A Study by Narvell Strickland
As I study and ponder history, I often recall the old adage that "if we want to understand ourselves, we must study the history of our ancestry." Concluding that such a study is essential if we hope to understand who we are, where we have been, and where we are going, I embarked on this history study in search of answers.
At the beginning of my research, most of the Mississippi textile history had been ignored, unrecorded, and was on the verge of being lost. While textile manufacturing fell short of igniting an industrial revolution in Mississippi, it was extensive relative to other industry and paved the way for the state's industrialization in the 1940s and 1950s. The history is too important to loose, and for that reason, I decided to record the results of my study.
The first edition of the study, "A History of Mississippi Cotton Mills and Mill Villages," was completed in 1998 after several years of research and became available to Mississippi public libraries along with the Department of Archives and History in Jackson. It includes an introduction to the long history of cotton textile manufacturing dating back at least 8000 years, reviews the first American mills beginning in the 1790s in New England and the rapid southward movement of mills beginning in the 1880s. It then turns to a comprehensive study of Mississippi mills; beginning with the first at Natchez in 1842, it reviews each of the antebellum, post Civil War, and Twentieth Century mills and discusses their demise by the early 1950s.
After reviewing the roles of Samuel Slater and Francis Cabot Lowell in starting the early New England cotton mills, special attention is given to the most influential men in the history of Mississippi cotton mills: Colonel James Wesson who built the first successful mechanically powered mill in the state at Bankston in 1848, and after it was burned by Federal troops in 1864, the famous mill at Wesson in 1867; Captain William Oliver who, in the 1870s and 1880s, guided the Wesson mill in its phenomenal growth to nation-wide fame; T. L. Wainwright who, from 1875 to 1921, brought the Stonewall mill from near bankruptcy to one of Mississippi's greatest industrial
success stories; and finally James Sanders and his son, Robert, who together are credited with laying the foundation for the Mississippi cotton textile industry by establishing and operating a conglomerate of cotton mills throughout the state in the first half of the twentieth century, from 1911 to 1954.
My research indicates that this appears to be the first comprehensive book-length study of the Mississippi textile history, and my purpose with this site is to make it a continuing study and update it as frequently as appropriate. To accomplish and maintain this objective, comments and contributions from viewers with knowledge of the history are invited and needed. My immediate concern, however, is viewer comments about the site itself. In either case, comments are encouraged and can be sent to me at Narvell Strickland.
Last Updated February 6, 2007.
I. Introduction to Cotton Textile Manufacturing
Cotton textile manufacturing is generally recognized as one of the oldest and most important industries in history. Historians trace it to the beginning of various civilizations--dating back at least 8000 years in Mexico and Peru and 5,000 years in East Africa and Southern Asia. Of the ancient civilizations in the latter region (East Africa and Southern Asia), India lead the way in the growth of cotton and development of cotton fabrics, and coincident with that, developed a flourishing trade in cotton fabrics with nearby countries including Greece, Egypt, the Roman Empire, along with others. Then continuing for centuries, it remained dominate in the production of cotton fabrics as it provided clothing for most of the Old World.
From the beginning and continuing for centuries, cotton was spun and woven into cloth by hand until England, in the late 1700s, developed textile machinery that was to revolutionize cotton manufacturing and provide the impetus for the Industrial Revolution. It all started in the 1760s when James Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny which Richard Arkwright improved with his development of the Waterwheel Spinning Frame. Requiring no special skills to operate, the new machinery quickly replaced the hand operated spinning wheel and vastly improved the quality and supply of thread. Textile mills, with cottages for imported workers, sprang up, and suddenly the factory system with the first successful system of mass-production was created.
Industrial Revolution Ignited: late 1700s
The advances in cotton textile manufacturing required coal for fuel and iron for the new machinery; the increase in coal and iron mining required improvements in transportation; and the transportation requirements in turn brought about the development of railroads and steamships. By the end of the eighteenth century, the various specializations had intermeshed, with the achievements of one contributing to the success of the other, and suddenly the world's first industrial revolution was underway.
In the 1820s, cotton manufacturing crossed the English Channel into Belgium to start the industrialization of continental Europe. By the 1830s, it had leaped the Atlantic to spearhead the beginning of the Industrial Revolution of New England which in turn brought about the Factory System and the Corporation. The introduction of Eli Whitney's cotton gin in 1793, James Watt's steam engine in 1776, Fulton's steamboat in 1807, Stephenson's locomotive in 1825, Cyrus McCormick's reaper in 1831, the Howe-Singer sewing machine in 1854, and Sir Henry Bessemer's converter in 1858 made essential contributions to the revolution. The new devices lowered the cost of producing cotton clothing, creating a world-wide demand for it, and in the process, freed farm workers to enter the newly created factories.
The resulting increase in cotton manufacturing created a corresponding need for cotton, and the South began to invest virtually all of its capital and labor in cotton-growing plantations. Big planters began to make great fortunes by raising cotton with slave labor, and Mississippi quickly developed an economy based on cotton growing and soon led the country in its production. Cotton mills were destined to follow.
Industrial Revolution moves Southward: 1880s
Later cotton textile manufacturing began to move closer to the cotton fields, and by 1880 the Industrial Revolution of the South was underway. Initially, most of the mills moved from New England to the Piedmont regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia because of the availability of water power. But in spite of its shortage of water power, Mississippi participated in the movement with the advent of steam power and the then developing electrical power.
The cotton textile industry has perhaps been studied as much as any industry in history, and this is particularly true of cotton manufacturing in England, continental Europe, Asia, New England, and the Piedmont states of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Hundreds of books, dissertations, theses, and magazine articles have examined the mills and their villages from several points of view, historical, economical, and sociological. But after exhaustive research, I have not found a single book devoted to the history of cotton textile manufacturing in Mississippi. While it fell short of igniting an industrial revolution, cotton textile manufacturing in Mississippi was extensive relative to other industry and paved the way for the state's industrialization that finally came with World War II and the 1940s. Its history should be preserved.
Again, my purpose in this book is to review and record some of that history to prevent its loss. It will examine the historical development of cotton textile mills in the state: the few antebellum mills, the post Civil War mills, the several turn of the century mills, the Sanders Industries conglomerate of mills in the first half of the twentieth century, and finally its demise in the 1950s. Special attention will be given to the five most influential men in the history of Mississippi cotton textile manufacturing. They were Colonel James Wesson who built the state's first successful mechanically powered cotton mill at Bankston in 1848, and after it was burned by Federal troops in 1864, the mill at Wesson in 1867; Captain William Oliver who, in the 1870s and 1880s, guided the Wesson mill in its phenomenal growth and to nation-wide fame; T. L. Wainwright who, from 1875 to 1921, brought the Stonewall mill from near bankruptcy to one of the state's greatest industrial success stories; and finally James Sanders and his son, Robert, who established and operated a conglomerate of Mississippi cotton mills in the first half of the twentieth century, from 1911 to 1953.
Along the way, it will highlight Mississippi mill village life and living conditions from the 1920s to the early 1950s--especially villages at Magnolia, Kosciusko, Meridian, Starkville, and Tupelo--and the impact of the nation-wide textile strike of 1934 and the Tupelo mill strike of 1937. Along with my own, it will draw on the personal experiences of the several individuals who shared their experiences with me. Life on the Magnolia mill village, purchased by Sanders Industries in 1932, is reviewed in greater detail than the others, but I should emphasize that living conditions there were typical of those at other Sanders villages and illustrate the struggles of Mississippi textile workers in general during those difficult years.
The Industrial Revolution of the South, spearheaded by the rapid southward movement of cotton textile manufacturing in the 1880s, never really came to Mississippi. The state and its people were reluctant to break away from its agricultural economy, but some twenty-five cotton textile mills did at least introduce the industrialization that finally came with World War II and the 1940s. But in spite of its slow start, the cotton textile industry played an important role in the state's history. It acted as a bridge, during the first half of the Twentieth Century--especially the 1920s and 1930s--between the farm and the factory, with people cautiously shedding the shackles of colonial farm life and moving in the direction of an urban activity promising greater income, better working conditions, and improved living and social conditions. Of those who made the move, very few ever returned to labor as share-croppers or tenant farmers, for despite the low wages and long hours, cotton mill life generally represented a marked improvement over conditions in the country.
For a better perspective of the role played by Mississippi in cotton manufacturing, we will start with a brief review of the first American cotton mills.
II. New England's First American Cotton Textile Mills
The cotton textile industry in America was launched by Samuel Slater in 1790 at Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Slater, an English textile mechanic with detailed knowledge of Richard Artrights revolutionary water-powered spinning machine, migrated to America and reconstructed two of the famous machines from memory to establish a 72-spindle mill--the first successful water-powered spinning mill in America. With the employment of young children from seven to twelve years of age to operate the machines, the mill was a great success. Building on that success, Slater with his partner, Moses Brown, began the construction of additional mills in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
One of Slater's earliest mills completed in 1793, became the prototype for early New England mills and still stands as a cotton mill museum in Pawtucket. His emigration disguised as a farmer, along with his rare textile mechanical expertise and a gifted memory, evaded the efforts of the British government to prevent textile workers, machinery, and plans from leaving the country and thereby removed one of the major obstacles to the development of cotton manufacturing in America.
Three years after the first mill was established, Eli Whitney introduced his cotton gin and removed another major obstacle by eliminating the tedious and arduous task of removing by hand the seed from the fiber. With the introduction of Slater's spinning frame and Whitney's cotton gin, cotton gained immediate commercial value, and a cotton manufacturing industry began to slowly develop in America.1
The number of Slater mills increased over the next two decades, but they continued to be small and were limited to the spinning of yarn. The practice of employing young children to operate the spinning machines continued, leaving cabin or domestic weavers to weave the yarn into cloth. This mode of operation became known as the Slater or Rhode Island system, and it was emulated for the next several years by manufacturers throughout the New England states.
Waltham and Lowell MA
Slaters spinning system was soon replaced by a vastly improved system. In 1814, Francis Cabot Lowell, a wealthy Boston merchant, after disguising himself as a potential merchant to overcome the secrecy surrounding English mills and observing the operation of textile machinery in England for almost two years, returned to Waltham, Massachusetts, where he, together with Paul Moody, designed the first American power loom and improved the spinning frame. The improved machinery was installed in a cotton mill, known as the Boston Manufacturing Company at Waltham, and for the first time in history, all phases of cloth manufacturing were made by power machinery under one roof--from the spinning of yarn to the weaving of cloth. The new mill, by bringing together the various functions under one roof, initiated the beginning of the American factory system and hastened the end of the cabin or domestic system in the manufacture of cotton cloth. Historians agree that it was the beginning of big business in America.2
Soon large water-powered textile mills began to spring up on the Merrimack and other New England rivers. They were immediate financial successes, and hence new mills were built at a rapid pace. In 1826, Lowell, Massachusetts was founded, and within eight years, the town had nineteen large cotton mills operating 4,000 weaving looms and spinning frames with more than 110,000 spindles.3 By the early 1830s, the industry was beginning to spearhead an industrial revolution, and initially, it would be centered in New England because of the availability of the then three essentials--water power, capital, and labor.
The mills continued to employ young children, but under the Lowell or Waltham system, single girls and women from ten to twenty-five years of age made up most of the labor forces used to operate the spinning frames and looms. The females, mostly from surrounding farms, were housed in company built boardinghouses and placed under strict moral and religious supervision. The paternalistic corporate communities, known generally as the Lowell or Waltham system, became popular and spread rapidly to other mill towns in the region. The 1830s in Lowell, as noted by Victor Clark in his History of Manufacturers in the United States, was the "most remarkable decade of progress, in a single place and industry, as yet achieved in our manufacturing history."4
Massachusetts's Merrimack River Valley
For the next several decades, New England continued to enjoy a rapid growth of mill towns; this was particularly true of the Merrimack River Valley where several populous mill towns and cities sprung up along the rivers banks. Inevitably, however, the mills began to move southward to be closer to the production of cotton, and in time, initiated the Industrial Revolution of the South. They moved first to the Piedmont regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia primarily because of the availability of water power, and then with the advent of steam and electrical power, to Mississippi as they moved still closer to the cotton fields.
III. Mississippi Antebellum Cotton Textile Mills
Southern states were happy to see the development of a cotton manufacturing industry in New England, and, in the beginning, more than content to concentrate their resources on the production of cotton for the mills. As the demand for cotton fiber skyrocketed, owners of large plantations began to make fortunes raising cotton with slave labor. It was an extremely costly system, but early successes of the plantations and the mythical romance surrounding them led others to turn to cotton-growing, leaving little capital to invest elsewhere.
Captivated by visions of riches, Southern planters by the thousands, big and small, began to convert all suitable lands to cotton fields. As the importance of cotton increased, the planters were increasingly less inclined to divert capital and labor from cotton growing to factory building. Cotton growing quickly became the South's economic base; this was particularly true of Mississippi which developed an improved variety of cotton and became the leading state in the production of cotton as well as one of the wealthiest states of the period.
Natchez Cotton Mills
Finally, in the late 1830s, a few scattered cotton mills began to appear in the South. While Mississippi lagged behind other Southern states, Dunbar Rowland in his book, A History of Mississippi: The Heart of the South,' notes that "tradition says that the first cotton mill in the State, and perhaps the world was that of Sir William Dunbar, erected at or near Natchez in 1834."5 The statement was an inadvertent misquote; by that time (1834)cotton textile mills were firmly established in England and were spearheading the beginning of an industrial revolution in New England. Rowlands source was A. M. Muckenfuss who, in his Industrial Mississippi in the Light of the Twelfth Census, indicated that the Dunbar Mill, named in honor of a noted scientist and father of the cotton-seed oil industry in Mississippi, was "the first cotton-seed oil mill in Mississippi, if not in the world."6 Hence Professor Dunbar should have said 'a cotton-seed oil mill' rather than a mechanically powered cotton mill; however, the cotton-seed oil mill may have had a few hand looms that qualified it as a small, cabin-type cotton mill.
Small mills, with hand looms, were still commonplace at the time; most of them in the South were associated with plantations and were used to produce a coarse cloth for their private use. In 1840, Mississippi, had some fifty of the small cabin-type cotton mills, which John Bettersworth in his book, 'Mississippi: A History,' describes as "small affairs employing in all only eighty-four persons; with a total capital of only $6,429."7
The state's first mechanically powered cotton manufacturing mill was built on the outskirts of Natchez, but in 1842 rather than 1834. John Robinson, a Scottish textile expert, came to Mississippi before the economic panic of 1837 to build a cotton textile mill for the Mississippi Cotton Company of Natchez. Before construction started, the company suffered substantial financial losses in the 1837 crash and was forced to abandoned its plans. After a similar experience with the Port Gibson Manufacturing Company, the tenacious Robinson in 1842 built a cotton and woolen mill himself, equipping it to the extent his limited financial resources permitted.8
The Robinson mill occupied a small two-story building and was powered by a twelve horse-power steam engine to operate 60 wool spindles and 260 cotton spindles. Be- cause of his limited funds, Robinson was forced to start producing cloth before the mill had all of the appropriate machinery. It was a disastrous start and, within two years, he was forced to liquidate. The failure resulted from several problems which included, according to D. Clayton James in his 'Antebellum Natchez,' "insufficient capital, inadequate machinery, shortage of skilled laborers, high cost of importing Indiana coal for fuel, and ruthless competition from New England textile producers."9
In the spring of 1844, a second attempt was made to established a cotton mill at Natchez. John Robertson and associates of a Boston firm purchased the bankrupt Natchez Cotton Compress and brought in textile workers from New England and a twenty-eight-horse-power steam engine to operate 2,000 spindles and 10 power looms. The Boston firm, after upgrading the machinery, sold the mill in November 1844 to Samuel T. McAlister who, with the assistance of a Massachusetts textile expert and seventeen Negro slaves, began to manufacture rope, plantation cloth, and a heavy cloth for cotton picking sacks.10
Like the Robinson mill, the Robertson mill never really got off the ground; the history of its short life was one failure after another. After struggling under several different owners, it closed in 1848 and left most cotton manufacturing in the state to household or cabin spinning and weaving.11 At the time of closing, according to De Bows Review, it was the only mechanically powered mill in the state and employed twenty black men, six females, and four children.12
The Natchez experiments were discouraging, but the failures were not sufficient to stop the establishment of three Mississippi textile mills which were at the time under construction or in the late planning stages: the Bankston textile mill in Choctaw County established in 1848; the State Penitentiary textile mill at Jackson in 1849; and the Edward McGehee mill at Woodville in 1850. The three mills were later followed by a still larger mill: the Thomas Green mill at Jackson in 1857.
Bankston Cotton Mills
The Bankston textile mill is regarded as Mississippi's first successful mechanically powered textile mill and became "famous throughout the Old Southwest as a model of industrial efficiency and profitability."13 Colonel James M. Wesson, its founder, was associated with a textile firm in Columbus, Georgia, the "Lowell of the South," which in 1847 decided to build a cotton and woolen mill in the back country of northern Mississippi. In January 1847 he, together with David L. Booker, John P. Nance, Richard Ector and Thomas J. Stanford, organized and chartered the Mississippi Manufacturing Company and, before the end of the year, began moving machinery and equipment to the new site on the west side of McCurtain's Creek, a tributary to the Big Black River in Choctaw County.14
It was difficult at the time to find native white workers for industrial work, and thus several experienced mill families were imported from Georgia to do the skilled work. The use of Negro slaves was thought to be too expensive, but a few were employed to operate the steam engine and perform other unpleasant assignments. A Semple steam engine, manufactured in Providence, Rhode Island, was brought in to power the mill. A very difficult journey to say the least. It was transported from Rhode Island to Greenwood by water and then drawn overland to the mill site by several oxen, a distance of sixty-five miles, several miles of which were through the Yazoo swamp. The eighty-horsepower engine actually provided more than sufficient power for the textile mill, and the enterprising Colonel Wesson added a flour mill and a gristmill to the textile equipment to utilize the surplus power.15
The Bankston textile mill began operations in December 1848 with twelve workers. It prospered and quickly expanded to include a tannery, a shoe factory, a machine shop, along with other enterprises. By June 1849, the textile mill operated 500 cotton spindles and spun 300 pounds of cotton into yarn and thread daily. During the first few years, the mill operated at a financial loss in the production of cloth but made a small profit on cotton yarn. During this period, Colonel Wesson left the looms idle and concentrated on the production of yarn and thread, along with his other enterprises such as the milling of corn and wheat, until conditions improved in the cloth market.
