June 1959: Textile Strike and Trials in Henderson

This Month in North Carolina History

Cover of “Southern Newsletter” issue for August-September 1959
Cover of “Southern Newsletter” issue for August-September 1959

Boyd Payton’s mind raced with questions as he steered his car back to his Charlotte home after a Sunday visit with a friend on June 14, 1959. An announcer on the radio station to which he was tuned had just identified him as one of eight people charged with conspiring to blow up an electrical sub-station and textile manufacturing facilities in Henderson. Although Payton, the Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA) regional director for the Carolinas, had spent plenty of time in Vance County in the previous months negotiating on behalf of workers at the Harriet and Henderson Mills, several of the individuals listed as his co-conspirators were unknown to him. But, in the ensuing weeks, he would become well-acquainted with them and the tactics state and local officials were willing to use to bring to an end the strike-related violence crippling Henderson.

Payton’s arrest followed more than eight months of tensions in Henderson. Members of TWUA Locals 578 and 584 went out on strike in November 1958 after the owner of the Harriet and Henderson Mills, John D. Cooper, Jr., refused to accept a new contract that called for arbitration of union grievances

Initially, the strike was peaceful. Union members picketed outside the locked gates of the mills, which Cooper had closed in response to the strike. But, as late January approached, workers grew increasingly frustrated with management’s refusal to return to the bargaining table. Community leaders, too, grew edgy, concerned that the strike would hinder Henderson’s ability to attract new industries. And local businesses began to complain of lost revenues.

In early February, company officials decided to resume production. Before reopening the mills, they sent recruiters into communities throughout North Carolina and Virginia to find potential strikebreakers. Management also sought legal means to prevent strikers from preventing a new workforce from entering the plants. On February 9, with management’s encouragement, a local businessman crossed the picket lines with a load of cotton. As the man’s truck approached the factory gates, strikers surrounded it and pulled the driver from the cab. The incident sparked a Superior Court judge to issue a temporary restraining order barring strikers from interfering with “free ingress and egress” to and from the mills. The judge also limited the number of pickets to eight, ruled that picketers had to stand at least seventy-five feet from mill gates, and ordered that strikers direct no “vile, abusive, violent or threatening language” toward managers or strikebreakers.

Tasked with upholding the judge’s orders, local law enforcement appealed to the state for help. In response Governor Luther Hodges, a former textile executive, sent 30 members of the State Highway Patrol to Henderson. The state troopers were on guard February 16 when the mills reopened with newly-hired workers and some strike-breaking union members. Two nights later several bombs exploded in the mill villages. One explosion took place in the yard of a Local 584 member who had returned to work. The blast caused little damage and no injuries. And, although those responsible were unknown, many blamed strikers. But Payton of the TWUA suggested that the violence might have been instigated by forces seeking to discredit the TWUA and justify the continued presence of the State Highway Patrol in Henderson.

There was additional violence several days later. On February 23 Cooper announced that the company would hire permanent replacements for those who hadn’t returned to work and that any new contract would grant strikebreakers seniority over strikers. Shortly after Cooper’s announcement, Payton reported being clubbed unconscious in his hotel room by a group of attackers. The next day, February 24, several picketers threw rocks at strikebreakers’ cars. In response, state troopers began escorting strikebreakers into the mills.

The Highway Patrol’s increased role in protecting strikebreakers led Payton to accuse state officials of siding with Cooper and his company. But Hodges argued that state law enforcement only was seeking to maintain order. When bombings, vandalism and other violence continued through February and into early March, Hodges sent the SBI to investigate. Suspecting union involvement in the violence, agents put Payton under surveillance. But the SBI’s investigation failed to produce quick results and the violence continued, with continued bombings and street battles occurring between picketers on one side and the highway patrol and strikebreakers on the other.

Photograph from “The Henderson Story,” published by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills.
Photograph from “The Henderson Story,” published by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills.

On March 3 Hodges sent an additional 100 members of the Highway Patrol to Henderson, a move that put a total of 146 troopers in the city and resulted in one-quarter of the statewide force being based there. Hodges also prodded the Cooper to make concessions. When negotiations failed to produce results, Hodges chose to personally intervene. He called for both sides to meet with him in Raleigh.

