhepechas,  or Triques.  However,  only half of the Latinos in NC are from Mexico, the other half are from El Salvador, Panama, Guatemala or any other Central or even South American nation (my sister-in-law is Peruvian and lives in NC).  The term most commonly used for Spanish speakers by Anglos in NC is Hispanic which is also the most used term on the East coast, but in the West they use the term Latino.  Hispanic was found to be the most disliked phrase among Latinos because it was wholly created by the US Census and is considered a “white person’s” word.  Lastly, the researchers have found that many bilingual children of Latino immigrants speak with a rural southern accent but with a distinctly Latino rhythm adding a beautiful new dialect to the already diverse speechways of our state.

Wolfram and Reaser view North Carolina’s richly diverse language quilt as one our most important resources.  Although dialects change and die-out, the authors believe that there will not come a time when all Americans or North Carolinians speak alike.  They seek to document the language and history of North Carolinians from the ones who were here at the founding to the more recent arrivals.

Also investigate this article: What linguists say about Kevin Spacey’s bizarre Southern accent on House of Cards

In the show House of Cards, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is from Gaffney, SC, a town that has a very similar culture and accent to my hometown of Gastonia, NC by virtue of them both sitting on the I-85 textile corridor about 30 miles apart.  I can tell you that I never met anybody that dropped their “r’s” there like the Frank Underwood character does, if anything they added more “r’s”. Well that is not exactly true my best friend’s mother and father dropped their “r’s” but they were from the Lowcountry of South Carolina and they stood out.  One of our favorite pastimes was to imitate his mother, “Da-vid, don’t you duhty up my kitchin.”


Our State Magazine, Now Digitized


A thorough overview of the Wilson County economy in 1964.


Actually it was the hired thugs of the out of state mill owners who reared their ugly heads.

The North Carolina themed magazine, Our State, is now digitized and can be viewed at Our State Digital Collection.  The magazine started in 1933 and is chock full of North Caroliniana.  And since it has gone online I have looked up articles as disparate as the 1929 Loray Mill Strike in Gastonia and the reintroduction of elk in the Great Smokey Mountains.  There is even a whole issue devoted to Wilson County!

Warning: I started playing with their search engine and I almost missed my lunch break an hour later.


My sister used to live near where the elk were reintroduced and I would hike around where they were supposed to be but they always eluded me.

Hurricane Hazel in Wilson, 1954

Wilson County Fair after Hurricane Hazel I

Wilson County Fair after Hurricane Hazel (Raines and Cox Photography)

Destroyed Business-Hurricane Hazel-1954 (courtesy of Keith B

Destroyed Business-Hurricane Hazel-1954 (photo by Keith Barnes)

My grandparents had a beach house in Myrtle Beach in the 1950’s and the story in our family was that when they visited the house after Hazel struck every house around it for blocks was leveled but their house still stood for some inexplicable reason.  I thought about that story and about my own experiences with Hurricane Hugo (it put a giant pine tree through our living room in Gastonia, NC and we didn’t have power or school for two weeks) when I looked at these pictures that I found on a DVD in my desk drawer.  Hazel was still a category 3 hurricane when it reached Wilson; it was still a hurricane when it reached Toronto Canada!  Hazel was a powerful and massively destructive storm that lives on in the Carolinas in stories and photographs.


The path of Hurricane Hazel (image from Wikipedia)

See more images at our Flickr Page