By 1855, the difficult years were over and the manufacturing company began to make substantial profits; reporting that year a net profit of $22,000 on a capitalization of $60,000. Over the next three years or by 1858, Historian John Hebron Moore noted that the company's "investment in cotton and woolen machinery alone had reached the sum of $80,000, and an additional $15,500 of the firm's capital was represented by such assets as a gristmill, a flour mill, and numerous buildings comprising the company-owned village of Bankston."16
The critical period came two years later with the nation-wide panic of 1857. The Bankston manufacturing company not only survived but prospered during the panic; and then for several years in succession, it paid annual dividends of 37 percent while building up a large reserve fund. In addition to the investors, some eighty-five workers enjoyed the prosperity. While wages were low, the company provided housing and made sure the workers were supplied with products of its several enterprises, shoes, cloth, meat, and flour. Alcoholic beverages, however, were forbidden. Like William Gregg, founder of the famous antebellum mill at Graniteville, South Carolina, Colonel Wesson vehemently opposed the drinking of alcoholic beverages and successfully promoted a law prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquor within the corporate limits.17
On June 4, 1850, Colonel Wesson wrote to De Bow's Review describing his manufacturing enterprises, and in the process, indicated his opposition to the sale of alcoholic beverages.
Our mill is located ten miles south of Greensboro, in a healthy neighborhood; fine water, good society, churches, schools, &e. We have but one grog-shop within seven miles of us, and that will probably not last long. Our building is made of wood, 108 feet long, 48 wide, three stories high.
We are now running about 800 spindles, 10 cards, 12 looms, and all the accompanying necessary machinery for spinning and weaving. Owing to the high price of cotton we have stopped our looms.
We have 500 spindles and five cards more, not finished; we shall probably get them in operation for the next crop. We carry on a machine shop in which we make every variety of machinery for carding and spinning. Our looms are built by Messrs. Rogers, Kechum & Grovanon, of Paterson, N. J. They are heavy and substantial, and are built for making heavy Linsey and Osnaburgs, such as are most used in the South. I think that companies in this state intending to embark in the manufacturing business, would do well to call to see our machinery before buying elsewhere.
We have just completed the finest flour mill in this state, or equal to any in the South. We will show flour with the St. Louis or any other mill North or South. We use a large fine Semple Engine, made by Messrs. Thurston, Green & Co., Providence. It is admired by all vistors for its great capacity and simplicity. It is run by a Negro engineer, who also serves as fireman, who had no acquaintance with engines until he took hold of this.
We have a double cylinder wool card that cards the wool twice as well as most of the country cards that have only one, and will turn off two hundred pounds of rolls a day, for which we charge a 8 c. a pound.18
The Bankston cotton mill became famous as it continued to grow and prosper. By 1860, it had expanded to operate 1,000 cotton spindles, 500 wool spindles, and 20 power looms; indeed, it operated the latest in textile machinery and was regarded as the forerunner in modern cotton manufacturing in the state.19 Except for the few slaves employed to operate the steam engine, the workers were white; Colonel Wesson, however, recognized that slaves were capable, but he "believed that hired whites were less expensive than either bought or hired slaves.20
Wesson also believed, along with William Gregg and other prominent Southern cotton manufacturers, that the South, in addition to agriculture, desperately needed to devote itself to manufacturing. On August 11, 1858, he wrote John F. H. Claiborne asserting that the "South stands in the same relation to New England now, that we as a nation did to Old England fifty years ago . . . if it was good policy for us then, as a nation, to adopt and support a general system of manufacturing the same policy is equally good now when applied to the South.<
The Bankston manufacturing company was a step in that direction. Moreover, the thriving community of Bankston was in every regard a model company town and Mississippi's first cotton mill village.
Mississippi Penitentiary Cotton Mill
The Mississippi Penitentiary Textile Mill was the next large successful mill to be built in the state. As early as 1840, the penitentiary produced clothing for convicts with the use of manually-operated spinning machines and hand looms. By 1847, the prison population had increased to the point that the primitive machinery could no longer produce sufficient clothing to meet its needs, and the state legislature responded by authorizing the superintendent to purchase power-driven equipment.
Spinning machinery and power looms were purchased and brought in from Patterson, New Jersey, and in October 1849, the mechanically-operated penitentiary textile mill went "into full production, turning out cotton and woolen cloth and yarns at the rate of 1,700 yards of cotton osnaburgs, 300 yards of woolen linseys, and 400 pounds of yarn per week."22 Osnaburgs had excellent wearing qualities and toughness; it could be made into overalls, other durable work clothes, and was occasion- ally substituted for canvas or duck requiring rough usage. The material was obviously ideally suited for prison use and the reason for its extensive production.
It was an impressive start, and the legislature, at its next session in 1850, authorized the purchase of additional machinery to increase the production of cloth from 1,700 yards per week to 1,000 per day. Production soon exceeded the penitentiary needs, and the state began competing with private enterprise by selling the surplus to wholesale dealers in cities as distant from Jackson as Mobile, New Orleans, and St. Louis. The venture became very profitable, and by 1853 the penitentiary textile mill had become one of the state's most valuable assets, returning a small profit to the state after paying the entire cost of the prison system.23
In 1857, the mill was destroyed by fire, but without any delay, the legislature decided to rebuild and on a much larger scale. In late 1858, a vastly enlarged mill was completed; it reopened with 150 convicts to operate "2,304 spindles for spinning cotton, twenty-four cotton carding machines, seventy-six looms for weaving osnaburgs, four mills for producing cotton twills, and a full complement of machinery for making woolen linseys and cotton batting."24 It proved to be a great success story for the state, although its critics were quick to assert that its success was attributable to the obvious advantages the venture had over private enterprise, including free labor and state financial support.
Woodville Cotton Mill
The Wilkinson Manufacturing Company was the third large cotton textile mill to be built in the state. It was organized in 1850 by Judge Edward McGehee, a noted planter and railroad entrepreneur, who decided to expand his business interests. After visiting Lowell, Massachusetts to familiarize himself with the operation of a cotton mill, he employed Colonel James Woodworth, a skilled textile mechanic, to construct the mill in the small village of Woodville about twenty-five miles south of Natchez.25
McGehee's mill was completed and began operations in March 1851, powered by a wood-burning steam engine of eighty-horse-power, and initially employed a force of 125 white Mississippians and New Englanders to operate 3,500 spindles and ninety looms. As at Bankston, apartment houses and a large boarding house were constructed to provide living quarters for the mill workers.26 Hence, Mississippi's second cotton mill village.
In 1852, Judge McGehee dismissed Superintendent Woodworth, assumed management of the mill himself, and replaced the 125 white workers with slaves. Just three years later, in 1855, he bought out the other co-owners and proceeded to operate it as a family enterprise for the next several years, producing shirting, lowells, linsey, and kerseys. Unlike Colonel Wesson's openness regarding his mill, Judge McGehee was very secretive about the Woodville mill and, as a result, not much is known about its operations except that the mill was apparently very successful. In 1860 the value of its finished products was reported to be $102,000 in comparison with $72,000 for the Bankston mill.27
Jackson's Pearl River Cotton Mill
The Thomas Green Cotton Mill was the last and largest mill to be built in Mississippi before the Civil War. In June 1858, the banking firm of Joshua and Thomas Green con- structed the mill on Pearl River in Jackson, and, with a capitalization of $100,000, began operations with Samuel Poole as superintendent and some two hundred white employees. Although short-lived because of the Civil War, it was a financial success from the start. By 1860, it employed more than two hundred workers to produce 450,000 yards of cloth annually which was valued at $151,000, the highest figure reported by any Mississippi cotton mill.28
Civil War Cotton Mill Destruction
At the beginning of the Civil War, Mississippi lagged far behind in becoming industralized but it had made some progress. It had four large cotton mills, the Bankston mill, the Edward McGehee mill, the Penitentiary mill, the Thomas Green mill, along with two small insignificant mills--one in Columbus and the other in Tishomingo County. The value of the cloth produced annually by the four large mills was not insignificant; it ranged from $72,000 for the Bankston mill to $151,000 for the Green mill before production was interrupted by the war.29 Professor John Bettersworth concluded that Mississippi, though far from having become industrialized, was showing gains. The Bankston mill was able to declare a 29 per cent dividend in that year, and the entire cotton industry of the state could boast that the value of its product in 1860 was $261,000 as compared with only $22,135 in 1850.30
The modest gains showed that antebellum Mississippi simply was not ready for industrialization. The people preferred to continued to concentrate nearly all of their resources in the cotton plantation system which, unfor- tunately, left the state ill-prepared for the impending Civil War and the Radical Reconstruction years that followed. Its small textile industry, however, proved that it could "survive and prosper in Mississippi as well as in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, despite economic depressions, competition from northern manufacturers, and opposition from agrarian critics of southern industrialization."31
The Civil War, unfortunately, was to destroy the state's four textile mills along with most of its other small industry. In 1863, General Grant and his troops destroyed the Woodville, Jackson, and Penitentiary mills; but because of its isolated location, the Bankston mill survived a while longer. Federal troops later learned of the Bankston mill, and on December 30, 1864, a foraging party, under the command of General Benjamin H. Grierson, raided the defenseless village and burned the cotton and wool mill, the shoe factory, and the flour mill while the inhabitants slept and without a shot being fired.
Much of Bankston was a legitimate military target, for its mills were producing 1,000 yards of cloth and 150 pairs of shoes daily for military purposes. But unfortunately, the foraging party did not restrict its activities to legitimate targets; it not only destroyed the 5,000 yards of cloth, 10,000 pounds of wool, 125 bales of cotton on hand but, in addition, destroyed 10,000 pounds of flour and took the farm animals, horses, cows, pigs, and chickens, leaving the town's people hard pressed to escape starvation.32 Fortunately, Colonel Wesson, before the raiders arrived, anticipated the apparent danger of a raid and distributed much of the cloth among surrounding inhabitants. At the time, the need for clothing was so great that one woman, J. P. Coleman notes in his Choctaw County Chronicle, rode horseback forty miles, round trip, a few days before the raid to get a single bolt of cloth.33
With the destruction of the four cotton mills, Mississippi's emerging textile industry was devastated, and except for a small mill in Columbus, cotton manufacturing in the state returned to cabin or household spinning and weaving. Thus the four mills, including Mississippi's first successful steam powered cotton mill and its first mill village, took their places in history, and, as will be seen, cotton mill building in the state was painfully slow for the next three decades.
Colonel Wesson, however, survived to pick up the pieces and build the first phase of Mississippi's most famous post Civil War manufacturing plant of any type. Of the prewar cotton textile manufacturers in Mississippi, he was the only one to continue in the textile business in the postwar era.34
Our review will take us next to Colonel Wessons new mill, the states first post Civil War mill, which eventually gained national and international fame for its efficient operations and production of high quality fabrics.
IV. Post Civil War Cotton Mills:
Wesson Cotton Mill
Soon after his Bankston mill was destroyed by fire, Colonel Wesson set out to establish another. Before the war was over, he and two associates, W. H. Hallam and James Hamilton, selected a wilderness site about forty miles south of Jackson, and in March 1865 the site was incorporated as the town of Wesson. Three years later, the construction of a cotton mill, the Mississippi Manufacturing Company, and seventy-five houses for workers was completed.1 It was Mississippi's first large mill
village; and replacing a wilderness, it was built out of necessity to provide housing for the influx of workers from nearby farms and towns, rather than for the paternalistic reasons often associated with company-owned mill villages.
Colonel Wesson donated land for three church sites, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist, and the town of Wesson began to develop around the mill. It was patterned after the South's first mill town established by William Gregg at Graniteville, South Carolina. The village houses were very similar and most were built to accommodate two families, and each family was provided with sufficient land for a vegetable garden, a cow, a pig, and a few chickens. But as at Bankston, no alcoholic beverages were permitted; Colonel Wesson was successful in having the charter prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages within the corporate limits.2 The new town prospered and grew rapidly from a wilderness to the largest town on the Illinois Central Railroad between Jackson and New Orleans--a distance of approximately two hundred miles.
The Wesson mill was to become Mississippi's most famous postwar manufacturing plant of any type. Unfortunately, however, abusive practices during the Radical Reconstruction era created major financial problems for Colonel Wesson, and he was forced to step aside before the mill reached its summit. Early in 1871, Mississippi Manufacturing Company went into bankruptcy and receivership, and on February 23, 1871, the company was sold by the receivers to Captain William Oliver and John T. Hardy, New Orleans businessmen. After paying all of his debts, Colonel Wesson, the father of the Mississippi cotton textile industry, quietly retired to nearby Bogue Chitto. Earlier that
year, his wife died, and some believed that her death may have influenced his decision to sell out and retire.3
Captain William Oliver, after being named general manager, moved to Wesson with his family to manage the operations. Just two years later, disaster struck again. The mill was destroyed by fire, and Oliver, as Colonel Wesson had done after the Bankston fire, was determined to rebuild. He persuaded Edmund Richardson, one of the largest cotton growers in the world with 25,000 acres in cultivation and known as the "Cotton King," to purchase Hardy's share and controlling interests in the operations.4 Together with Richardson, as president, and Oliver, as general manager, they made immediate plans to not only rebuild the company but to do it on a much larger scale. The
first of four mills was completed in late 1873 and Mill No. 2 in 1876. Two more mills were later added--Mill No. 3 in 1890, and Mill No. 4 in 1894.5
The mills, renamed Mississippi Mills, consisted of four large brick buildings when completed, one of which was five stories high with a seven-story tower, and covered several city blocks. From the beginning they were pow- ered by steam engines
and very early illuminated by electricity. As unlikely as it seems, the electric lights were installed by 1882, within three years after Thomas Edison perfected his electric lighting plant and bulb, and before either New York or Chicago had adopted the
new lighting system.6 This was not, however, unusual as several small towns and plants throughout the country were able to install the new electric lights before politicians in major cities like New York and Chicago could adopt, rip up their
streets, and install the new lighting system.
In any event, a giant, five-story, electrically illuminated plant in the small town must have been an unexpected and unique sight. The Wesson Enterprise reported that people came from miles around to see the "little lights in bottles" and
that passengers on the Illinois Central Railroad were amazed at the sight as they passed through Wesson--a small hamlet in the midst of the state's famous piney woods region.7
The Wesson mill grew into a mammoth textile plant at a time when most Mississippians were still openly hostile to in dustry. In the late 1880s, Mississippi Mills employed 1,200 workers to operate 25,000 cotton spindles, 26 sets of woolen machinery, and 800 looms in the production of 4,000,000 yards of cotton goods, 2,000,000 yards of woolen goods and 320,000 pounds of yarn and twine annually. The mills produced a variety of high quality and award-winning fabrics--including cassimirs, plaids, jeans, stripes, tweeds, doeskins, and several others--with a reputation "for excellence not surpassed by the product of any mills in the world...[and sold in] almost every state and territory in the Union." In 1876, its products won first prizes at the Philadelphia Centennial, and in the eighties, one of its cotton fabrics used for dress goods was of such handsome finish that it was called "Mississippi silk."8
By 1890, the Wesson mill was the largest manufacturing enterprise of any type in Mississippi and reputed to be the largest in the South. Senator L. Q. C. Lamar of Mississippi proudly noted that the mill had become "the subject of a great deal
of pride and interest to the citizens of the state."9 It also attracted national and international attention, luring President William McKinley and industry leaders from as far as England to Wesson just to see the operations.10
William Oliver, as general manager, was given credit for the phenomenal growth and success which brought the nation-wide fame. Under his leadership from 1873 to 1891, most of the profits were reinvested to finance growth, but much of his managerial success can be attributed to his special interest in the mill workers and lcal community affairs. Reviewing his accomplishments, the Wesson Enterprize noted that
"he took interest in the affairs of the community, the
public school, the municipal government, or whatever was of interest to the people. He was especially interested in the welfare of the operatives in the mill; he
considered them people."11
This attitude earned him the support of both the community and the workers. For the workers, they recognized that his fair treatment was a valuable benefit and a good reason for them to be concerned about the success and general welfare of the company providing them employment. Hence the fair treatment also benefited the company.
Like Colonel Wesson, Captain Oliver was also a devout believer in the proposition that whiskey and manufac- turing did not mix. He insisted that land conveyances by Mississippi Mills, which owned most of the land in and near Wesson, include
a clause providing that if alcoholic liquor were ever sold on the premises illegally, the title to the property would revert to the grantors or Mississippi Mills. No evidence surfaced indicating that title to proper- ty actually reverted under the
clause or that chargers of violation of the clause had ever been made.
After his death in 1891, a series of events--including absentee man- agement, the panic of 1893, and increased transportation costs--began to bring Mississippi's largest manufacturing venture and greatest industrial success story to a close. John
Richardson, who had succeeded his father as president, unwittingly started the decline when he moved to New Orleans in the midst of the difficult times and brought in a general manager from the North to replace Oliver. Labor unrest was the immediate result, followed in 1906, by forced receivership. Then, in January 1910, the price of cotton plummeted to a low of $5.85 a bale and delivered the coup de grace as mills throughout the
country, including the Wesson and four other Mississippi mills, were forced to liquidate their assets.13
Three years before liquidation, the Directory of Southern Cotton Mills, Edition 1907, reported Mississippi Mills’ assets at $344,000 and listed some of its key officers and employees: R. L. Saunders, president; Frederick Abbott, superintendent; J.