Continued negotiations under the governor’s supervision produced an agreement on April 17. The proposed contract stipulated that arbitration would occur with the mutual consent of the union and management. Workers would also retain the right to strike if the company refused arbitration. Negotiations also produced agreement that strikebreakers would retain all first-shift jobs, but remaining shifts would be filled by strikers.

Photograph from “The Henderson Story,” published by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills.
Photograph from “The Henderson Story,” published by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills.

But the agreement was short-lived. It unraveled when strikers learned that management had only retained 30 jobs for them and had given the remainder to strikebreakers. Accusations that management had negotiated in bad faith were followed by additional violence. Facing criticism for his use of the Highway Patrol, Hodges ordered the state troopers replaced by the National Guard in May. Henderson took on the look of a town under military occupation as several hundred soldiers with bayonet-tipped rifles arrived to maintain peace.

Also in early May a special session of superior court was held to try those arrested for violating the restraining order. More than 60 union members and sympathizers were convicted and given jail sentences, fines, terms on county road gangs or some combination of the punishments.

Payton and his co-defendants appeared for trial in July. The state’s case against them rested on testimony from Harold Aaron, a textile worker and union member from Leaksville in Rockingham County. Aaron had moved to Henderson to find work as a strikebreaker. Union officials hoped to use him as a spy inside the mills. But, unbeknownst to them, he was also working as an informant for the State Bureau of Investigation. Under the direction of the SBI, Aaron met with several strikers in a bugged motel room in Roanoke Rapids, about 30 miles from Henderson. Prosecutors contended that Aaron and the strikers discussed blowing up the offices and a boiler room at the Harriet mills and destroying an electrical substation that provided power to the plants. According to the prosecution the plotters agreed to meet again on June 13 to carry out their plan. When the group assembled that evening, SBI agents rushed in to arrest them. No dynamite or other explosives were found.

Both the prosecution and the defense agreed that Payton was not present at the June 4 meeting, nor was he among the group arrested on June 13. But the state argued that Payton had knowledge of the conspiracy because of a telephone call on June 4. On that evening Aaron telephoned a Henderson hotel room that TWUA officials were using as an office. Payton answered the phone, acknowledged that he knew Aaron and then said, “Don’t say too much over this phone—it is going through a switchboard.” Payton and his attorneys argued that union officials offered such warnings to all callers because the hotel in which they were staying was owned by the Cooper family. Furthermore, they added, Payton’s comments were insufficient evidence of participation in a conspiracy.

Despite the defendants’ claims of entrapment a jury returned guilty verdicts on all charges. The judge sentenced Payton and two other regional TWUA officials to six to ten years in prison. The five strikers received slightly lesser sentences. The eight defendants immediately appealed their convictions and remained free on bail as their cases wound their way through the appeals process. Hodges declined to grant pardons or commute the defendants’ sentences. When the N.C. Supreme Court denied the appeal, Payton and his co-defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court. But the high court refused to hear the case in October 1960. Shortly thereafter Payton and his co-defendants began serving their prison sentences.

As Payton and his co-defendants settled into prison life, newspapermen and others campaigned for their release. Supporters included Charlotte Observer columnist Kays Gary, Carolina Israelite publisher Harry Golden, Raleigh News and Observer editor Jonathan Daniels, Raleigh minister William W. Finlator Sr. and evangelist Billy Graham. In addition to penning articles, the group wrote letters to Terry Sanford, who became North Carolina’s governor in January 1961. Their efforts eventually paid off in July 1961 when Sanford reduced the defendants’ sentences. The governor’s action made four of the men immediately eligible for parole. A fifth had already been paroled. Payton and his two TWUA colleagues were required to wait until August for parole. Three years later, on New Year’s Eve 1964, the day his term as governor expired, Sanford granted a full pardon to Payton. The governor declined to do the same for the remaining seven, noting that the evidence against Payton was different and insufficient to support the verdict.

By the time he received his pardon, Payton had ceased working for the Textile Workers Union of America. The Henderson strike, too, was over, having ended on May 26, 1961, when the TWUA’s executive council in New York voted to call an end to protests. The strike brought no concessions from Cooper, in effect allowing management to destroy the TWUA locals. Most of the strikers never worked another day in the Harriet and Henderson mills. And the memories and divisions created by the unrest in Henderson plagued the city for years.