S. Rae, secretary and treasurer; Frank Reed, overseer cotton department; W. D. Ross, overseer woolen department; George W. Watson, dyer; J. R. Can- non, engineer; John Thompson, electrician; S. J. Sasser, cotton weaving supervisor; P. B. Raiford,
wool weaving and finishing supervisor; Z. C. Rushing, cotton carding supervisor; James Barnes, spinning supervisor; and W. H. Stevens, spooling, warping, and slashing supervisor.
Within a year of liquidation, Wesson the largest town on the Illinois Central Railroad between Jackson and New Orleans, decreased in population from 5,000 to 1,000.15 The Wesson mill never reopened. Part of one of the brick mill buildings and
several of the village houses still stand as a reminder. One of the houses is protected as a historical site.
Stonewall Cotton Mill
Wesson was a great success story for its time, but it would eventually be surpassed. In 1867, two years after the Wesson mill opened, the greatest success story for a mill in the history of Mississippi cotton manufacturing was launched.
Daniel Dupree, John Harland, and M. M. Brooks, supported by ten investors in Mobile, organized and began construction of a cotton mill on land formerly a part of a plantation near Enterprise and about twenty miles south of Meridian.
The new mill, named Stonewall Manufacturing Company in honor of Stonewall Jackson, opened in late 1868 with A. P. Bush as president and W. B. Hamilton as secretary-treasurer. In the beginning, the mill was powered by a steam engine to operate
2204 spindles but used country hand looms to weave cloth. At the time, the use of hand looms was not unusual as many mills concentrated pri- marily on spinning thread; in fact, many of the early cot- ton mills were "spinning factories" and stopped short
of weaving cloth. But shortly after opening, the Stonewall mill installed fifty-two power looms and began weaving sheeting.16
The first few years were difficult as financial losses mounted. By 1875 the directors had lost all hope of making a profit and assigned T. L. Wainwright to run the cotton out of the machinery and prepare the plant for sale. Wainwright, an
enterprising young man, turned out to be the right man at the right time. Within a few months after taking the assignment, Wainwright turned the mill around and stopped the losses. So, the directors reevaluated their decision and elected to continue operations a while longer rather than putting the mill up for sale. They, then, promoted Wainwright to plant manager and gave him a new charge--make the mill profitable.17
It was a fortunate decision and turning-point for the struggling mill. Under Wainwright's leadership, the mill continued to prosper; by 1882, the capacity of the mill had doubled. A few years later in 1895, the directors elected to increase the capital stock to $400,000 and add a second mill at a cost of $200,000. The expanded mill operated 10,000 spindles and 300 looms, and soon began producing a variety of fabrics,
including ratine goods, sheetings, drills, osnaburgs, shirtings, mattress ticking, and Turkish towels.18
Continuing success earned Wainwright the presidency in 1903. Four years later in 1907, the Directory of Southern Cotton Mills reported that the mill employed 500 workers in the
operation of 21,000 spindles, 500 narrow looms, and 8 boilers. It listed the key officers and employees as T.L.Wainwright, President and Treasurer; G. I. Case, Secretary; H. C. Dresser, Superintendent; W. A. Gilliland, Engineer; Overseers: carding, S. L. Adler; spinning, A. L. Askew; weaving, J. S. Crane.19
Wainwright retained the presidency until 1921 when the mill was sold for $1,500,000 to Crown Overall Company of Cincinnati. Oscar Berman, president of Crown Overall, assumed
the presidency of Stonewall Cotton Mills and his brother Israel was named general manager. Crown, a producer of overalls, purchased the mill for the production of a line of denim it used in the manufacture of overalls. The new line was quickly added
and soon replaced most of the other fabrics.20
In the late 1930s, the mill's management, anticipating World War II, converted to the production of khaki and tenting. The conversion was timely. As it turned out, the military required great amounts of khaki and tenting, and with the military as its biggest customer, the mill enjoyed booming prosperity throughout the war years. The prosperity attracted the attention of the textile giants, and in the end, made the mill a
candidate for acquisition.
The late thirties brought the addition of new and modern buildings and machinery, giving the mill the latest in state of the art textile machinery. Most important to the workers was the attention given to their living conditions. With the installation of city water and a modern sewage disposal system in the village, sanitary conditions improved and the "out houses" disappeared. Village improvements were accompanied by pay increases and paid vacations; the employee benefits, including improvements in the village and housing, were at the time unique in the Mississippi textile industry. This perhaps explains, to some extent at least, the great difficulty labor
unions experienced in their unsuccessful attempts to organize the Stonewall textile workers.22
The Stonewall mill continued throughout the thirties and war years of the forties to enjoy success after success. After the war, Erwin Mills, later a division of Burlington Industries, purchased the mill and in 1948 initiated another five-year program to expand and upgrade the plants, the machinery, and the mill village. In 1962 Burlington Industries purchased Erwin Mills, including the Stonewall mill, and immediately implemented still another intensive upgrading and modernization program. A few years later in 1976, it initiated another large expansion program which involved spending $35 million to construct a new weaving and finishing plant. Burlington not
only upgraded and modernized the mill but signaled the community and the mill workers that the mill was there to stay. The signal was important because the Stonewall mill, the last surviving cotton manufacturing mill in the state, was becoming a
part of the largest textile-mill corporation in the world.
The Stonewall and Wesson mills were pioneers in the development of cotton manufacturing in Mississippi. The Wesson mill led the way and enjoyed phenomenal suc- cess and fame for a substantial number of years and then faded into oblivion. The
Stonewall mill, however, enjoyed greater success in the long run. At the time of this writing, one hundred and thirty years after its founding, it is still operating and planning for the future. Very few, if any, cotton mills in the United States,
and no other in Mississippi, can boast that record.
Meridian Cotton Mills
Let’s turn our attention back to the late 1860s and review two other cotton mills of significance that were established in Mississippi during that period. In 1863, W. W. Shearer established a small yarn mill, the Pioneer Cotton Manufacturing Mill, two miles east of Meridian--a hamlet of five hundred near the eastern boundary of the state. A few months after it opened, the army of General W. T. Sherman raided the mill and
community, destroying the mill and leaving only three houses standing in the small community. Three years later in 1867, another mill was built on the site and began operations, under the name East Mississippi Cotton Mill, with J. W. Monette as
general manager and George S. Covert as superintendent.
In 1871, J. S. Solomon, a local compress operator, purchased the East Mississippi Cotton Mill and expanded it to employ some forty workers to operate 768 spindles and twenty looms in the production of 1000 yards of sheeting daily. He later upgraded the machinery and increased the number of workers to one hundred and fifty to produce primarily yarn, rope, and osnaburgs. By the end of the decade, it was one of the
largest industries in a city (Meridian) that had become known for its industrial development.27
Corinth Cotton Mill
The last Mississippi mill built in the eighteen sixties was the Whitfield Cotton Mill at Corinth in 1869. Very quickly, the mill became known for its award-winning fabrics, and at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial, it competed with the Wesson mill for first place prizes. However, the success was short-lived; two years later it fell victim to the 1873-1878 Depression and closed its doors.28
Natchez, Water Valley, & Bay Saint Louis Cotton Mills
In the 1870s, Mississippi was confronted with another economic depression (1873-78) and the continuing Radical Reconstruction throughout most of the decade. It was hardly ideal times for cotton mill building. But in spite of the Depression and harsh Reconstruction impositions, Mississippi built three more mills in the 1870s: the impressive Natchez Cotton Mill in 1878, eventually employing 300 workers to operate 12,000 spindles and 330 looms; the Yocona Mill at Water Valley in 1879, employing 100 workers to operate 5000 spindles; and a small yarn mill at Bay Saint Louis in 1874.
Shuqualak, Rosalie, Columbus, Port Gibson Cotton Mills
In the 1880s, the state established four more: the Noxubee Mill at Shuqualak in 1880, employing 50 workers to operate 1400 spindles and 40 looms; the Rosalie Cotton Mill at Natchez in 1884, employing 275 workers to operate 10,000 spindles and 300 looms; the Tombigbee Mill at Columbus in 1887 with 200 workers to operate 8064 spindles and 252 looms; and the Port Gibson Mill in 1888 with 150 workers to operate 5000 spindles and 200
After three mill failures in the 1880s, Mississippi operated nine cotton mills at the end of the decade. The state had made very little progress, far less than the mill promoters had anticipated; indeed, the various mill campaigns of the seventies and eighties promoted by the state's most influential government leaders and planters, were big disappointments. They attracted very few mills and fell far short of bringing the
much herald Industrial Revolution of the South to the state, and the ailing cotton-growing economy continued to prevail.
Before leaving the Nineteenth Century, we will review in the next chapter the mill campaigns in some detail for they reflect the clash between the proponents of indus- trialization and those clinging to an ailing cotton-growing economy.
V. Cotton Mill Building Campaigns: 1870s-1890s
The Gilded Age, as Mark Twain called the thirty-five year period following the Civil War, brought rapid change to American life as more and more people moved to the developing industrial centers. But throughout the period, most Mississippians,
in spite of the abject poverty, had little appreciation for industrialization and were openly hostile to it. Primarily sharecroppers and tenant farmers, they did not appreciate the economic factors contributing to the widespread poverty; and
influenced by provincialism, many associated manufacturers with the North and wanted nothing to do with Yankees or their industries.
Like Thomas Jefferson, who believed farmers to be God's chosen people, many feared that industrialization would bring about urbanization, accompanied by crime and corruption, and interfere with their agrarian way-of-life. The poor whites
were accustomed to the difficulties in eking out an existence on small farms, and not appreciating the benefits of industrialization, were willing to endure the hardships for the freedom and independence associated with farming, hunting, and fishing.
The Civil War had devastated the state's economy, leaving the cotton plantation system in shambles, with an abundance of both cotton and surplus white labor, and a host of growing social and economic problems. Radical Reconstruction had made matters worse; rather than bringing recovery, it had augmented the chaos. It was apparent that the cotton plantation system was gone forever and that the state desperately needed an alternate economic base. Fortunately, some of Mississippi's most influential leaders realized that the state, struggling for economic independence and freedom from its colonial agrarian economy, could not break the chains of bondage unless it supplemented cotton-growing with industry.
Some of these leaders became spirited mill promoters and were willing to go to great lengths to promote and conduct mill campaigns in an effort to bring the cotton manufacturing industry to the state. There were met with encouraging signs; in
the midst of the widespread adversity cotton manufacturing was beginning to move southward, particularly to the Piedmont regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.1 Optimism and confidence grew throughout the South, especially in
Mississippi, as influential Southerners began to demand that cotton mills be brought to the cotton fields, with the frequent suggestion that the mills be built in the heart of the cotton fields.2 Indeed, Mississippi, saturated with cotton fields with excellent nearby water and rail transportation, seemed to be ideally situated to share in the movement.
Beginning in the 1870s, E. G. Wall, editor of the Southern Field and Factory, and W. H. Worthington, editor of Patrons of Husbandry, frequently presented articles advocating the construction of cotton mills in the state. On one occasion, Wall
argued that "we must encourage home manufacturers and home markets, ...and thereby keep as far as possible the profits of labor in our State."3 Unfortunately, Mississippi, having suffering through most of the devastating Radical Reconstruction
epoch, was faced with still another obstacle--the 1873-1878 Depression which continued to frustrate the movement for industrial development.
Thus the Mississippi cotton mill campaign in the 1870s, as illustrated in the previous chapter, met with very limited success; by the end of the decade the state had only eight mills, along with a few very small and insignificant mills, while the
three Piedmont states had one hundred and three.4 The meager showing was disappointing because simple logic seemed to suggest that the state, with its capacity for producing cotton and its excellent rail and water transportation systems, should have gained a far greater share of the mills.
The 1880s brought new hope as an upturn in the business cycle reestablished the cotton mill campaign. At the beginning of the decade, Mississippi was still relying on an ailing cotton-growing economy, and the need to supplement cotton-growing
with industry was critical. No other industry was in sight, and thus the cotton textile industry still appeared to be the obvious if not the only answer. Cotton mills meant markets and profits for the planters, work and wages for the poor whites, and in time would bring related industries. Hence the clamor for cotton mills gained momentum.
Early in 1879, influential planters gathered at Vicksburg and founded the Misissippi Valley Cotton Planters' Association, later renamed the National Cotton Planters' Association, to promote multi-crop planting and cotton manufacturing in Mississippi. Frank Moorehead, the newly elected president, set the tone by urging planters to work toward the establishment of cotton mills and predicted that the profitable business of exporting cotton fabrics would reach into the billions.5 With great enthusiasm. the organization, through its Planters' Journal, predicted that mill towns would abound and "double the profits now possible to the farmer in the majority of localities in the Cotton Belt."6
In 1882, Robert Lowry, Mississippi's newly elected governor, prodded by Moorehead, Wall, Worthington, and other prominent Mississippians, recognized the potential and implemented Mississippi's first definite industrial development program to
attract cotton mills to the state. Legislation was enacted to promote the establishment of factories in the state by exempting them from taxation for the first ten years of operation. Pressing for more concessions, Moorehead complained that "ten
years are too little, let it be twenty years and
it will be all the better."7
Later, Moorehead, together with other key members of the Planters' Association, put "pressure on the national government to open Latin American markets for the output of their cotton mills, ...[and] succeeded in 1884 in getting federal funds appropriated for an exposition to be held in New Orleans," the primary purpose of which was to acquire new markets for manufactured cotton goods.8
Hence Mississippi’s 1882 Industrial Development Program set in motion for the first time serious preparations for a movement toward industrialization. Expectations sky-rocketed as The Rural Mississippian suggested that, as a result of the new act, "the profits of planting, which used to be invested in slaves, will be invested in spindles."9
Government officials, anticipating an industrial revolution in the state, established a Commission of Immigration and Agriculture, and it compiled a Handbook of Facts for Immigration which was widely distributed "through-out the country and
even in Europe with the hopes of attracting laborers to the state."10 There was a perceived shortage of industry workers to meet the needs of the anticipated increase in cotton mills, and this problem was compounded by a massive exodus of Negroes
who had left the state in the late 1870s to homestead in Kansas. As we will see, the expected growth in industry and the corresponding need to import labor never materialized. Hence the immigration program was left without a meaningful purpose;
and except for a few Italians, it failed to attract immigrants.11
The Commission's efforts, in trying to attract cotton mills to the state, were less than forthright, if not a little misleading. Its handbook claimed that Mississippi offered abundant water power, cheap fuel, and cheap labor. Cotton mills at Bay Saint Louis, Columbus, Corinth, Meridian, Natchez, Stonewall, and Wesson were cited as examples of great success stories.12 One contemporary booklet, citing Meridian as the
Metropolis of the Southwest, argued:
"It is a well known fact that the most judicious managed mills in the New England States are frequently compelled to close their doors...owing to the conditions surrounding the business in that portion of the country. There is not a single instance where a well handled, properly capitalized business in the South has failed to make money. The manufacturer is near the raw material...has less loss of weight in transportation...and [has] cheap motive power."13
While power sources may have been available, an abundant supply of water power and cheap fuel simply were not available. Mississippi had no water fall lines, no coal supply, and electrical power lines had not yet been strung.14 But it did have an
abundance of cotton, surplus unskilled labor, and excellent
rail and water transportation systems.
The Industrial Development Program of 1882 got off to a bad start. Within a year after its implementation, the program was faced with a major hurdle--another economic slump beginning in 1883. But in spite of the slump, the southward
movement of the textile industry gained momentum in the 1880s with a proliferation of cotton mills in the Piedmont states to initiate the Industrial Revolution of the South. But Mississippi continued to lag behind; the concerted efforts of its
most influential leaders to attract cotton mills to the state had very little impact and met with very little success. During the decade the state built four new mills and closed three, for a net gain of only one, bringing the total to nine as compared with thirty-four in South Carolina and nine hundred and five in the United States. To repeat, the nine Mississippi mills at the end of the decade were at Port Gibson, Columbus,
Meridian, Natchez, Bay Saint Louis, Water Valley, Shuqualak, Stoneall, and Wesson.
Ironically, Mississippi's textile industry experienced far greater growth during the Radical Reconstruction period than it did in the 1880s--the decade during which mills were moving to the Piedmont states at a rapid pace and initiating the Industrial Revolution of the South. Mississippi constructed eight mills, utilizing 18,568 spindles, during the Reconstruction years as compared with a gain of only one new mill during the
1880s.17 Obviously, the state’s mill campaign in the 1880s was not only a disappointment but rather a colossal failure, especially when viewed in light of the concerted efforts of Governor Robert Lowry, Frank Moorehead, and several other prominent
With the phenomenal success in the Piedmont states, one must wonder what brought about the failure in Mississippi with its abundant supply of cotton, surplus unskilled labor, and the availability of excellent rail and water transportation. Let us pause here to briefly examine some of the often cited reasons.
The poor whites in Mississippi, who stood to benefit most from industralization, appeared to be indifferent about the failure. As noted earlier, most of them knew very little about the benefits of industry and were content with sharecrop or tenant farming, even though it often required them to rely on hunting, fishing, and gardening to supplement their food supply. Like poor whites throughout the South, their life style
left an appearance of complacency and lack of industry; this image was to subject them to harsh criticism for years to come. For example, New Englanders, considering themselves the epitome of excellence, were quick to lump most of the Southern white
population together in the same category and brand them as lazy and backward. The indictment was widely accepted as true, and in time, as noted by Broadus Mitchell in 'The Industrial Revolution in the South,' New Englanders were called "thrifty, hardy, active, industrious, while Southerners, were often referred to as Poor Whites, Red Necks, Lint Heads, Crackers, and Dirt Eaters, [came] down in history as lazy and improvident,... [and worse yet] degenerate."
New England mill workers in the 1880s, as cotton mills began to move southward, laughed at the thought of cotton mills moving to the South to be operated by "ignorant farmers and squirrel hunters." The laughter was premature; it would later
backfire soundly. The Great Depression between 1893 and 1897 intensified the competition between New England and the South for supremacy in cotton manufacturing, and after a long and bitter struggle between the two antagonistic regions, the industry moved to the South. The squirrel hunters, together with the sharecroppers and tenant farmers, would move from the farms to the mills. Some historians, according to David Carlton in
'Mill and Town in South Carolina,' "suggested that the rise of mills in such a backward region could have come only through the intervention of Divine Providence." The statement was another example of the unfair and harsh criticism of the poor whites; obviously, no reputable historian seriously believed it. Numerous antebellum and post civil war mills had demonstrated beyond doubt that cotton mills could be operated successfully in the South.
While skeptical of industrialization in the beginning, the poor whites of the South, including Mississippi, would finally welcomed cotton mills. They had little to loose because, as James Scherer notes in his Cotton as a World Power, they could
always "return to the land if beaten, but then later nearly all of them would drift back to the mill towns again, for the sake of better housing, better food, better clothing, and, above all, better social facilities than could be found in the deadly
isolation of the backwoods."
The Mississippi mill campaigns of the 1870s and 1880s had failed, but in spite of the failure, the southward movement of cotton manufacturing marked the beginning of a new era in Mississippi. It forced Mississippi, along with the other cotton
states, as Eugene C. Brooks notes in The Story of Cotton and The Development of the Cotton States, to examine its impoverished educational system and recognize the need for an improved system to produce skilled labor equal to that of the North and
the rest of the world.21
Most Mississippians initially opposed the public school system, first established in 1869 to provide every child with four months of free schooling each year, ostensibly because the hard times after the Civil War left little money for school expenses and taxes. But as conditions improved, the opposition began to decrease so that by 1890 Mississippi school laws had been revised to improve standards, provide uniform examinations for teachers, and increase the number of public schools. While it still lagged behind other southern states, Mississippi finally, after years of reliance on private academies available to the wealthy only, had at last accepted the public school.22 Although a small and cautious step, it was an essential first
step if the state ever expected to break away from its dependence on a cotton-growing economy and share in the southward movement of cotton mills and other industries requiring skilled labor.
The change in attitude toward education, however, had no immediate impact in attracting industry to the state. Beginning early 1893, another severe financial panic swept the country, causing thousands of business failures and throwing several million persons out of work. Farmers suffered from heavy debts and demanded reforms; a group of unemployed men, known as 'Coxey's Army,' marched from Ohio to Washington on May 1, 1894, demanding a huge road-improvement program to create employment; and general labor unrest mounted as cotton mill workers continued to suffer from harsh and often unsafe working conditions, including low wages and long hours. It was hardly the time for industry growth of any type at any place, and thus the Mississippi textile industry remained at a standstill until the turn of the century.
While the Mississippi mill campaigns throughout the Gilded Age, especially the seventies and eighties, fell short of their objectives, the state did take an essential first step in preparing for industralization by improving its public school system. As the Nineteenth Century approached its end, the increased emphasis on education coupled with the enactment of more favorable tax exempt laws, placed the state in a better position to attract industry. But as the end of the 1890s approaced a small lumber industry, then developing in the piney woods region of southern Mississippi, was the only immediate challenge to the cotton-growing economy. This was too little,
and thus Mississippi again renewed its interest in cotton mill
Mississippi’s new campaign that began in 1898 was to be far more successful than the campaign failures of the seventies and eighties. It should be noted that, here too, the campaign followed an economic depression--the Great Depression of 1893-97. But this time, Mississippians were obviously better prepared emotionally, psychologically, and educationally to compete for new mill construction. They were beginning to shed the 'lazy and improvident' image and become serious about supplementing their ailing cotton-growing economy with the cotton mill industry; finally, a substantial improvement in the contruction of cotton mills would be the result.
VI. Twentieth Century Cotton Mills
Cotton mills moved to the South at a rapid pace in the quarter century between 1880 and 1906. Broadus Mitchell and other historians, in writing about the movement, described it as the "Industrial Revolution of the South." Again, the center of the revolution was in the three Piedmont states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. While behind those states, Mississippi shared in the southward movement with an increase from eight to twenty-two mills during the period, most of which were opened near the turn of the century. With surplus unskilled labor, an abundant supply of cotton, and the availability of both rail and water transportation, the state had good reason to expect a greater share of the southward bound cotton mills. It had certainly hoped for more, for the 1893 Depression had again convinced influencial leaders that the state desperately needed to break away from its ailing agricultural economy and move toward industrialization.
There was no doubt about Mississippi's ability to compete with other sections of the country in cotton textile manufacturing. Its four antebellum mills, along with the post Civil War mills at Bay Saint Louis, Columbus, Corinth, Meridian, Natchez, Port Gibson, Shuqualak, Stonewall, Water Valley, and Wesson had demonstrated beyond any doubt that it could. But for three decades after the Civil War, as discussed earlier,
the state struggled along with its ailing agricultural economy while an industrial evolution was ignited and gained momentum in other southern states. Mississippi needed to join the mainstream and move toward industrialization.
So, finally in the late 1890s, Mississippi became serious about cotton mill building; it enacted more favorable tax exempt laws, improved its education system to produce skilled labor, and launched still another cotton mill campaign. Although
again short of expectations, the new campaign was far more successful than the campaigns of the seventies and eighties: fourteen mills were constructed in the ten year period between 1896 and 1906, increasing the number in operation, after failures,
to twenty-two (see Table 1).
Table 1.... Mississippi Cotton Mills:1906
Stonewall Cotton Mills..............Stonewall.................1868
Natchez Cotton Mill...................Natchez....................1878
Yocona Mills...............................Water Valley............1879
Noxubee Cotton Mills...............Shuqualak...............1880
Rosalie Cotton Mill....................Natchez....................1884
Port Gibson Cotton Mills..........Port Gibson.............1888
Meridian Cotton Mills................Meridian...................1896
West Point Cotton Mills.............West Point...............1899
McComb Cotton Mill..................McComb..................1899
Kosciusko Cotton Mills.............Kosciusko..............1899
Laurel Cotton Mills.....................Laurel......................1900
Winona Cotton Mills...................Winona....................1900
Yazoo Cotton Mills.....................Yazoo City..............1900
Tupelo Cotton Mills....................Tupelo.....................1901
John M. Stone Cotton Mill.........Starkville................1901
Mississippi Textile School........Starkville................1901
Magnolia Cotton Mills................Magnolia................1903
Columbus Yarn & Corage.........Columbus..............1904
Batesville Yarn & Cordage........Batesville...............1906
State University Textile School
Anticipating that the new campaign would promote rapid growth in cotton mill building, Mississippi A. & M. College, now Mississippi State University, began planning as early as 1899 for a textile school. With an ever increasing size and number of cotton mills, the use of more complex machinery, and the competition to improve the quality of the product, technical education was essential to train competent superintendents,
managers, and technicians. Textile schools had already opened or were in late planning stages at universities in the three Piedmont states, Clemson College in South Carolina in 1898, North Carolina A. & M. College in 1899, and Georgia School of
Technology in 1899.
With state legislative support, Mississippi A. & M. opened a textile school in 1901 with over seventy-five students. Professor Arthur Whittam, a graduate of the Harris Technological Institute of Preston, England, and a member of the New England
Cotton Manufacturers's Association, was named director of the new department. The new school included an electrically powered cotton mill with 824 spindles and twenty-five looms. Touting the textile school, A&M's 1904-05 College Bulletin boasted:
"The home of the Textile School is situated at the
eastern end of the campus on a hill overlooking the
rest of the college buildings. Two hundred and
twenty-four feet long, two stories high, with two
towers and a facade, it presents a most imposing
The school was the fourth textile school to be established in the South, and indicated that Mississippi was planning for the future and looking forward to the coming of more cotton mills. It was timely as Mississippi had three mills to open in 1899, four in 1900, and another three to be opened in 1901--a total of ten mills in three years.
Once again, Mississippians appeared poised, this time with determination, to break away from the dependence on the cotton-growing economy and move toward industrialization. Finally, the people were beginning to realize that the protracted de¬
pendence on cotton-growing had been wrong, and that the small lumber industry then developing in the piney woods region of southern Mississippi was not an adequate supplement. The state needed a broader based economy; it needed cotton mills.
Again, political and other influential leaders, as they did in the 1870s and 1880s, felt that the textile industry was the answer. The state produced a great volume of cotton which could be processed locally; mills were enjoying success at several towns and could be expanded to others. James Sanders and his son Robert David would appear at the right time to shape and dominate the development and expansion of Mississippi cotton mills.
In 1911, James Sanders purchased his first cotton mill. It was located at Kosciusko and was a very successful venture, permitting him to expand rapidly and acquire mills at Yazoo City, Starkville, Natchez, Winona, and Mobile. Robert, after attending Mississippi A & M College and serving as a captain in the U. S. Army during World War I, became general manager of his father's cotton mills in 1920 and played an important role in the development of the Sanders textile company.
When his father died in 1937, Robert inherited control of Sanders Industries and launched an expansion program with the motto, "What Mississippi Makes, Makes Mississippi."29 By that time the Natchez mills had been closed, but the corporation had grown to include the Aponaug Cotton Mills at Kosciusko, West Point, and Yazoo City; the J. W. Sanders Cotton Mills at Magnolia, Winona, Starkville, and Meridian; the Delta Chenille Mills at Summit, Durant, Kosciusko, and Winona; and Sanders Motors and Jackson Opera House at Jackson.30 Rather than the purchase or construction of additional mills, Robert's expansion program was restricted primarily to the purchase and expansion of existing mills. Nevertheless, Sanders Industries held its dominant position and controlled most of the cotton manufacturing in the state during the first half of the twentieth century--particularly from 1911 through the Depression and World War II years.
In reviewing Mississippi’s Twentieth Century mills, I will divide them into two groups: (1) the indepentent mills and (2) the Sanders mills. Six mills established at the turn of the century, along with the Berthadale mill established at McComb
in 1925 and the Tombigee mill reorganized in 1901, were never absorbed by the Sanders conglomerate, They, along with the Stonewall and the A&M College mills discussed earlier, operated separately and independently. Those that have not already been
discussed--the Tupelo, McComb, Berthadale, Laurel, Batesville, Moorhead, Columbus, and Gulfport mills--will be reviewed in the next chapter. Then, the Sanders mills in Chapter VII.
VII. The Indepentent Cotton Mills
Tupelo Cotton Mill
Tupelo led the northern part of the state at the turn of the century in establishing a thriving cotton-based industrial complex. In September 1900, the citizens of Tupelo, led by John M. Allen, John C. Clark, C. P. Long, and E. Clovis Hinds, organized and financed the Tupelo Cotton Mill. Early officials included J. H. Ledyard, as president; J. J. Rogers, vice-president; W. W. Trice, secretary-treasurer; W. C. Van Hoose, engineer; R. M. Larkin, carding supervisor; J. H. Edwards, spinning supervisor; and G. B. Hamby, weaving supervisor. The mill was the town's first large industry; it was powered by five steam engines and initially employed 250 workers to operate 10,000
spindles and 320 looms to produce demins, pin checks, shirtings, and madras.1
With local capital, the group went on to develop a thriving industrial complex based on the growing of cotton--a dress factory, a shirt factory, a baby clothes factory, and a cottonseed products factory. Within a three-block area adjacent to Union Station, serving the St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco) and the Mobile and Ohio (M&O) railroads, cotton was "ginned, compressed, dyed, made into yarn and thread, into cloth, and finally into dresses, shirts, and baby clothes." Not to waste anything, the cotton seed was then pressed for its oil, and finally the residue ground into a meal for cow feed. Rather
quickly, the small rural settlement altered its course to become a thriving industrial community.2
Workers at the several plants lived together in a pleasant, middle class village which gave the small town a look of prosperity. The village housing and streets were comparable to middle class communities in most Mississippi small towns. The
well maintained houses were neatly painted, alternating white and yellow, and by the early thirties were provided with electricity, city water, and inside plumbing. Paved streets and sidewalks ran throughout the village with its several small businesses, two churches and a well maintained brick building housing an elementary school for the first four grades.
The pride and joy of the community was its a semi-professional baseball team and a well maintained ball park with a grandstand. My early childhood was spent in the community, and I have fond memories of it, the school, the community park, and
the ball park. I attended the first and second grades at the school, and the baseball games were very special to me with my uncle, Lester (Monk) Strickland, playing third base and my next door neighbor, Hugh Trainer, pitching for the local team.
The village and the small town of Tupelo blended together to form a proud, congenial community. On April 5, 1936, the community's strength of character was thoroughly tested when it was suddenly disrupted by one of the most devastating tornadoes to ever strike a town in America. The Tupelo Daily Journal reported that
"In 33 seconds 201 persons were killed, 1000 injured;
hosts of others wandered helplessly without homes,
schools, or places of worship. The great oak trees
were broken or uprooted. In less than a minute Tupelo
received the most disastrous blow ever delivered to a
The final count was two hundred and thirty persons killed, two thousand injured, and over eight hundred homes destroyed. One mill family of thirteen, the Burroughs family, suffered an unthinkable blow; the entire family of thirteen was killed.4
I was seven years of age at the time and vividly recall the morning after with National Guard troops patrolling the streets, the general confusion, but most of all, the people working together to care for the dead, the injured, and clean up the widespread devastation. My mother and other women in the neighborhood busied themselves making coffee and biscuits for guardsmen and workers, while my father, along with several
other young men of the community, assisted in clearing debris from the streets and later in digging a common grave for the Burroughs family.
Within a few months, Tupelo had almost recovered from the storm when another tragedy struck. This one was man made. On April 8, 1937, the utopian existence between mill and village came to an end when fifty-two workers on the night shift, led by Jimmie Cox, went on a sit-down strike demanding a 15 percent increase in wages and a reduction in weekly work hours from forty-five to forty. The next day fifty day-shift weavers joined the sit-downers, bringing the total to one hundred and two, and the leaders, claiming the support of nearly all of the four hundred workers, renewed their demands with the statement:
"We assure you that our requests are serious; that we wish
settlement without union intervention except as a last resort. We will not tolerate sabotage of company property
while we are domiciled in same. We have treated you fairly, honorably and in the friendliest possible manner and
anticipate like treatment."5
The strikers had the support of George McLean, editor of the Tupelo Journal, whose editorials and on-the-scene reports blasted away at the injustice of their wages and working conditions. He accused businessmen of luring "starvation-wage outfits to the state under the guise of progress, and once the industries were established, the industrialists would block efforts to improve conditions in the name of state's rights." He stopped short of urging workers to resort to a strike, but
when it occurred, he was blamed by the mill's management and the town's merchants who initiated a boycott against his newspaper. The boycott was ineffective; McLean continued his reports in support of the mill workers.6
With the passing of the first week without pay, tensions began to mount and other groups began to claim to be the true representative of all of the workers. The Tupelo Journal reported that it was an explosive situation and nearly got out of control when National Guard troops appeared on the baseball grounds adjacent to the mill to practice the firing of weapons. With the test firing of some of the weapons, according to the report:
"strikers from the mill charged the grounds
armed with wrenches and other pieces of loose metal, they
swarmed across the open field prepared to do battle on the
spot. No explanation by the commander of the unit [Sam
H. Long] could convince the strikers that these events
were anything but an attempt at direct intimidation.
The unit pulled back."7
The sit-downers held their ground, and on April 14 Governor Hugh White met with them in the mill and later the mill officials in an effort to mediate their differences. It was an exercise in futility; the Governor left Tupelo, leaving "the sit-down strike exactly where he found it."8 Both sides were intransigent in their positions, and after three weeks of unproductive and fruitless negotiations, General Manager J. H.
Ledyard announced that the parties were unable to break the deadlock and that the mill would be closed and its assets liquidated.9
Reluctantly, the disheartened sit-downers began to vacate the mill; they had miscalculated and their unilateral action had lost the jobs of all of the workers--most of whom were opposed to the strike from the beginning. But true to their
word, the sit-downers never damaged company machinery or property.
After the shock, some four hundred mill workers gathered their possessions and moved on to other mills, mostly to nearby Sanders mills at Kosciusko, Starkville, West Point, Winona, and Yazoo City. Both sides had lost, but the mill workers had stood up against their bosses in an unparalleled fashion and some of the town's leaders (or goons) were not willing to let it go unchallenged. Jimmie Cox, the strike leader, was "abducted from the streets of Tupelo, taken to a secluded spot...,
tied face down and severely beaten with belts." It was said that the original intent was to kill him but that the objections of some of the participants saved his life; he was instead ordered to leave town and never return.10
My father and mother were among those displaced and they elected to move on to Winona. For them and most of the displaced workers, the disappointment lingered for years as they waited for the Tupelo mill to reopen and restore their utopian mill and village. Shortly after the strike, James Savery, the new president of the Chamber of Commerce, headed a short-lived effort to reopen the mill, but "no amount of effort by any of the town's agencies could heal the deep schisms within the
community."11 The Tupelo mill never reopened.
McComb Cotton Mills
In 1900 McComb, a railroad town in the piney woods region of southern Mississippi, built a large cotton mill to augment its Illinois Central Railroad shops and its thriving lumber industry. The mill, named Delta Cotton Mill, began operations that year with Captain J. J. White, as president; J. J. White, Jr., secretary and treasurer; William Holmes, vice-president; George Gleason, superintendent; J. W. Mayes, carding and spinning supervisor; and J. H. Roberts, weaving supervisor. Powered by two steam engines, the mill initially employed up to 200 workers in the operation of 220 looms and 6,000 spindles. It enjoyed modest success for two decades and then sold at auction in 1921 to Standard Textile Products Company of New York for $270,000.12
The new owners, with Alvin Hunsicker, as president, and Charles K. Taylor, as superintendent and manager, announced that their ambition was to make McComb a textile center as large as any in the South. The mill, renamed McComb Textile Mill, was expanded to operate 20,000 spindles, 424 looms, and employed five hundred and forty mill workers day and night, and began to manufacture a fabric used in the production of imitation leather for tops and upholstery of automobiles.13 After the expansion, the mill was indeed one of the state's largest cotton mills. Three years later, Charles Butterworth replaced Taylor as superintendent and manager.