Suggestions for further reading:

Cartwright, Perry. “The Henderson Trial: Will the Trial of Textile Union Leaders Break the Back of Southern Unions and Make the South Safe for Industry?Southern Newsletter 4.1 (August-September 1959): 0-3

Cater, Douglass. “Labor’s Long Trial in Henderson, N.C.” The Reporter Sept. 14, 1961: 36-40.

Clark, Daniel J. Like Night & Day: Unionization in a Southern Mill Town. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Payton, Boyd E. Scapegoat: Prejudice/Politics/Prison. Philadelphia: Whitmore Publishing Co., 1970.

The Henderson Story. Henderson, N.C.: Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills, 1961.

Image Sources:

“The Henderson Trial.” Cover of Southern Newsletter, in North Carolina Carolina Collection.

Boyd Payton and strikers from “The Henderson Story,” a compilation of articles on the Harriet and Henderson strikes from America’s Textile Reporter magazine. Republished by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills, in North Carolina Collection.

Bleeding man from “The Henderson Story,” a compilation of articles on the Harriet and Henderson strikes from America’s Textile Reporter magazine. Republished by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills, in North Carolina Collection.

June 1791: George Washington Visits Salem, NC

This Month in North Carolina History

“Old Tavern Where George Washington Was Entertained In 1791, Winston-Salem, N.C.” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill. View in the digital Durwood Barbour collection.

In the spring of 1791 President George Washington began a tour of the southern states, not only to learn first hand about the condition of the country but also to give the citizens of the young United States a chance to meet their first President. The tremendous enthusiasm with which Washington was greeted as he journeyed to New York after his election must surely have revealed to him the great admiration in which he was held.

A proponent of the new constitution and determined that the government created under that constitution be firmly rooted in the support of the people, Washington saw the advantage of linking his popularity as closely as possible to the new government. As president he tried to remain a national symbol, staying as much as possible above political strife. His tour of the southern states, as well as visits to other parts of the country, also helped to strengthen the growing sense of American union.

Washington’s travels during his presidency were also a testimony to his remarkable physical stamina. In his late fifties at the time of the southern tour, with years of military campaigning behind him, the rigors of travel in America at the end of the eighteenth century had little impact on him. His day often began well before dawn, and Washington would cover as much as fifteen miles before breakfast. In bad weather he traveled in a carriage, but if the day was fine he was in the saddle.

Washington must also have felt the stress of being the most popular figure in the country. Wherever he went Washington was lionized. People poured out to see him in cities, towns, and villages all along his itinerary. Meeting and greeting, speeches, dinners and entertainments were all part of the routine. With as many as a dozen toasts at a dinner, Washington either had an amazing head for alcohol or took very small sips.

Washington first traveled south through the eastern parts of the Carolinas and Georgia and then returned to Virginia by a route that took him farther to the west. He entered North Carolina on the return trip late in May near Charlotte. Passing on through the state, Washington intended to spend the night in Salem, and word came to the town to expect the President in the afternoon of May 31st.

It is easy to imagine that Washington’s visit to Salem, while it was certainly the occasion of much enthusiasm was also the cause of a bit of anxiety. Throughout the south Washington’s tour was a celebration of the Revolution. He was hailed as the Father of his Country. Speeches and toasts memorialized his service in the war against Britain. Many of those who greeted and entertained him had been his fellow soldiers in that war. Salem was something of an exception.

The Moravians of Salem and the surrounding countryside — the old tract of Wachovia — had, at the time of the American Revolution, a tradition of pacifism going back more than three hundred years. When hostilities began between the British government and its colonial opponents the Moravians asked to be left alone. The official diary of the Moravian settlements records simply, “It does not accord with our character as Brethren to mix in such political affairs, we are children of peace.” To patriots or loyalists, who were sacrificing much for their cause, this was hard to accept. The Moravian settlements were persecuted by both sides as they tried to maintain their religious commitment.

Whatever concern there may have been, the meeting between the President and the Moravians went smoothly and pleasantly. We are fortunate to have several accounts of Washington’s visit to Salem, the most important ones being the diary of the President himself and the official diary of the Moravian community. Washington was impressed with the neat orderly appearance of the town as well as with the demeanor of its inhabitants. He considered it a well governed, hard-working community. The people of Salem were impressed with Washington’s simple, friendly manner, particularly with children.