By the early 1930s, like a host of other mills throughout the country, the mill was operating in bankruptcy, and at the time of the 1934 nation-wide textile strike, the directors were faced with the prospect of losing its major account with the
Ford Motor Company which they felt would force the mill to close completely or, at the very least, operate on a part-time basis. The mill had survived a six-week strike earlier in the year, and Ford was threatening to take its business elsewhere
should the mill be struck a second time within five months.14 Fortunately, the nation-wide strike was short-lived, and the mill survived to continue operations until closing its doors in 1942. More will be said about the strike in a later chapter.
In 1925 a second cotton mill was constructed in McComb by A. K. Landau and his brother W. Lober. A. K. Landau had operated a mill at Magnolia, seven miles south of McComb, but fearing the threat of unionism at that mill, he decided to sell out
and relocate. The new mill and its village, consisting of approximately fifty houses, was named "Berthadale" in honor of the mother of the Landau brothers. It was a small mill in comparison to the McComb Cotton Mill but it employed approximately
two hundred workers in the production of draperies.15
With the approach of the Depression in the late 1920s, the Berthadale mill began to suffer financial problems, and after struggling through the onslaught of the most difficult years of the Depression, the Landaus gave up in 1938 and ceased operations. The brothers moved the machinery, along with several employees, to Valdese, North Carolina where, for the third time, they organized and began the operation of a new cotton
mill.16 The Berthadale mill never reopened.
Workers at both McComb mills lived in adjoining villages, typical small town villages such as those at Kosciusko, Magnolia, West Point, and Winona. All of the small frame houses were white, on small lots, and had very few amenities--no city
water or sewage system, no paved streets or sidewalks, and no electricity until the mid-thirties. Sites for churches and play grounds were provided at both villages, but, unlike many mill villages, neither provided a school.17
In July 1922, the TriState Builder, describing the McComb Cotton Mill, said:
"We understand that it is the ambition of this company to
make South McComb a large textile center, perhaps as large
as any in the South. They believe that to get one
hundred percent efficiency from their operators is to
give them pleasant surroundings and good homes, so the
company has laid out a fine park adjoining the mills
and fenced it using over two thousand feet of wire fencing. This park which is well shaded is for the use of
the children of the employees of the mills and the grown
ups to for that matter. It has been fitted up with swings
and all such amusements, making a connection with this
company means the ideal life to the operators."18
The owner's ambition to make South McComb a large textile center was realized, at least for the next twenty years before the mill closed in 1942. The McComb Cotton Mill brick buildings and several of the old village houses still survived at the time of this writing. Most of the houses, however, were in desperate need of paint and repair. While at Berthadale, there were no signs of the mill buildings, but several of its former
village houses still dot the neighborhood.
Columbus Cotton Mill
In 1887 Columbus, a small town on the Tombigbee River in the northeastern part of the state, established its first large industry and the first of two cotton mills. The mill, named Tombigbee Cotton Mill, was built by Harrison Johnston, a wealthy pioneer citizen of the small town. After his death, it was reorganized in 1901 with a capital investment of $180,000 and resumed operations with T. O. Burris, as president; T.B. Franklin, vice-president; Benjamin N. Love, secretary; and O. Tasker, superintendent. The steam-powered mill employed one hundred and seventy-five workers to operate 8,064 spindles and 252 looms in the production of drills, sheetings, and shirtings.19
The impressive four-story mill was located in the heart of a section of town known as the "factory district," and according to the Columbus Commercial, the "busy hum of the machinery ...and the air of activity which pervaded the whole building,
spoke of industrial progress and typified the New South." The workers earned an average of eight dollars per week and lived in the adjoining company-owned village of some thirty-two small houses. Most of the workers, the Commercial concluded, had
abandoned nearby farms and exchanged the "hard life of the farm ...for the steady, sure weekly pay of the mills, with attendant bettering of conditions."20
From its beginning, the mill provided the economic base for Columbus; it consumed 3,000 bales of locally grown cotton annually and was the impetus for related industrial activity. After the reorganization at the turn of the century, and under new management, it continued to prosper. The mill, in fact, was a great success story; it prospered and continued to operate for forty-seven years. Like many cotton mills, it fell on
hard times at the beginning of the Great Depression and was forced to closed in 1934. An era ended when the old cotton mill building was sold in the following year to Authur McGahey who converted it to a casket factory.21
In 1904, a second cotton mill was established in the small town; with a capital investment of only $10,000, a small yarn mill under the name Columbus Yarn and Cordage Mill was built. It began operations with J. W. Steen, as president, and Benjamin Love, as secretary, and employed forty workers to operate 2,000 spindles in the production of cordage and twine.22 The small yarn mill never had a chance; it floundered from the
start and closed before the end of the decade.
Laurel Cotton Mill
In 1900 Laurel, a small town on the Mobile and Ohio (M&O) and Southern (SRR) railroads in southeastern Mississippi, built its first large industry. The Laurel Cotton Mill, with a capital investment of $300,000, was one of the state's largest cotton mills to be built at the turn of the century. It began operations with G. S. Gardiner, as president; W. B. Rogers, vice president and treasurer; F. G. Wisner, secretary; J. S. Pleasant, superintendent; W. O. Hedgpeth, carding-spinning overseer; and S. H. Holmes, weaving overseer. Initially, the mill utilized two steam boilers and employed some four hundred workers to operate 19,968 spindles and 640 looms.23
The workers lived in an adjoining village, a typical Mississippi mill village. Like the McComb villages, the small white houses had very few amenities--no city water or sewage system--except electricity which became available in the midthirties. By that time, the houses were in desperate need of paint and repair to conceal the many years of neglect, but with the deepening Depression, that would have to wait.
The mill survived the economic panic of 1907, the difficult years of the twenties, the Great Depression of the thirties to play a significant role in the industrial development of the small town. For the first four decades, it provided an
economic base for the town; and then finally, after fifty-five years of operations, it was closed in 1955. Only two cotton mills in Mississippi survived the Laurel mill--the J. W. Sanders Mill at Starkville which, as will be seen in the next chapter, survived until 1962 and the Stonewall mill which continues to operate today. By the time the Laurel mill closed, it had been replaced as the town's largest industry by the
nation's largest fiberboard factory.24
Moorhead Cotton Mill
The small community of Moorhead, in 1900, heeded the advice of Southern mill promoters to build the cotton mills in the cotton fields. The community, a hamlet of 500 in the center of the Mississippi Delta or Alluvial Plain and the nation's
leading region for growing long-staple cotton, literally built a cotton mill in the middle of the cotton fields. With a capital investment of $200,000, it built the Bellevue Cotton Mill and began operations with W. H. Harriss, as president; Peter H.
Corr, vice president; T. Ashley Blythe, secretary-treasurer; L. I. Allen, superintendent; G. F. Sharpe, spinning overseer; A. L. Smith, weaving overseer; C. Miller, engineer; and M. Duncan, electrician. The mill was powered by steam and initially employed two hundred and twenty-five workers to operate 5,000 spindles and 150 looms in the production of sheetings and drills.
The mill was later purchased and operated by the Orleans Cotton Mills, a New Orleans textile company, which also bought the mill at Magnolia in 1918. The Moorhead mill survived the economic panic of 1907, the difficult years of the 1920s, but,
as was the case with several Mississippi mills, the Great Depression of the thirties was too much. It closed at the beginning of the Depression in 1932.25
Batesville & Gulfport Cotton Mills
The Batesville Yarn Mill, the last mill established at the turn of the century, should be noted. In 1906, the small yarn mill, with a capital investment of $30,000, began operations with C. B. Vance, as president; J. C. Price, secretary-treasurer; and B. M. Love, superintendent. The small mill employed thirty-five workers to operate 1,500 spindles in the production of rope and twine. Financial problems plagued the mill from
the start and it was unable to survive the decade.
Finally in 1934, as cotton mills throughout the nation were going under, Gulfport made an effort to enter the cotton mill business. It built a small yarn mill, the Walcott and Campbell Yarn Mill, with 5,000 spindles; the small mill was
unable to get off the ground and closed a few months later in the following year.26 One must wonder what its founders expected, starting a cotton mill in the middle of the Great Depression, and as we shall see later, with the industry in shambles because of industry-wide overproduction.
The Sanders mills will be visited next. As mentioned earlier, Sanders began his accumulation of cotton mills with the purchase of the Kosciusko mill in 1911 and ended it with the purchase of the Magnolia mill at a foreclosure sale in 1932.
Altogether, his conglomerate absorbed eight cotton mills established at the turn of the century and went on to play a dominate role in the development of the state's textile industry in the twentieth century. The mills were located at Kosciusko, West Point, Starkville, Winona, Magnolia, Meridian, Yazoo City, and Natchez, and will reviewd in that order.
VIII. Sanders Industries Cotton Mills
James Sanders started his conglomerate of cotton mills in the midst of difficult times for the textile industry. There was a nation-wide epidemic of mill closings in 1910 which included five Mississippi mills: one each at Batesville and Port
Gibson, two at Columbus, and the mammoth Mississippi Mills at Wesson. It was a disastrous year, and while the state would later build three new cotton mills, the number of mills in Mississippi would steadily decline over the next fifty years. The
next year, 1911, Sanders purchased the twelve-year-old Kosciusko mill and immediately initiated an expansion program. The expanded mill was very successful, enabling Sanders not only to pay for the expansion of that mill but to purchase several others.
Rather than building new cotton mills, Sanders concentrated on the purchase of existing mills; more often than not, mills that were in serious financial trouble or, as in the case of the Magnolia mill, actually closed. With the purchase of the Magnolia mill in 1932, Sanders completed his accumulation of Mississippi cotton mills. By that time, he had a conglomerate, operating under the name of Sanders Industries, and already
playing a dominate role in Mississippi cotton manufacturing and would continue to do so until a few months before the death of Robert Sanders in Kosciusko on September 25, 1954.
James Sanders, as a result of his efforts in the textile industry from 1911 to his death in 1937, has been credited with having "laid the foundation for the development of the textile industry in Mississippi in the twentieth century."1 His son Robert shared in that endeavor; he was a very active participant from 1920 to 1953 and deserves credit for playing an important role in laying that foundation. And, at the end as will be seen later, he witnessed the demise of the Sanders conglomerate in 1953 and thus most of the Mississippi cotton textile industry.
Management of the several Sanders mills was coordinated from the corporate office in Jackson, and thus the operation of the various mills and the condition of their villages were very similar. The pay scale, workload, village housing, and living conditions varied little from one mill to the next. Most Sanders workers were aware of the various mills at Kosciusko, Magnolia, Meridian, Natchez, Starkville, West Point, Winona, and Yazoo City as many often moved from one mill (especially if
closed or destroyed by fire) to another and, in the process, expected to find employment and old acquaintances at the new mill.2 In my youth, I personally experienced several relocations of this type as my family moved during the depression and early war years from Tupelo to Winona, to Magnolia, to Kosciusko, to Meridian, and then back to Magnolia. And always, old friends and acuaintances were found at the new mill village to
make the relocation easier. In our review of the Sanders mills, we will start with Sanders's first mill acquisition.
Kosciusko Cotton Mill
Kosciusko, a small town in central Mississippi, entered the twentieth century looking toward the future. On August 26, 1899, the small town, later known locally as the Beehive of the Hills, organized and approved a capital investment of $167,000
for the construction of its first large industry. It was the town’s first major move toward industralization. Two years later in August 1901, the Kosciusko Cotton Mill was completed and began operations with C. L. Anderson, president; W. B. Potts,
vice-president; and Walter Burgress, secretary; A. E. Kelly, W. L. Anderson, N. O. Thompson, Walter Burgress, C. C. Kelly, John Fletcher, W. B. Potts, J. A. Gilliland, and F. Z. Jackson, board of directors.3
The mill was initially powered by a single steam engine and employed approximately one hundred workers to operate 5,000 spindles. The machinery, including spinning frames, came from a mill at Charlotte, North Carolina, which was purchased in tact from the owner, S. W. Cranner, and moved to Kosciusko. The mill was an instant success, and in 1907, it added a second steam engine, installed 320 looms, increased the number of spindles to 12,600, and workers to some one hundred and seventy-five in the production of white goods.4
In 1911, as the state's textile industry fell on hard times, James Sanders entered the cotton manufacturing business. He purchased the Kosciusko mill and immediately initiated still another expansion program; and under his program, the number of workers more than doubled to some three hundred and fifty, spindles increased to 30,572, and looms to 1,131. The production changed from white goods only to a variety of fabrics, including chambry, gingham, bed ticking, and pillow ticking.5 He effectively saved the mill and small town.
The Kosciusko mill, renamed Aponaug Manufacturing Company, continued to be a booming success; it enabled Sanders to expand rapidly and acquire mills at Starkville, Natchez, Winona, Yazoo City, and Mobile. Other purchases would follow, but, to reiterate, this was the genesis of the Sanders conglomerate of cotton mills. The mill was to remain Sander's largest mill and Kosciusko's largest industry for the next forty-two years. By the late 1930s, it operated day and night, employing some four hundred workers with an estimated payroll of $175,000 annually.
With the wide variety of fabrics, Sears Roebuck & Company soon became its largest customer, and in the mid-thirties, the mill often had up to six months in back orders for Sears. In addition, the mill served customers in most of the major cities in the United States and several international markets.6 With Preston Newell as superintendent, the immense prosperity that began in the late thirties continued through the war years.7
Most of the mill workers lived in an adjoining village, consisting of about eighty-five small frame houses. Being isolated from the town, the village had few amenities such as city water, inside plumbing, paved streets, or sidewalks; except for electricity which became available in the early thirties, other services and utilities such as the telephone, natural gas, and mail delivery did not come until the late forties. Each house, as usual, had sufficient land for a vegetable garden, a pig, a few chickens, and access to a community pasture for milk cows. The mill provided an elementary school through the eight grade, a church, a community playground and three large ponds. John Felder's grocery store, a barber shop, and Bud Felder's small
hamburger shop completed the village and assisted in keeping the mill people within the village limits.8
Several mill families lived in Crowley's flats consisting of twenty-two small frame houses near the business section of town and Peeler's flats with about thirty-two similar houses midway between the town and village. Living in either flats had the disadvantage of being a substantial distance from the mill, and most workers in the twenties and thirties had little choice but to walk to and from work. Crowley's was about a mile and a half from the mill and Peeler's less than a mile and, in either case, a considerable distance to walk when added to a ten-hour workday.
Later, as the labor market became more competitive at the beginning of World War II, Sanders provided bus transportation. But living in the flats had some advantages. The houses had a few more amenities than the village houses, but the big advantage was the close proximity of both flats to the town school. Unlike the children in the village, children in the flats attended the town grade school and that, as will be seen later, was a tremendous benefit.
Like most other Mississippi cotton mill towns in the early years of the Twentieth Century, many of the Kosciusko mill villagers felt that most of the town people preferred that they stay out of town, except on payday. And like most other Southern mill towns, social intercourse between town people and mill people was limited. Whatever the reason, it was not unusual. Most historians agree that an attitude of superiority by town people toward cotton mill people was common, and the attitude generally applied, as noted by Jennings Rhyn in Some Southern Mill Workers and Their Villages, to textile workers throughout the nation, North and South.9 In fact, it is interesting to note that textile workers throughout the nation were generally referred to as “hands or operatives” as if they were something less than human.
If these attitudes prevailed at Kosciusko as most villagers believed, ironically the village elementary school may have contributed to or actually promoted them by segregating and isolating village children. Before !940, most Mississippi children, like most American children everywhere, did not attend school beyond the eight grade, and thus the separate schools restricted the opportunities for village and town children to interact and establish relationships with each other. This pattern changed, beginning in the early forties, when more and more Mississippi children began to attend high school and college. Children from the town, the village, and the country came together for education and, in the process, established lasting relationships. The relationships became even closer when, almost simultaneously, the young men began to march off together to World War II and a few years later to the Korean Conflict.10
Children attending the village school experienced classical segregation and discrimination, but the potential damage was offset by teachers quietly promoting the development of self esteem and stressing the importance of preparing for the
future. Miss Alva Thomas, principal and strong promoter of the Sanders mill and its school, taught the seventh and eight grades; her two sisters, Anna and Lois, along with Christine Paine taught two grades each and completed the faculty. Each school day
started in a way now considered unlawful; the student body assembled in the school's auditorium for the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, a short biblical reading, and a prayer. The big event of the year was the annual play, with
eight grade actors playing to a full house of villagers. I attended and completed the eight grade class and have fond memories of the school and Miss Alva. I recall it as a memorable and beneficial experience, highlighted by a leading role in the
The school with its community playground and three large ponds nearby provided the village with a very active recreation center. The ponds provided water for the mill's five steam engines, and for the villagers, swimming, boating, and fishing. The best fishing, however, was at Fletcher's bridge, about five miles south of the village, where my friend, Joe Mathews, and I would frequently go on a Saturday morning with his father and usually one other adult male in a horse-drawn wagon, camp and fish overnight, and return Sunday afternoon. Other social activities centered around the church and John Felder's Grocery where, across the street and under the shade of two large Oak
trees, the men played checkers and dominoes.
For fifty-two years to the month, the Kosciusko mill was the town's largest industry and its economic base. Then in August 1953, Robert Sanders in ill health closed the mill, along with his other three remaining mills at Magnolia, Starkville
and West Point, and after his death in 1954, the mill and village houses were sold. Ironically, Sanders suffered a heart attack while attending a conference with local business leaders about the possible reopening of the Aponaug Mill and died a few
days later on September 25, 1954.