The Moravians loved music, and Washington was so pleased with the band which played for him on his arrival that he asked if he could have music to accompany his dinner. The next day, June 1, Washington toured Salem, visiting its workshops and Choir houses. He was particularly taken with the waterworks. In the afternoon the leaders of the community made a formal address to the President to which he responded. Governor Alexander Martin arrived late in the afternoon, and he and the President attended a “singstunde” with singing and instrumental music. At four o’clock on the morning of June 2nd, the presidential party left Salem and on June 9 crossed back into Virginia.


Alden, John R. George Washington: a biography. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, c. 1984.

Henderson Archibald. Washington’s southern tour, 1791. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1923.

Fries, Adelaide, ed. Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, Vol. V. Raleigh, NC: The North Carolina Historical Commission, 1941.

Image Source:

“Old Tavern Where George Washington Was Entertained In 1791, Winston-Salem, N.C.” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

June 1859: James Buchanan visits the University of North Carolina

This Month in North Carolina History

Campus 1855Wednesday, the first of June 1859, was hot and dry in Chapel Hill The University’s annual commencement exercises had already been going on for two days, and the morning’s program was just winding up when a large party of visitors, tired and covered with dust, arrived from Raleigh. Although late, this party was perhaps the most important part of the graduation ceremonies, because it included James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States and the second chief magistrate to visit the University campus.

In anticipation of Buchanan’s visit the largest crowd ever to have attended graduation gathered in Chapel Hill, putting a serious strain on the resources both of private hosts and public accommodations. Every carriage in the village and surrounding countryside had been pressed into service transporting the crowds, and when they were not sufficient, springless wagons took up the slack in a bone-jarring sort of way. The carriage of the President and official party was drawn by matched horses. Anything that could pull a wagon, including combinations of horses and mules, sufficed for the rest.

Music for the occasion was provided by the Richmond Armory band. In honor of the President, for the first time in its history the University invited a militia company, the Wilmington Light Infantry, to participate in the festivities. Reporters from the New York Herald and the Richmond Dispatch covered the visit, along with several local papers. Difficult as observers of the modern University may find it to believe, in 1859 UNC ignored and neglected the press. One reporter complained of paying two dollars for a ride from Durham in a wagon and then having to sleep on the floor when he got to Chapel Hill.

Buchanan was a hit with the crowds and seems to have enjoyed himself thoroughly. He made several well received impromptu speeches, although he usually spoke from prepared texts. He dined on the lawn of President Swain’s house with members of the senior class, the faculty, and the trustees. He met the public at a reception under the Davie Poplar during which, a University historian points out, the President kissed only one young lady. Perhaps this was noted especially since Buchanan, the only bachelor president, seems to have enjoyed kissing young ladies. The wife of one of his cabinet officers noted that the President “…had a good time in N. Carolina for Mr. T. says he kissed hundreds of pretty girls which made his mouth water.”

Buchanan came to Chapel Hill near the end of his presidency at a time when he was feeling deep unhappiness and frustration in his political life. When he was elected president in 1856 he brought to the office not only his political popularity, but also substantial experience and talent. He had served for years in both the Pennsylvania legislature and the United States House and Senate. He had been U. S. ambassador to Russia and Great Britain and had been Secretary of State under President Pierce. He had for decades been a shrewd leader of the Democratic Party in his home state and the nation. In less than four years, however, his presidency had fallen apart under the stress of sectional animosity. Buchanan was a northern man with southern sympathies. He liked and admired many slave holders and believed slavery to be a benevolent institution. However, he also revered the constitution and federal union. Caught between militant supporters of slavery on the one hand and abolitionists on the other, Buchanan could find no political way out except to appeal to everyone to obey the law. This position satisfied no one and the country moved ever closer to dissolution as his term came to an end.

When Buchanan spoke at Chapel Hill he often referred to his love of the union, the constitution, and the law. Perhaps this is one of the sources of his popularity during the visit. Perhaps North Carolinians, many of whom supported both the federal union and the “peculiar institution” of slavery, could identify with James Buchanan, caught, and increasingly helpless, between veneration of the union and the conflict over slavery.


Klein, Philip Shriver. President James Buchanan: a biography. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, c. 1962.

Battle, Kemp Plummer. History of the University of North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: Academic Affairs Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2002.

Auchampaugh, Philip. “A forgotten journey of an antebellum president,” reprinted from Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, July 1935.

Image Source:

[“UNC Campus ca. 1855”] from the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives. File #77-113

June 1861: Battle of Bethel

This Month in North Carolina History


One could say that the Civil War began for North Carolina on the 10th of June, 1861, near Bethel Church, Virginia. On that day the First Regiment of North Carolina Infantry (6 Months, 1861) engaged U. S. troops in what has been called the first battle of the Civil War.

The First North Carolina Infantry was mustered into state service in Raleigh on May 13, 1861 and was led by Colonel Daniel Harvey Hill of Mecklenburg County. Consisting of colorfully named units from several counties, such as the Hornet Nest Rifles, Charlotte Grays, Orange Light Infantry, Buncombe Rifles, Lafayette Light Infantry, Burke Rifles, Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry, Enfield Blues, and Southern Stars, the regiment reflected the general enthusiasm of the early days of the war.

Then, on May 17, the regiment was accepted into Confederate Service and ordered to Richmond, Virginia. From there it was sent to Yorktown, and went into camp. On June 6 the regiment marched south eleven miles to Bethel Church, Virginia, sometimes called Big Bethel, and bivouacked without tents in the rain. The regiment had brought only 25 spades, 6 axes and 3 picks, but Colonel Hill was determined to put his command in a good defensive position. Dirt flew, and by June 8 the fortification of the camp was substantially complete. That night Confederate General John Magruder arrived at Bethel to take command.

Some nine miles from the First North Carolina at Bethel was the Federal stronghold of Fortress Monroe. Built to protect the United States from foreign attack, the fort served during the Civil War as a staging ground for United States troops and ships and a stepping off point for military operations into Virginia. General Benjamin F. Butler, commander of Union forces at Fortress Monroe, learned of the movement of the North Carolina Regiment and dispatched General Ebenezer W. Peirce with 2,500 troops to attack the Confederates at Bethel.

Discovering the Federal advance, the North Carolinians moved to their prepared positions. Around 9:00 a.m. on the 10th of June the Battle of Bethel began and by 2:00 p.m. it was over. Federal troops made successive uncoordinated attacks on the First North Carolina’s position and, meeting a spirited defense, retired from the field. Federal casualties were 76 while North Carolina’s total was only 11. Of these 11, Henry Lawson Wyatt of Tarboro, North Carolina, was the only Confederate soldier killed.

Over the next four years tens of thousands of North Carolinians served in every theater of the conflict, and North Carolina’s total loss from the war, 40,000, was greater than any other Confederate state. To North Carolina Confederates, however, the state’s participation in the first battle of the war was a source of pride, and “First at Bethel” was a boast for many years in the Tar Heel State.


David J. Eicher. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Walter Clark, Ed. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65. Raleigh, NC: Published by the State, E. M. Uzzell, Printer and Binder, 1901.

Louis H. Manarin, Comp. North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster. Vol. III. Raleigh, NC: State Department of Archives and History, 1971.

North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Image Source:

W. G. Lewis. The Only Correct and Reliable Map of the Battle of Bethel!: From a Survey and Drawing. Tarboro’, N.C.: Wm. B. Smith, [1861]. North Carolina Collection. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

June 1940: U.S.S. North Carolina

This Month in North Carolina History

Broadside, “The U.S.S. North Carolina Comes Home.” Color Lithography by Colonial Press, Chapel Hill. Ektachrome by Hugh Morton. North Carolina Collection, Call Number Cb970.99 U58n8

On the 13th of June, 1940, BB 55, the first American battleship built since 1921 and the first of the Navy’s modern fast battleships, was launched from the Navy Shipyard in New York. At her launching BB 55 was sponsored by Isabel Hoey, daughter of the governor of North Carolina. Miss Hoey was present because BB 55 was to become the third vessel in the United States Navy to carry the name North Carolina.

The USS North Carolina was designed to be fast and powerful. Even with her massive armor, nine 16-inch guns, and 1,900 man crew, the North Carolina drove through the water at an impressive 28 knots. With her sleek good looks, she was also a crowd pleaser, nicknamed the “Showboat” by the men who built and tested her.