Rather abruptly, the mill was gone, never to reopen. At the time of this writing, the old brick mill building was still standing and occupied by a small electric lamp company. There were almost no signs of the small village that was once
adjacent to the mill--the eighty-five small houses, the church, and the school with its community playground. John Felder's grocery store and a few of the former village houses near it were still surviving.
West Point Cotton Mill
In 1899 West Point, a small town of 3,200 on the Illinois Central Railroad in northeastern Mississippi, organized and approved a capital investment of $107,000 to build a small yarn mill. Two years later the West Point Cotton Mill was completed
and began operations with J. M. Hardison, as president; J. A. Crawford, secretary and treasurer; Eugene Cross, superintendent; J. R. French, carding-spinning overseer; and P.M. Coates, engineer.11
The small mill was initially powered by a Corlis steam en¬gine to operate 5,152 spindles in the production of thread only. At the time it was West Point's largest industry, employng seventy workers, mostly women and young girls, to produce fine
yarns for weaving plants in the northeastern states--primarily New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Producing thread only, it was a small plant in comparison with Aponaug Mill No. 1 at Kosciusko which produced both thread and a variety of cloth.12
After being virtually destroyed by a severe storm in April 1913, the mill was sold to J. R. French, one of its founding officials, who rebuilt and reorganized under the name Cardinal Spinning Mills. Its name was later changed to Perdue Spinning Company, and finally in the early twenties, James Sanders purchased the mill and reorganized it under the name Aponaug Manufacturing Company, Mill No. 2. He brought in A. C. Sanders from Maine to be superintendent and embarked on a substantial expansion program.
The program tripled the number of employees to two hundred and twenty-five and increased the spindles to 8,056 to produce 70,000 pounds of yarn per week. Rather than selling the yarn to mills in the northeastern states, Sanders shipped most of
the yarn to his other mills to be woven into cloth and to his newly acquired chenille plants at Durant, Summit, Kosciusko, and Winona to be used in the making of robes and bedspreads.13
In the late thirties, the mill was a pioneer in the spinning of rayon--a synthetic fiber--and during the World War II years it operated day and night to produce a two-ply No. 2 yarn for use by the military. After operating as a thread mill for almost half of a century, a weaving room with two hundred and fourteen looms was finally added in January 1948, and for the first time, the West Point mill began to manufacture cloth .14
The West Point mill district was isolated from the town, and like the isolated mill districts at Kosciusko, Magnolia, Winona, and Yazoo City, the village and living conditions were very similar--no city water, inside plumbing, paved streets or
sidewalks; and except for electricity in the mid-thirties, no other services such as telephone, natural gas, or mail delivery until the late forties.
Robert Sanders closed the mill in August 1953, along with his other mills, and after his death in 1954, the machinery was sold and removed. West Point's oldest and largest industry, the town's primary economic base for more than half a century,
was suddenly gone, never to be reopened.
In my research of the mill and village in 1995, I visited West Point and found the mill's brick building in use as a warehouse and several of the small village houses surviving in a community known as the Cotton Mill Village District.15 Beulah
Simmons, a secretary at the mill in the late twenties and early thirties, fondly reminisced with me about her experiences at the mill and credited James Sanders for saving “the mill and the town of West Point with his purchase and expansion program. Her thoughts then shifted to the Magnolia mill, where she transferred to in 1932, and she added, “he also saved that mill and town.”16
Starkville Cotton Mill
In 1901 Starkville, a town of 3,000 on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad (M&ORR) in northern Mississippi, organized and authorized a capital investment of $125,000 to build a cotton mill. The Starkville mill, named John M. Stone Cotton Mill in honor
of a former governor, began operations with W. W. Scales, as president; S. Tied,
vice-president; and W. W. Scales, Jr., secretary-treasury.
The mill, the first large industry in Starkville, was located on the M&O, midway between the town's business district and Mississippi A. & M. College (now Mississippi State University). It was actually the town's second cotton mill, for earlier that year the college, as discussed earlier, had opened a small electrically-powered textile mill with 824 spindles and 25 looms for educational purposes. The John M. Stone Mill was
powered by steam, and by 1913, employed seventy-five workers to operated 5,376 spindles and 150 looms in the production of sheeting.17
James Sanders purchased the mill in 1916, renamed it the J. W. Sanders Cotton Mill, and changed the operation to the production of chambray in a variety of colors. By 1929, after an expansion program that increased the number of workers to 350, spindles to 20,000, looms to 470, the mill's annual production of "Starkville Chambray," as it became known, reached one and a half million yards; it was produced in fourteen colors and shipped around the world for the making of dresses and shirts.18
The cotton mill and its village--along with a cottonseed
oil mill established in 1900, a cooperative creamery in 1910,
and Borden Milk Creamery in 1926--occupied an area that became
known as the "Cotton District." In the early 1900s, the district included a few large frame houses built by the college,
several small frame houses provided for the mill workers, a
church, a wagon shop, a blacksmith shop, a barber shop, a meat
market, and a grocery. From 1925 to the early 1940s, Sanders
provided a grade school at Mill and Gillespie Streets. In 1929,
a Catholic Church was built on Maxwell, between Lummus and Hogan Streets; services were conducted by a priest who traveled
from Columbus each weekend and slept on a cot in the church.
Beginning in 1933, the Blue Goose Restaurant, a favorite hangout for college students during the 1930s and 1940s, completed
The Cotton District was a thriving industrial complex--comparable to the industrial complexes at Tupelo and Meridian--and from the beginning, the mill houses intermeshed with those
used by the college and the other industries to form a bustling
middle class community. By the early thirties, paved streets
and sidewalks ran through the community; and most of the houses
had electricity, city water, and inside plumbing. Pearl Goff,
a native and former worker at several Sanders mills, said that
it was an upscale community compared to Sanders mill villages
at Winona, Kosciusko, Magnolia, West Point, and Yazoo City.20 I
agree with her assessment; I visited the community as a young
boy several times in the late thirties and early forties and
recall that it was comparable to the industrial complexes at
Tupelo and Meridian, and that the three were thriving middle
class communities compared to the isolated mill villages at
Kosciusko, Magnolia, and Winona.
In 1954, Sanders Industries sold the Starkville mill and
village houses; the new owners struggled to keep it open a few
more years, and finally in 1962, it was closed. Three years
later Mississippi State University purchased the old brick mill
building and made it a part of its physical plant; unlike most
former Mississippi cotton mill towns, Starkville was obviously
appreciative of the role the cotton mill played in its history.
In 1975 the mill building was included in the National Registry
of Historical places, and today, the Cotton District is alive
and a popular area to live especially for the college crowd.
The closing of the Starkville mill left the Stonewall Cotton
Mill as the state's sole surviving mill.21
Winona Cotton Mill
In 1901 Winona, a small town on the Illinois Central Railroad just east of the Mississippi Delta, was lured by its proximity to the state's famous cotton-growing region and the new
tax law to enter the cotton manufacturing business. It organized and authorized a capital investment of $132,000 to build
the Winona Cotton Mill. The town's first large industry began
operations with J. H. Frazier, president, and G.R. Kelso, secretary. It was powered by steam engines and initially employed
one hundred and twenty-five workers to operate 8,736 spindles
and 220 looms in the production of unfinished drilling and
James Sanders purchased the mill in 1924, and reorganized
it under the name Winona Cotton Mill Products. Unlike the case
at his other mills, he did not increase the number of spindles
and looms to increase production at the new mill. There was no
need to add machinery because the mill, like many mills across
the country at the time, was not operating near capacity. Sanders simply increased the number of work hours per week and the
number of workers and, in the process, increased the production
of cloth from 10,000 yards to 16,500 yards daily--a sixty-five
percent increase.23 During the Depression years before 1938,
the mill operated two twenty-four hour shifts and employed two
hundred and twenty-five workers. The shifts were later changed
to ten hours and then finally to eight.
The workers lived in an adjoining village, located about a
mile south of the town's small business district, consisting of some seventy-five small frame
houses. Like other Sanders villages in small towns, the Winona
village had very few amenities except for electricity beginning
in the mid-thirties, in fact fewer than most--no city water, no
sewage system, no paved streets, and no sidewalks. Like most,
it had a Baptist church; but unlike the Sanders villages at
Kosciusko, Magnolia, and Starkville, it had no village school.
Gordan's and Cross's grocery stores, across the street from
each other, and J. W. Herring's Garage completed the village
and acted as its social center. Young men played checkers and
dominoes or just hung out in front of the establishments (using
apple boxes for chairs and tables) and baseball in an adjacent
open field. Like Kosciusko, the mill pond was a favorite recreation center for both boys and girls, used for swimming and
fishing and boating.24
Several mill families lived in an area midway between the
business district and the mill, consisting of two short streets with twenty
two-room and three-room unpainted shacks. It had originally
been a black community, but during the Depression years white
mill families began to live in the community while waiting for
village housing to become available. The blacks and whites
lived together in harmony, while the white mill families waited
anxiously and hopefully for better housing to become available
in the village.25 While the black and white children attended
separate schools, they came home to play and have good times
together. They were not aware of any color barriers.
On January 8, 1940, after surviving the Depression, tragedy struck the town and village when the mill was destroyed by
fire. As an eleven year old, I watched the extensive conflagration in amazement as my father and other young men darted in
and out of the cloth room, retrieving bolts of cloth and taking
them to their homes. The mill was completely destroyed, leaving a subsequent period of unemployment, and most of the cloth
salvaged was later used as barter for food and other necessities.
Two years earlier in 1937, the Sanders mill at Yazoo City
was destroyed by fire, and many workers, connecting the two
events, suspected that the fires were intentionally started.
Rumors ran rampant that the mill superintendent, C. D. (Red)
Kent, who had also been superintendent at the Yazoo City mill
when it burned, was connected with the burnings. They were apparently unfounded because no serious investigation or formal
charges of arson were ever initiated. Kent transferred to Meridian, where he became superintendent of the Sanders Meridian
Cotton Mill and later (in 1944) made an unsuccessful bid for
mayor of that city.26
Sanders announced that the Winona mill would not be rebuilt, and except for the few who returned to tenant farming,
displaced workers gathered their belongings and moved on to
other mills, primarily to Sanders mills at Magnolia, Meridian,
Kosciusko, and West Point. It was the second displacement
within two years for several families who had migrated to Winona from Tupelo after its 1937 strike: the Ernest Strickland,
Edward Strickland, John Collier, Clark Cook, Clarence Davis,
Henry Dickinson, E. D. Fox, Choace Fox, Thomas Jones, Earl
Hunsinger, William J. Shaw, and the Sheridan families.27
The Ernest Strickland family was one of several families
to relocate to Magnolia, and being a member, I have vivid memories of the move. My nine year old sister, Inez, and I rode
with our father on the truck's flatbed with the furniture.
Most of the nearly two-hundred-mile trip, over two-lane highways, was at night. Passing through Jackson, my sister and I
found an opening in the tarpaulin and stared in wonderment at
the glistening lights and snowflakes as a rare Mississippi snow
provided a fairyland picture, never to be forgotten by either
Magnolia Cotton Mill
Magnolia, a small town of 2,000, was the second town to
build a cotton mill in the piney woods region of southern Mississippi. In 1903, L. L. Lampton promoted the organization and
establishment of the Magnolia Textile Company. The mill, with
a capital investment of $200,000, began operations that year
with L. L. Lampton, as president; Thad B. Lampton, secretarytreasurer; E. A. Hall, manager; J. J. Govis, carding and spinning overseer; and J. H. Stiefel, weaving overseer.29 It was
powered by steam and initially operated 4,000 spindles and 160
looms to produce a variety of fabrics, including stripes, tapestries, and shirtings.
After several successful years, the mill began to experience financial difficulty in 1916, and at the April meeting of
that year, the directors decided that it was in the best interest of all parties concerned to sell it. Charles K. Taylor,
who had just completed the successful reorganization of a cotton mill at Selma, Alabama, was brought in to reorganize the
mill, prepare it for sale, and find a buyer.30
Taylor accomplished his assignment, and in 1918, the Magnolia Textile Company was sold to Loeber Landau for $200,000. Landau, associated with the Orleans Cotton Mills in New Orleans at the time, relocated to Magnolia and assumed the presidency of the mill. One of his first acts was to hire C. K. Taylor to
remain as general superintendent and then instructed him "to
make every effort to get as many looms as possible changed over
to the '4 yard goods' just as quickly as possible."31 Taylor
was ideally suited to manage the financially distressed mill.
He was an engineer graduate of Mississippi A. & M., taught at
its textile department, and, as general superintendent, had
turned around a financially distressed mill at Selma, Alabama,
and at the time, was making progress with the Magnolia mill.32
The Magnolia mill with Landau, as president, and C. K.
Taylor, as general superintendent, was reorganized under the
name Magnolia Cotton Mills and became a part of a New Orleans
textile company which also included the Orleans Cotton Mills
and Moorhead (Mississippi) Cotton Mills. It was very successful from the outset, and according to Taylor, "the mill made
enough money to build an additional mill," an apparent reference to the Berthadale mill the Landau brothers later constructed in nearby McComb. Some of the profit, however, was
used to augment the Magnolia mill village with the construction
of several small frame houses, increasing the number of village
houses to one hundred and five. Guy Chadwick and Will Berry
participated in building several houses under the expansion
The success of the reorganized Magnolia mill was shortlived. Landau initially had great pride in the mill and village but lost much of it, beginning in the early 1920s, when
workers began to talk seriously about unionism. Fearing the
threat of unionism, he turned his attention in 1924 to the construction of a new mill, the Berthadale Cotton Mill, in nearby
McComb.34 Two years later, the Magnolia mill was closed for
the first time, and C. K. Taylor set out to find a buyer. Finally in 1928, it was sold at an auction to Emil Kitzinger, a
California textile company, for $125,000.35
The mill was reorganized and resumed operations under the
name Roundtree Cotton Mills, and for the second time, Taylor
was persuaded to remain as its general superintendent. The
reorganized mill suffered financial difficulties from the beginning and was not able to get off the ground; after struggling for several months in an effort to stay alive, it finally
closed for the second time in 1930.36 Indeed, the 1920s had
been difficult years for the Magnolia mill and its villagers,
but, ironically, the Depression years after 1932 would proved
to be a booming period in comparison.
C. K. Taylor again came forward to provide valuable assistance; for the third time in fourteen years, he found a buyer
for the Magnolia mill. The mill, however, remained idle nearly
three years until he, in March 1932, persuaded James Sanders and his son Robert to purchase the mill in a foreclosure sale. It was a bargain. The mill was purchased for $25,405--down considerably from the $125,000 selling price four years earlier--with Taylor receiving a fee of $1,000 for his efforts. Thus, the Sanders saved another Mississippi mill and small town.
Sanders immediately initiated a six-month program to rehabilitate the mill and village houses. New machinery was installed, the number of spindles was increased to 13,596 and the looms to 366.37 After being closed so long, the mill's
reopening on September 16, 1932, was a day of celebration for the village and town of Magnolia. The mill and its reopening will be discussed at length in the next chapter.
Meridian Cotton Mills
The City of Meridian, the self-proclaimed Metropolis of
the Old Southwest, had a long history of cotton manufacturing;
its first mill the Pioneer Cotton Mill was established in 1863
and destroyed by General Sherman in 1864; it was rebuilt in
1867 under the name East Mississippi Cotton Mill and then reorganized again in 1871 by its new owner T. J. Solomon.38
In 1896, the city built still another major mill. The
Meridian Cotton Mill, with a capital investment of $200,000,
began operations that year with L. Rothenberg, as president;
James C. Reid, general manager; M. J. McMorries, treasurer; E.
A. French, superintendent; B. O. Grayson, spinning overseer; R.
L. Stevens, carding overseer; J. M. Gunter, spooling overseer;
J. M. Davis, weaving overseer; and Guy McCleland, master me¬
chanic. It was powered by five boilers and employed 450 workers to operate 11,500 spindles and 400 looms in the production
of madras, shirtings, and suitings.39
Sanders purchased the mill in the late twenties. Like
Starkville and Tupelo, the mill was located in the midst of an
industrial complex based on the growing of cotton: two of the
other significant plants in the complex were the Alden Spinning
Mill, established in 1909, with 250 workers to operate 5,000
spindles and the Maywebb Hosiery Mill with 150 workers.40
Also like Starkville and Tupelo, workers at the various
factories lived together in a thriving middle class community.
Unlike the shoddy houses and conditions at Sanders mill villages at Kosciusko, Magnolia, West Point, Winona, and Yazoo
City, the Meridian mill workers enjoyed well maintained houses
provided with electricity, city water, and inside plumbing.
Paved sidewalks and streets ran throughout the industrial community with its several small businesses, several churches, and
a nearby public grade school. I lived in the Meridian village
in 1944 and remember it as a thriving middle class community
comparable to those at Starkville and Tupelo.41 At the time, I
was fifteen years of age and vividly recall the great improvement in village housing and living conditions at Meridian when
compared with those at Kosciusko, Magnolia, and Winona.
After nearly fifty years in operation, the mill was closed
in 1945, never to reopen.
Yazoo City Cotton Mill
Yazoo City, a small town at the eastern edge of the Mississippi Delta, was the second Mississippi town to build a cotton mill in the cotton fields. In 1905, the town established
the Yazoo Yarn Mill and began operations with T. L. Wainwright,
as president; W. H. Kline, vice-president and treasurer; and J.