When the North Carolina was launched the United States was at peace, but war was raging in Europe and Asia. By the time she had finished her shakedown cruise, commissioning, and training exercises, the country had gone to war, and the North Carolina was hurried to the Pacific to help replace the battleships lost in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. From June 1942 until the end of the war in 1945, the North Carolina was heavily engaged in screening aircraft carrier task forces and using her big guns in support of assaults on Japanese held positions. She sailed more than 300,000 miles, engaging in every major naval operation in the Pacific theater, and earning 15 battle stars.

School campaign
Broadside. North Carolina Collection, Call Number Cb970.99 U58n

The end of the Second World War was also the end of the active career of the North Carolina. The Navy designed and built the ship in the late 1930s as one of its premier offensive weapons. Battleships carried the war to the enemy. After the spectacular air assault on Pearl Harbor, however, the Navy came increasingly to depend on the aircraft carrier as its chief weapon.

Battleships like the North Carolina became escort vessels, screening carriers from surface and air attack, and gun platforms supporting troops in amphibious invasions. In 1947 the North Carolina was decommissioned and made part of the reserve fleet anchored in Bayonne, New Jersey.

For 13 years the North Carolina lay becalmed in the “mothball fleet,” but in 1960 North Carolinians led by Terry Sanford, Luther Hodges, and Hugh Morton, in cooperation with the Navy, began making plans to bring the ship to Wilmington. In that same year a statewide campaign for public support for the vessel raised $325,000, including money raised by 700,000 school children. On October 2, 1961, the North Carolina was carefully maneuvered through the narrow channel into the port of Wilmington to its new berth. The battleship had become a museum ship, a monument to the great warships and the people who sailed on them and a memorial to North Carolinians who served and died in World War II.



Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington: Navy Dept., Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, U.S., 1959-1981.

Mobley, Joe A. USS North Carolina: Symbol of a Vanished Age. Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1985.

June 1870: The “Kirk-Holden” War

This Month in North Carolina History

Broadside published by the Randolph County Executive Committee of the Republican Party on June 1, 1870. Find it in the North Carolina Collection.

On June 6, 1870, Governor William Woods Holden, a Republican from Wake County, issued a five-hundred-dollar reward for the arrest or information leading to the capture of individuals involved in the deaths of John W. “Chicken” Stephens, Wyatt Outlaw, and several other North Carolinians.

The proclamation, which also detailed various other acts of violence against African Americans and white Republicans, attributed the crimes to the Ku Klux Klan and was one of the many events leading to the “Kirk-Holden War.”

Following its formation in the aftermath of the Civil War, the Klan quickly spread across the South. In North Carolina, the Klan was not a monolithic organization; rather, it was a loose conglomeration of secret societies, which used terror and vigilante tactics in an attempt to reverse Republican electoral success and maintain white supremacy. While Klan activity occurred throughout North Carolina, it was particularly active in the Piedmont counties of Alamance and Caswell. Governor Holden attempted to use local authorities to control the violence, but in many cases county and community leaders were members of the Klan or sympathetic to its activities.

As events began to spiral out of control, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the “Shoffner Act,” introduced by Alamance County Republican senator T. M. Shoffner. The law enabled the governor to declare a county “to be in a state of insurrection, and to call into active service the militia of the state to such an extent as may become necessary to suppress such insurrection” if the local officials were incapable–or unwilling–to do so. Holden declared martial law in Alamance County on March 7, 1870, and in Caswell County on July 8.

Holden selected former Union colonel and cavalry leader George W. Kirk, who was born and raised in Greene County, Tennessee, to lead the state militia troops. Kirk’s infamy and reputation as a Union “bushwhacker,” whose Federal units terrorized Southern mountain communities, resonated deeply throughout the state. The newly constituted force of state militia, predominately consisting of men from eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, arrived in Alamance and Caswell Counties in July and arrested over 100 individuals, mostly without incident.

The prisoners were jailed in Caswell County, while awaiting trial before a special military court. Holden and Kirk ignored writs of habeas corpus that were issued by a state judge, and the defendants and their supporters turned to the federal judiciary for assistance. Support for the governor’s controversial measures faltered, and President Ulysses S. Grant warned Holden that the national government would no longer support his actions. The suspected Klan leaders and members were released in late August, and, in November, Alamance and Caswell Counties were declared to no longer be in a state of insurrection.

The events of the “Kirk-Holden War,” as it came to be called by those opposed to Governor Holden’s actions, and the subsequent electoral collapse of the state Republican Party in 1870 were substantial factors in the December 1870 impeachment and March 1871 conviction of Holden.

Suggestions For Further Reading:

William C. Harris. William Woods Holden: Firebrand of North Carolina Politics. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Carole Watterson Troxler and William Murray Vincent. Shuttle & Plow: A History of Alamance County, North Carolina. Alamance County Historical Association, Inc., 1999.

William S. Powell. When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County, North Carolina, 1777-1977. Durham: Moore Publishing Company, 1977.

State of North Carolina. Trial of William W. Holden: Governor of North Carolina, Before the Senate of North Carolina, On Impeachment by the House of Representatives for High Crimes and Misdemeanors. Raleigh: “Sentinel” Printing Office, 1871.

William Woods Holden. Memoirs of W. W. Holden. Durham: The Seeman Printery, 1911. Also available on Documenting the American South.

June 1756: Birth of William Richardson Davie

This Month in North Carolina History


William Richardson Davie, the “Father of the University of North Carolina,” was born on June 22, 1756, in the Parish of Egremont, County Cumberland, England.

His parents, Archibald and Mary Richardson Davie, were Scottish but had moved to the northwest of England prior to his birth. The future soldier and statesman immigrated with his parents and siblings to the Waxhaws region of South Carolina around the time he was eight years old.

The exact reasons for the Davie family leaving England are open to speculation. Some conjecture has centered on Davie’s uncle and namesake, William Richardson. Coming to America in the early 1750s, Richardson was ordained by the Presbyterian Church in 1758. After a brief mission trip among the Cherokee Indians, he accepted a call to serve the Waxhaw Presbyterian Church in Craven County, South Carolina.

Richardson wisely invested and nurtured an inheritance and his income as minister, so by the early 1760s he was a well-established member of the Waxhaws area. This material prosperity, however, did not diminish Richardson’s disappointment that he and his wife remained childless. In an attempt to fill the void, Richardson convinced his sister, Mary, and her family to move to the backcountry of South Carolina in 1764.

Davie enjoyed a comfortable childhood and the beginnings of a classical education while growing up near his uncle. He attended Queen’s College, later Queen’s Museum, in Charlotte before enrolling in the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). Graduating in 1776, Davie moved to Salisbury, North Carolina, to study law in the office of Spruce Macay. The mounting conflict of the Revolutionary War forced Davie to suspend his studies and immediately involve himself as a Whig partisan fighter in the North Carolina Piedmont. Eventually, he would climb to the rank of commissary general, serving Nathaniel Greene’s Southern Army during the last years of hostilities.

As did many Revolutionary War leaders, Davie translated military success and prowess on the battlefield into achievement in the world of politics. After the conflict, he moved to Halifax, North Carolina, to practice law and was elected as a representative to the General Assembly. In 1787 he was selected by the legislature as one of North Carolina’s delegates to the Federal Convention in Philadelphia, which drafted the United States Constitution. Although Davie did not stay to sign the final document, he successfully fought for North Carolina’s eventual ratification.

It was in the General Assembly, however, that Davie would earn the title by which he is still known today. He proved to be the major force in satisfying the requirements of Section 41 of North Carolina’s constitution, which stated, “all usefull [sic] learning shall be duly encouraged and promoted in one or more universities.”

In 1789 Davie introduced a bill to establish the University of North Carolina and led the charge to secure its passage. Furthermore, his involvement with the University did not end with its creation: he served on the Board of Trustees, presided at the cornerstone laying ceremony of the first building, helped to formulate its first curriculum, consulted on selecting faculty members, procured additional financial support, donated books and other artifacts, and took part in the many other activities needed to launch the University. Even after moving back to South Carolina in late 1804, Davie continued to correspond with and give advice to the University’s trustees.

Although Davie would go on to serve as North Carolina’s governor from 1798 to 1799 and as a minister plenipotentiary to France from 1799 to 1800, his main contribution to his adopted country and state remains as “Father” of the nation’s first public university.

Suggestions for Further Reading
Blackwell P. Robinson. William R. Davie. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957.

R. D. W. Connor, Hugh T. Lefler, and Louis R. Wilson, Eds. A Documentary History of the University of North Carolina, 1776-1799 (2 vols.). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953.