L. Eddleman, superintendent. Initially, the mill was powered
by steam and employed some eighty-five workers to operate 6,656
spindles in the production of thread only.42
Sanders later purchased the mill and, under the name Yazoo
City Cotton Mill Products, increased the spindles to 8,192, the
looms to 220, and the workers to some two hundred to produce
sheeting. While one of Sanders smallest mills, it was by far
the small town's largest industry.43
In 1937, the Yazoo City mill was destroyed by fire, and
except for the few who returned to tenant farming, most of the
workers moved on to other Sanders mill towns, primarily to West
Point, Kosciusko, Magnolia, and Winona. Two years later, as
discussed earlier, the mill at Winona was destroyed by fire and
many workers, connecting the two events, felt that the fires
were intentionally started. But again, no serious investigation or formal charges of arson were ever initiated.44
Natchez Cotton Mills
The Natchez Cotton Mill, originally established in 1874,
was reopened in 1902 with a capital investment of $350,000. It
began operations with R. F. Learned, as president; G.W. Koontz,
G. J. Schwartz, secretary; treasurer; C.F. Faulkner, superintendent; John Anderson, carding overseer; J. E. Pressley, spinning overseer, Daniel Pool, weaving overseer; and A. B. Buford,
master mechanic. The seven-boiler mill employed 475 workers to
operate 22,438 spindles and 632 looms in the production of
drills, sheeting, and shirtings.45
A sister mill, the Rosalie Cotton Mill, opened in 1884 and
employed 275 workers to operate 10,000 spindles and 300 looms
in the production of drills and sheetings. In the early 1920s,
James Sanders acquired the two mills and combined their operations; C.K. Taylor, in his analysis of Mississippi Mills in
1926, reported that the combined mills employed 500 workers to
operate 22,722 spindles and 636 looms--one of the state's largest cotton mills. Sanders operated the mills only a few years
before closing them at the beginning of the Great Depression in
The nine cotton textile mills just discussed, along with
four cotton chenille mills engaged in the manufacture of robes
and bedspreads at Durant, Kosciusko, Summit, and Winona, made
up Sanders Industries. It had indeed grown into a conglomerate
of thirteen mills and oddly during the hard times of the twenties and thirties in a poverty striken state.
While four of the Sanders mills--Natchez, Rosalie, Winona
and Yazoo City--would not survive the Depression years, the
conglomerate was nevertheless positioned to dominate the Mississippi textile industry in the 1930s and 1940s. It had survived the turbulent years of the 1920s and was prepared to face the abysmal Depression, which, for the textile industry, actually began in the early 1920s.48 Initially, it would be aided by the lack of adequate protective labor laws, child labor laws, minimum wage laws, hours of work laws, the absence of
effective labor organizations, and a never ending line of workers willing to accept low wages, long hours, and poor housing.
Sanders Industries would also benefit from strong community support. All of the Sanders mills, except the Meridian
and Natchez mills, were located in very small towns with an
average population of about 2,500 such as Kosciusko, Magnolia,
Starkville, West Point, Winona, and Yazoo City. Most of the
various small mill towns depended on the mills for an economic
base and, for that matter, survival. By controlling the economic base, Sanders Industries, like other Southern mill owners, could benefit from the lack of adequate protective labor
laws and effective labor organizations and, in the process, expect the support of the local business and professional communities. The situation, as we shall see, would substantially
affect Sanders mill workers during the thirties and forties.
The next three and final chapters will examine working and
living conditions at Sanders mills during the depression and
war years--the thirties and forties. But first for a better
perspective of the role of the Sanders mills, let us pause to
briefly look at the major problems confronting the American
textile industry in general during those years.
Throughout the 1930s, the American textile industry was
confronted with insurmountable problems; it suffered, North and
South, for several reasons, including a depressed economy, labor unrest, over-production, and fierce competition. Most of
the difficulties were clearly self-imposed by the industry, but
the Sanders mills, along with many Southern mills, would compound them. They dealt with the difficulties, partially at
least, by paying low wages for long workdays, providing poor
housing, and increasing the workload under the stretch-out system which was widely used by many Southern mill owners to lower labor costs.
The starvation wages, long hours, and harsh treatment of
employees in the Southern textile industry clashed, head on,
with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inaugural in 1933 of a
"New Deal," promising that nobody is going to starve in this
country and that no business which depends for existence on
paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to
continue in this country. The New Deal labor policies that
followed were to be vigorously opposed by Southern mill owners,
perhaps by Sanders more than most, especially those designed to
set fair wage and hour standards and to eliminate abusive labor
practices, including the stretch-out system, in the textile industry.
Like many Southern mill owners, Sanders was inflexible and
unyielding in his refusal to bargain with labor representatives
regarding wages, hours, workload, or housing conditions.49 More
will be said about his opposition to labor and treatment of
mill workers later, but suffice it to note here that workers at
two Sanders mills--Magnolia and Kosciusko--reacted to the harsh
treatment and participated in the 1934 nation-wide strike to
organize the cotton textile industry. Tempers flared at the
two mills and National Guard troops had to be dispatched to
quash the threat of violence. The strike and its impact on
Mississippi industry, the textile industry in particular, will
be discussed in a later chapter devoted to the nation-wide
Let’s now turn our attention to the working and living
conditions at Sanders mills and villages; most of the focus
will be on the mill and village at Magnolia. It was one of
only four Sanders mills--the other three being those at Kosciusko, Starkville, and West Point to survive the depression
years, the nation-wide textile strike of 1934, and the war
years before finally closing its doors a few months before the
death of Robert Sanders in Kosciusko on September 25, 1954.
Our review will start with the reopening of the Magnolia mill
on September 16, 1932.
IX. Sanders Reopens Magnolia Mill
Christmas 1932 brought happiness and renewed hope to the town of Magnolia, especially to the mill village. In November, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected President of the United States with promises of a "New Deal" to lead the nation out of the Depression. The popular song at the time "Happy Days Are Here Again" was certainly appropriate for Magnolia and its mill village, for James Sanders had purchased and reopened the Magnolia Cotton Mill. After being idle for almost three years, it reopened on September 16 with Robert Sanders, as general manager, Fred (Bud) Smith, mill superintendent; and Beulah Mae (Bird) Simmons, plant secretary.1 The Magnolia Gazette, 13 September 1932, reported
Since it was purchased by Mr. Sanders last April the
mill has been thoroughly repaired and a great deal of
new machinery has been installed. It is one of a chain
of cotton mills owned in the South by Sanders.2
But the mill whistle, according to the McComb Journal, failed
to blow the first morning because of the years of non-use.3
The mill had closed almost three years earlier. Most families at the time had no place to go and many stayed in the village because housing was free or, at least as one resident said, little effort was made to collect rent. He added that
the hard times forced some of the villagers to cannibalize empty houses for firewood.4 Some of the family heads who remained included Alvin Brown, Willie Brown, C. W. Case, Wilfred Case, John Case, Prentiss Case, Sebe Case, Charles Davis, Joe Foreman, Rodney Foreman, James Davis, Robert Goff, Fred Hardin, Barney Hughes, Clyde Lea, Mabel McCaskill, Willie Parker, Ben Haney, Luther Parker, Lawrence Richmond, Luther Richmond, Dan Smith, Willie Pezant, and Jim Rushing.
Out of desperation, a few families moved to the village for the free housing, including Drew Rushing who, with his wife Susie and their two children, moved to the village from nearby McComb in 1930. After loosing his grocer business at the beginning of the Depression, Grover Cleveland Phurrough, along with his wife Lena and son William Earl (Bill), moved to the village from Syclacauga, Alabama in 1931.5
Early in 1932, as rumors that the mill might reopen began to circulate, others began to arrive: Margaret Rushing from McComb with her children, Joe, Lester, Alma, Albert, and Tom; Nathan and Dora Skipper with their son, Roy, from Mobile; the Leon Ellzey family from Laurel; the Thomas Pugh family from Louisville; the Thomas Sherman family from Meridian; the Otha Anderson Sr. and Lea Anderson families from Kosciusko; Ethel
Louise McArm from Meridian; the Charles Van Buskirk family from Hermanville; the Pat Fuller family from McComb; and the G. T. Dickinson family. There were others.6
There was little employment of any kind during the period the mill was closed from 1930 to 1932, and gardening, fishing, and hunting became primary sources of food for many. The Depression was gaining momentum and affecting everyone--industry
workers, service workers, farmers, and merchants--throughout the country. Financial conditions were chaotic, as the economic system came to a standstill and could not function with the banks of most states closed. In April of 1932, the collapse reached a high point in Mississippi when one-fourth of the state's industries and farms were sold for taxes in a single day.7 Describing conditions in Mississippi, Mildred Andrews, in her book The Men and The Mills, notes:
In 1930-1931 the Depression was gaining momentum
and, no matter what goods any mill produced, there
was almost no market, no matter the type of promot
ion. Many mills were idle; most were operating on
less than half time. Wages were down to ten to fif
teen cents an hour. Field workers and tenant farmers
lived on soul food and wild game. One Mississippi
Delta lady who lived in a mansion, but in those hard
times made sausage out of wild rabbit said, 'If the
wolf knocks at my door I'll make sausage of him.'8
The high point of the collapse came to Magnolia in 1930 when the cotton mill closed, affecting all who had depended on it for an economic base and survival--the village people, the town people, and the area farmers were all adversely affected.
Just as the situation seemed hopeless, James Sanders arrived. He purchased the mill in March 1932, and after making repairs and replacing equipment, reopened it six months later. On September 13, the Magnolia Gazette proudly announced that “the big plant has undergone a thorough overhauling, all machinery has been put in first class order, and that it will open next Monday morning.”9
Expectations were high as hundreds of people from the village, town, and nearby farms gathered near the mill gate to apply for jobs. Many of the local applicants were hired, and in addition, experienced mill workers were brought in from West Point, Yazoo City, and other Sanders mills. Some of the latter included Fred (Bud) Smith, brought in from the Yazoo City mill to be plant superintendent, along with William (Bill) Sullivan,
Glenn Lamkin, Selma Lamkin, Thomas Fancher, Jesse Bates, Frank Dykes, Bryant Alford, and Lucian Robinson. Beulah Mae Bird, as mentioned earlier, transferred from the West Point mill to be plant secretary; Fanny Mae, Dorothy, and Ella Pugh came in from
Louisville; Chillis Crawford and Norman Crawford from Tylertown.10
Everet Lishman, one of the few mill workers with a suitable truck, was busy for weeks moving the several families from Yazoo City. Moving from Yazoo City to Magnolia, a distance of approximately a hundred and forty miles over two-lane highways, in the early thirties, was an ordeal to say the least. Typically, the furniture and other personal belongings were loaded during daylight hours to the flatbed of a small truck
and covered with tarpaulin for protection against bad weather. Much of the driving was at night with the wife and smallest children in the cab with the driver, while the husband and older children rode on the flatbed with the furniture. Along
the way they would pause to eat, usually luncheon meat sandwiches or fried chicken which had been prepared before departure.11
For the many mill workers who frequently moved, during the twenties and thirties, from one mill village to another or between the farm and mill village, the ordeal was a very common experience and accepted as a reflection of the times. I recall
that moving from one mill town to another was certainly a common experience for my parents and many of their friends, especially those displaced by the Tupelo strike, the Yazoo City fire, the Winona fire, and the mill closings. Several families, in fact, seemed to follow each other from mill to mill struggling to survive from the tragedies and the hard times of the Depression years.
The Magnolia mill in 1932 occupied a large and impressive brick building about a mile south of town and was surrounded by a village of about one hundred small, mostly four-room, frame houses. Like the Sanders villages at Kosciusko, West Point,
Winona, and Yazoo City, the Magnolia village had a monotonous, rundown look, almost no aesthetic features, and no modern conveniences such as electricity, telepone, inside plumbing, and paved streets. The houses were very similar in style, most
with four rooms but a few with three, and on lots large enough for a vegtable garden, a few chickens, and a pig. Most were in desperate need of paint; and many were in deplorable repair because of being unoccupied for long periods of time. For those
willing to provide the labor to make their houses more livable, Sanders supplied doors, windows, nails, and paint.12
A short time later, a small Nazarene church, a four year grade school, Bob Currin's grocery store, the Big Apple Cafe, and a barber shop completed the village.
On September 16, 1932, the mill reopened in the face of a depression rapidly spreading across the country. While the pay was low, starting as low as eight cents per hour or ninety-six cents per twelve-hour day, the housing shoddy and in need of
repair, the Sanders Cotton Mill provided the town of Magnolia a much needed economic base which, as it turned out, sustained the community throughout the Great Depression.13 It was timely, for it is very unlikely Magnolia could have survived the
world-wide economic collapse as a viable community without the
The mill was the town's primary employer and its source of life-blood throughout the Depression. But as was the case in communities across the country in the early thirties, life in the Magnolia village was also harsh and oppressive. A typical day started when the whistle blew at 5:00 in the morning to awaken the workers, at 5:30 to indicate it was time to leave home, and again at 6:00 to start the day's work. Twelve hours
later, it blew again to signal the 6:00 quitting time.14 Indeed, life was regulated by the sun and the mill whistle rather than a clock.
More often than not, the wife worked along with her husband in the mill, and their children generally entered the mill at age fourteen. (After 1935, the starting age for children was sixteen.)15 The working wife, in addition to the twelve-hour workday, was generally required to do the housework such as cooking, washing, and ironing. Some were assisted by their young daughters who, in many instances, assumed most of the
housekeeping chores and baby sitting responsibilities.
Most mill families were required to attend a host of other chores. Early in the morning the cow had to be milked, taken to the village pasture, and in the evening, brought from the pasture and milked again. Chickens and hogs had to be fed,
firewood chopped. In the growing season, most families, with the members often working together, cared for a vegetable garden and picked blackberries on the banks of the nearby Minnehaha River or wherever a "blackberry patch" could be found. After harvesting, the typical wife spent hours canning vegetables and berries.
In early autumn the husband, assisted by family members or a few neighbors, slaughtered the hog, salted and stored the meat in his small family dwelling. (A few families, very few, were fortunate enough to have a smoke house.) Everything had
to be done the same day, making it a long day; but, at the same time, the hog-killing day was always a happy and festive occasion. It was never complete until the fat had been trimmed from the meat and cooked in a large wash pot, rendering the lard and leaving crisp cracklings, and a "mess of fresh pork" had been distributed to a few neighbors, particularly those who had assisted in the hog killing or had contributed to its growth by providing table scraps for feed during the previous few months. After the work was done, it was time for hot biscuits and fresh ham.16
My brother, Ernest, recalls that, as a young boy, he welcomed hog-killing day because it relieved him, temporarily at least, of the daily task of collecting table scraps from several neighbors. However, he boasts that the task made him expert at riding a bicycle with a bucket of scraps hanging from each side. Adding, that he knew the eating habits of the several families on his route and could determine on a given day,
with a high degree of accuracy, what each had for supper.17
The mill's reopening brought hope of good times for the village and the town. Fred Hardin praised James and Robert Sanders for reopening the mill in the midst of the depression and contended that "reopening the mill diverted the Depression from Magnolia." He pointed out that "the mill employed more than two hundred workers, and
thus times in Magnolia during the 1930s were good in comparison with other parts of the state or, for that matter, the nation." Reminiscing back to 1921 when he began working in the mill at age fourteen, Hardin recalled the great times in the early
1920s when, in addition to employment, the company provided an annual July 4th barbecue, an all day family affair with plenty to eat and highlighted by a brass band concert. He said:
I remember things that happened but may not know the
exact year. People talk about Jews, but I tell you
Mr. Landau was a Jew and a good man. He owned the mill
when I started working [about 1921]. He started the
barbecues for us. We didn't pay anything. He would
barbecue ten or more cows and let us take home any
meat left over. A brass band, with Mr. Landau and
about fifteen other members dressed in dark blue uni-
forms, entertained us.18
The Magnolia Textile Band, as it became known, was very popular, performing at parades, fairs, and other community functions throughout southwest Mississippi and southeast Louisiana in the early 1920s. According to Frank Jones, a former
band member, the most memorable performance was the occasion it acted as a lead band in the New Orleans Mardi Gras. Other members included A. K. Landau, the mill owner, and village residents Bud Felder, C. R. Smith, Ralph Grafton, Frank Greenlee,
Otto Redding, Willie Parker, Al Whetson, Jessie Whittington, J.M. Felder, Jimmy Vinson, Olin Smith, Otto Smith, Fred Pine, Troy Craft, and others. Mr. Landau not only played in the band but paid all expenses, including the cost of uniforms, music lessons, and travel. But the days of the colorful band, the pride of Magnolia, and the annual barbecues were short lived; they came to an abrupt end when Landau lost interest in the
Magnolia Textile Mill and closed it in 1926.19
In 1931, shortly before the mill was reopened, two Church of the Nazarene evangelists, Miss Dell Smith and Miss Jonnie Dance, moved to the village. They held church services under a tent, and reportedly prayed with the village congregation for
the reopening of the mill.20 After it reopened in September 1932, Sanders donated use of a vacant lot, along with a small building located in the rerouting path of U.S. Highway 51 and nearly two blocks from the lot, for a permanent church and the first four grades of an elementary school.
The two women and a group of young boys rolled the building on logs nearly two blocks to its new location on the corner of Price and First Streets.21 The church, later known as the Nazarene Church, and the four-year grade school were housed in
the building. From this meager start the two women went on to establish a religious and social base in the community. In fact, most of the social activities centered around the little church, particularly those involving the women and young people.
Like most Southern mill villages, Magnolia also had a Pentecostal religious group. It was a small group, known as the Church of God of Prophecy, consisting mostly of women who held services in each other's home. In the early 1940s, after months of fund raising activities, the few members began construction of a church building. With volunteer labor, they almost completed the building before it was destroyed by a fierce storm. With no money to rebuild, the members accepted it as an omen that it was God's will that they continue to meet in their homes.
Members of the group were known for their Pentecostal beliefs such as shouting, speaking in unknown tongues, and fiery opposition to worldly sins which at the time included wearing jewelry, using makeup, and going to the picture show. They
were ridiculed for their beliefs by some, but their high moral standards commanded respect and had a positive influence on the community.22 My mother was a member of the group, and like many others, she spent countless hours on various projects to
raise funds to build the church. While disappointed that the storm thwarted their efforts, her faith never faltered. To her, it was simply God's will.