William D. Snider. Light on the Hill: A History of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Kemp Plummer Battle. History of the University of North Carolina. Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1912. Available online at Documenting the American South.

June 1929: Strike at Loray Mill

This Month in North Carolina History

loraygunsThe authorities couldn’t tell for certain who shot Gastonia, N.C. police chief Orville Aderholt on June 7, 1929, so they arrested nearly everyone at the scene. Seventy-one people were detained, all of them organizers for or members of the National Textile Workers Union, whose camp Aderholt was visiting when he was killed. The trial received national attention. Members of the media, like many locals, were divided as to whether the strike at the Loray Mill, which had begun earlier that spring, represented an honest effort by workers to improve their conditions or a dangerous plot by Northern Communists to infiltrate the South.

The textile industry in North Carolina was booming in the first decades of the 20th-century. New mills opened all over the Piedmont while old ones expanded. Investors from other parts of the country poured money into the region, taking advantage of one of the South’s most important resources: cheap and abundant labor. The authors of a pamphlet issued by the Seaboard Air Line Railway around 1924 made a compelling case for bringing textile businesses south. “Labor is the South’s greatest inducement to the textile industry,” they wrote. “It would be difficult to find in any industry in the north or west more intelligent people than those comprising the operatives of our southern mills.” Workers in the region, they claimed, faced longer hours, less pay, raised much of their own food, were protected by fewer labor laws, and even needed less clothing than their counterparts in Northern states.

By the late 1920s, mill owners faced increased competition and a declining economy. They tried to cut down on costs by applying the new principles of scientific management, reducing the labor force by ensuring that each worker was as efficient as possible. This practice of requiring more work in the same time period period without raising (and often reducing) pay was known by mill workers as “the stretch-out.”

Union organizers saw the textile industry as the perfect place to gain a foothold in a region that had previously resisted organized labor. The National Textile Workers Union (NTWU), formed in Massachusetts in 1928, planned to start its work in the South with one mill in North Carolina, in hopes that a single strike would inspire sympathetic walkouts at other mills throughout the state. Fred Beal, an NTWU organizer, arrived in the North Carolina in early 1929 and began to look for a mill where labor conditions were poor enough, and workers were eager enough, to form a union. By the spring of that year, he had found it.

The Loray Mill in Gastonia was one of the largest in the state. The size of the mill, and the fact that it was owned by a textile company in Rhode Island, led Beal and others to believe that workers at Loray might respond to a call for unionization. Many workers did join the union, and the company responded by firing five union members in late May 1929. In response to the firings, the union members voted to strike. On April 1, close to 1,800 workers refused to return to the mill until their demands were met. The mill owners refused to negotiate, and by the end of the month, many of the strikers could not hold out any longer and returned to work. But that didn’t mean that the troubles were over.

loraylargeA few hundred workers remained on the picket line even after being evicted from their mill-owned homes and forced to live in a tent village put up by the union. There were frequent scuffles between strikers and local men who were sworn in as deputies solely for the purpose of subduing them. The hostilities reached their apex on June 7, 1929, when deputies broke up a picket line composed largely of women and children. The deputies and other police officers then went to the tent village, shots were fired, and the Gastonia police chief, Orville F. Aderholt, was killed.

Sixteen union members were tried for the murder of Aderholt and were released when a mistrial was declared in September 1929. The troubles in Gastonia continued. At a large rally of union workers on September 14, 1929, Ella May Wiggins, a popular speaker known for her ballads in support of working women, was killed. Wiggins’s death helped bring attention and sympathy to the plight of the mill workers, but it was not enough to secure a victory for the unions. Although workers received some relief from federal and state legislation in the 1930s, employers were successful in keeping unions out of the state, a legacy that has continued to the present. As of 2003, only 3.1 percent of North Carolina’s workers were members of unions, the lowest representation in the United States.

Suggestions for Further Reading
John A. Salmond, Gastonia 1929: The Story of the Loray Mill Strike. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Joe A. Mobley, ed. The Way We Lived in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Mary E. Frederickson, “Ella May Wiggins.” In Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, vol. 6. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

The South: Your Textile Opportunity. Savannah, Ga.: Seaboard Airline Railway, [1924].

Image Source:
Charlotte Observer, June 9, 1929. Used with permission of The Charlotte Observer. Copyright owned by The Charlotte Observer.