Two years after the mill reopened, Magnolia and its mill village seemed to be on the road to recovery and good times. But unfortunately, harsh working conditions became the standard and the mill began to have its share of the labor unrest that
dominated the textile industry throughout the 1930s. In September 1934, the labor unrest in the industry resulted in a nation-wide textile strike described by historian James Hodges as "the largest strike in American history up to that time."23 The strike came to the Magnolia mill; it came exactly two years after the mill had reopened and brought tragedy to the village without any redeeming benefits.
It was a devastating nation-wide strike requiring the intervention of the federal government. Let’s take a closer look at the strike, its aftermath, and its adverse impact on the state as a whole and in particular Magnolia and other Mississippi cotton mills and villages, as an unbridled anti-labor attitude swept across the state.
X. Nation-Wide Textile Strike: 1934
The 1930s began with textile workers demanding wage increases, elimination of the hated "stretch-out system" which increased workloads without corresponding increases in pay, an eight-hour workday, and most of all, the right to organize and
bargain collectively. By the time Franklin Roosevelt entered
the Presidency, the industry was in shambles. Most of the problem was brought about by industry-wide overproduction, which in turn resulted in lower profits for mill owners and lower wages for mill workers. The industry, according to textile historian
Mildred Gwin Andrews, was "one of the sickest industries in the
nation" and even before Roosevelt's inauguration "government
planning was under way to correct wage and hour conditions in
the textile industry."24
President Roosevelt responded to the crisis by forcing through Congress the National Industrial Recovery Act. Under its sweeping grant of power, he established the National Recovery Administration (NRA) on June 20, 1933, with Hugh Johnson
as administrator. The NRA's purpose, as noted by James Hodges,
was clearly intended
"to promote self-rule of industry under federal supervision, to control overproduction, to increase wages,
control the hours of labor, and to stabilize and
then to raise prices. The NRA was to accomplish
these goals through the creation of codes of fair
competition which would govern whole industries or
A Cotton Textile Committee, headed by George Sloan, was formed, and on July 17, 1933, its famous Code No. 1 was adopted. The Code sought to restrict excessive production and establish minimum wages and maximum hours. As required by law,
it incorporated the famous Section 7(a) of the NIRA providing that "employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing."26 The new Administration had high hopes for the code; if effective in the textile industry, it could be a model for bringing collective bargaining to coal miners and other industrial workers.
Textile Code No. 1 never really got off the ground. The idea of permitting textile mill owners, particularly Southern mill owners, to govern the industry was the epitome of naiveté. Almost immediately, Southern mill owners began to attack the
wage and hour provisions, and mills, North and South, began to ignore production restrictions and flood the market with overproduction. Rather quickly, it became clear that the mill owners, particularly Southern mill owners, were incapable of acceptable self-rule and that they had no intent of honoring the Section 7(a) provision for collective bargaining. The few who tried to comply with 7(a) were "submerged amidst massive violations of the measure" and could not stand under the pressure wielded by the offenders. For the textile workers, James Hodges observed, 7(a) was like being invited to a fancy ball that they were too poor to attend.27
Textile workers, North and South, began to protest that wages were too low for existence, that the stretch-out was unbearable, and that they were not being permitted to bargain as provided by Section 7(a) of the NIRA. As a result, the United
Textile Workers of America (UTWA) called for a special convention to consider a general strike, and on August 30, 1934, Francis Gorman announced that all textile workers throughout the United States would go on strike the next Monday. The publicized reason was dissatisfaction with the Code, but the movement was really an effort to organize Southern cotton mills. For the latter reason, the American Federation of Labor (AFL)
assisted the UTWA through the services of its organizers and state federations. Since Monday was Labor Day, most of the work stoppage did not come until Tuesday,
The nation-wide strike was poorly planned and under financed, but it began on schedule with the use of union organizers, known as flying squadrons, moving rapidly in motorcades from mill to mill to pressure, and in some cases, terrorize
non-striking workers to quit work. However, it was much more
effective than mill owners had expected, and within a few days,
it was in full force from North to South with 450,000 of the
625,000 textile workers on strike.29
The McComb Cotton Mill, just seven miles north of Magnolia and the local union organization center, struck on Monday, September 3. But many of the Magnolia mill workers had ignored the strike order, and within the next few days, several
McComb union members visited Magnolia and "gave the workers, who chose to ignore the nation-wide strike order, until Monday
to leave their jobs."30
Sanders petitioned for an injunction to restrain McComb union members, or flying squadrons, from interfering with the operation of the Magnolia mill. After setting a hearing date, Judge C. W. Cutrer issued a temporary injunction with the understanding that all parties would abide by a "gentlemen's agreement" that there would be no further action or violence by either side in the interim. The next night, Saturday, September 8, an estimated one hundred members of the McComb local union visited Magnolia, distributed circulars in the village, held a strike meeting, and threatened the Magnolia mill watchman with death if he blew the whistle Monday morning.31 The activity of the McComb union members, or flying squadrons, in Magnolia, ironically, worked to their disadvantage because it justified the use of the National Guard.
Some violence had already occurred. Fred (Bud) Smith, the mill superintendent, had shot and seriously wounded Norman Crawford, one of the striking workers, and two workers were badly beaten when they attempted to cross a picket line.32 With
the threat of more violence, Sheriff D. R. Statham wired
Governor M. S. Conner:
"There is likely to be serious trouble at the cotton
mill tomorrow (Monday) and the means at my disposal
are insufficient to maintain the peace. I want you to
send the National Guards to keep the peace."33
Monday morning, September 10, the village people awakened to find themselves in the middle of an armed military camp. James Rushing, fifteen years old at the time, recalls that his mother Louise awakened him and his younger brother Jewel early that
morning to see the troops marching in the village.34
Adjutant General Thomas Grayson had arrived during the night with two hundred and twenty-five National Guard troops. Machine guns, tear gas guns and bombs were set up in readiness on the mill roof and at other vantage points, sentinels posted,
and troops assigned to patrol the mill grounds and streets. At noon, General Grayson returned to Jackson to coordinate related activities throughout the state, leaving the troops at Magnolia under the command of Colonel G. H. Snyder of Laurel and Major
R. G. Sexton of Meadville.35 The troops apparently quelled all threats of violence as no bloodshed or significant strike related incidents occurred after their arrival.
On September 20, General Grayson and members of his staff returned to McComb where they met separately with representatives of the McComb Cotton Mill, a strikers committee, and acitizens (or businessmen) committee. Between 250 and 300 businessmen had petitioned the governor to send National Guard troops to protect workers who desired to work. The textile workers, supported by four local Railroad Brotherhoods, condemned the action of the businessmen and petitioned the governor not to send troops. Unlike the situation at Magnolia where violence had occurred, Sheriff Statham felt that the McComb
strike presented no immediate danger and sided with the strikers. Grayson, after listening to the various parties, decided not to bring National Guard troops to McComb.36
On Monday, September 24, two weeks after it started, the strike ended when President Roosevelt, after promising to establish a Textile Labor Relations Board to study and handle labor problems in the industry, asked that all workers return to
work and that the mill owners take them back without discrimination.37 By "2 o'clock Monday afternoon the last of the khaki-clad warriors in Magnolia had been relieved of duty and military occupation of the cotton mill village was an incident
of the past."38 The Magnolia and McComb mills quietly opened without incident, and the nation-wide textile strike of 1934, the largest single strike in the history of the country, was over.39
The McComb Cotton Mill employees, however, struck again the next day, the fourth time in less than a year, when an employee was not allowed to return to work on charges of intoxication. The dispute was settled later the same day.
During the general strike, National Guard troops were also dispatched to the Stonewall and Kosciusko mill villages. Like Magnolia, machine guns, tear gas guns and bombs were set up in readiness on the mill roofs and at other vantage points, and
troops set up camp on the mill grounds and patrolled the streets. The Kosciusko-Attala Historical Society reported:
"We experienced a new and tense situation in our town in
August and September--a strike at Aponaug Manufacturing
Company. Because of threatened violence and sabotage,
Sheriff Blanton requested that National Guardsmen be sent
here for the protection of the million dollar cotton mill.
One hundred twenty-five guardsmen, along with their machine guns, gas bombs, tents, etc., arrived and set up
camp on the mill grounds. Citizens of the county gener ally welcomed the coming of the guardsmen who have so com pletely dominated the situation as to scare away all
threatened violence. Though this episode was naturally
exciting to our young people, the town was very thankful
when, after a short time, things settled back to normal."40
At Koscuisko, Sanders requested the use of National Guard troops to remove some twenty-seven families from their village homes. He argued that the family heads were union agitators, and for that reason, he had the right to force them from their village homes. Governor Conner quickly and publicly denied the request.
It is worth noting that the Berthadale Cotton Mill in McComb was not affected by the nation-wide strike; its employees continued to work throughout the strike.41 A. K. and Lober Landau, the owners, were known for their fair treatment of
workers and, as a result, benefited from the unusually good employer-employee relations. Recall the July 4th barbacue and brass band provided by A. K. Landau at Magnolia in the early twenties.42
The Magnolia mill had been reopened only two years when the strike occurred, and understandably many of the workers opposed the strike. At its beginning, several workers sent a petition to the governor indicating that they were not affiliated with the Union, desired to continue work and requesting the Governor to afford them protection from intimidation or vioience. Governor Conner replied that under the law he could
not send out the National Guard unless advised by the sheriff that the situation was serious and that he could not handle it. The sheriff's subsequent wire apparently satisfied that requirement as the governor quickly dispatched troops.43
The National Guardsmen in Magnolia were highly commended by all who came in contact with them and were given credit for keeping the peace. After it was over, Colonel Snyder, a more relaxed commander, said that the soldiers had a good time while
on duty in Magnolia, and that "they mingled freely with the people of the community, and some of the boys made warm friendships, particularly with Magnolia girls." The mayor, many of the merchants, and some of the mill workers sent letters of appreciation to the governor.44
In spite of their best efforts, however, tragedy struck the village three days after the strike on September 27. Alice Bernice Sullivan, the two-year old daughter of Bill Sullivan, a mill worker, was killed while playing with her young brother
Robert and companion Trelles Case at a small house next door to the mill. The two boys, each about four years old, played near the house as Alice found her way under it. She unfortunately found a shotgun, believed to have been left by a striking employee, and discharged it when she pulled on the barrel.45 The death of Alice Bernice became a reference point in time for the village people, they all remember the strike in which the "little Sullivan girl" was killed.
The nation-wide strike was not successful from the union's point of view. Sanders, along with other Southern mill owners, won as the strike failed to bring either labor organization or collective bargaining to the Southern textile industry. In her
book 'The Men and the Mills,' Mildred Gwin Andrews concludes that
"there was really no 'settlement' of the strike. It
wore itself out and strikers, most of whom did not
belong to any union and who did not know why they
had gone on strike, gradually returned to work."46
While there was no formal agreement, there was a 'settlement' of sorts. It was actually a retreat for the union, leaving Southern mill owners free to misinterpret and misapply the collective bargaining provisions of Section 7(a) of the NRA.
Many of the owners, unfortunately, took advantage of ambiguities in the law, and to make matters worse, the Supreme Court in May of 1935 struck down the NRA, leaving the industry virtually unregulated until passage of the Fair Labors Standard Act
Shortly after the death of the NRA in May of 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) of 1935 reinstated the right of workers in interstate commerce to organize and bargain collectively. Many Southern mill owners, however, routinely and repeatedly ignored the new law by discharging union sympathizers and even closing plants to prevent collective bargaining.48 Southern workers, Mississippians in particular, were reluctant to press the issue or even openly complain; unorganized workers were not inclined to join the union in a fight against the mill owners with long lines waiting at
the gates for employment.
In any event the General Strike of 1934 was a failure, and it is doubtful that the failure could have been avoided. From the beginning, unionism was weak in the South, and the depth of the Depression made it extremely difficult to organize workers
at the small privately held Southern mills. The failure, according to James Hodges, was "a dramatic example of the limits of New Deal labor policy."49 It was a devastating blow to the South where, as a result of the failure, unions in all Southern
industries retreated, and the South fell behind the rest of the nation "in the quest for effective unionization and collective
Milton Derber, in 'Labor and the New Deal,' argued that the failure of textile unionism had an epidemic effect throughout the South, particularly in the smaller towns and villages, where its leading industries--lumber, furniture, chemicals, and
food-processing--were hardly touched by union organization during the New Deal period. Historian Bill Wyche observed
In any event, the Sanders mills came out of the strike with far fewer union
sympathizers and no known union members.51
"that textiles represented the leading industry in the South, and that historically and universally the industry had overexpanded
and overproduced; and, as a means of maintaining lower production costs, Southern textile manufacturers vigorously resisted unionization which could lead to higher wages.
Sanders mill workers, like other Southern mill workers, used the 1934 rebellion as an immediate protest against the low wages, long hours, and the abusive stretch-out, but, unfortunately, they were influenced too much by their rural customs
and traditions--including the ingrained individualism, the poverty, the apathy, and the suspicions of northern unions moving southward--and failed to see the long-range benefits of acting collectively. Mississippi, even though the poorest state in
the union, clearly was not ready for unionization, collective bargaining or, for that matter, industrialization in 1934.
Two years after the strike, Hugh White, the newly elected governor, tried to attract industry by launching a development program, called Balancing Agriculture with Industry (BAWI), but the program did not address the lingering anti-union attitude
and was doomed to failure from the start. As discussed earlier, Governor White attempted to mediate at the Tupelo Cotton Mill strike in April 1937, but he was ineffective in bringing the parties together, because, partially at least, of the prevailing anti-union attitude in the community.
The failure to deal with the anti-labor attitude was devastating; the state, as a consequence, continued to lag far behind the nation and its sister states and made no significant move toward industrialization until President Roosevelt, concerned about the state's wide-spread poverty, used his influence during World War II to bring several war plants and military establishments to the state. Ironically, the curtailment
of unionism in the state not only stifled industrial development, but, as I will show later, contributed to the demise of its cotton mill industry in the early 1950s. The anti-union attitude permitted Sanders Industries to rely too much on low
wages, long hours, and the abusive stretch-out system, which in the long run contributed to the flight of textile workers from the Sanders mills to jobs in other industries, providing better pay and better working conditions.
We will now leave the nation-wide strike and turn our
attention to the mills and their villages during the depression
X. Mills & Villages:
The strike failure and the absence of adequate protective
labor legislation left Southern mill owners, including Sanders,
free to dominate the industry. Like the plantation owners before them, the powerful Southern mill owners and other Southern
elite were in a position to effectively dominate the mill
workers who were disorganized and too often simply huddled together and accepted the difficult working conditions that included low wages, long hours,
shoddy housing, and a burdensome workload under the stretch-out
system. There were very few, if any, other industrial jobs available;
thus the only job alternative for most was the hard and isolated life of tenant or share crop farming.
After the strike the stretch-out system continued to be
used by mill owners, particularly Southern mill owners, to reduce labor costs. Its wide and extensive use made it, according to historian James Hodges, "the one issue which most concerned textile workers, much more than wages and other working
conditions." He cites the case of a worker forced to resign
because of the burdensome workload, who told his general manager "that to work under it was the same as committing suicide."1
Sanders Industries reportedly used the dreaded system at
most, if not all, of its mills throughout the thirties. Several former Sanders mill workers recall that the practice was
often a topic of converation. One former Sanders mill worker, who had
worked at the non-Sanders mill at Tupelo before it closed in
1937, said that the workload at the Sanders mills at Magnolia,
Kosciusko, Meridian, and Winona was far greater. Another, citing the non-Sanders mill at McComb as a standard, said that the
workload at the Sanders mills at Kosciusko, Magnolia, Meridian,
and Natchez was also far greater. Others agreed with these assessments and indicated that it was common knowledge that the
stretch-out system was used, but added that, while the workers
discussed the heavy workloads among themselves, few dared to
complain to their supervisor.
Sanders Industries opposition to labor organizations and
collective bargaining was well known; it was used effectively to control mill workers throughout the Depression years. Workers suspected of involvement in union activities were often summarily dismissed. Fortunately, however, the dismissals were
usually temporary unless avid or repeated agitation was involved. Ella Chadwick recalls that several co-workers persuaded her to ask for a pay raise, and that when she did, she
was fired instantly. But after a few days of pleading, she was
rehired but assigned to work the night shift.2 This mixture of harshness and
compassion was not uncommon; we will see other examples of compassion.
On one occasion, Robert Sanders reportedly denied a request for an increase in pay at the Magnolia Mill. A few days later, General Superintendent G. M. Tidwell reduced the pay at the mill by ten percent, and not hearing of any serious opposition, he imposed another reduction the next day. James Rushing recalls that he was a victim of the consecutive pay decreases. Adding that no one was surprised by Tidwell: he was known to be overly ambitious and eager to please his employer. It was viewed as just another example of his overzealous behavior.4
The Sanders mills, including the Magnolia mill, were notorious for long workdays, low wages, and burdensome workloads.
As late as 1939 Sanders Industries, as will be discussed later, was
still fighting the implementation of the first minimum wage and
forty-hour week law (FLSA of 1938) when most of the industry
was already paying more than the minimum wage. But the
treatment of employees was not limited to low wages and long
hours; for example, workers were not expected to complain
about on-the-job personal injuries.
Lester Rushing learned the cost of complaining when he in
1938 suffered injuries to his foot while working in
the Magnolia mill and, being unable to negotiate a settlement,
initiated a civil action for damages. The court awarded him a
trifling amount, most of which reportedly went to his lawyers, but the
Magnolia mill was not to pay any amount without retaliating.
Rushing and his spouse, along with three brothers and their
spouses, were summarily dismissed; and the four families, with
several children between them, were forced to vacate their village homes and move on in the midst of the lingering depression.5 But here again, the harshness was offset by
another example of
compassion; the four families moved to other
Sanders mills at Meridian and Kosciusko, and after a brief
absence, the Drew Rushing family returned to the Magnolia mill.
It should noted, however, that oppressive working conditions during the depression years were not unique to the Sanders textile mills. Conditions were bad generally throughout the country in the textile, lumber, and coal industries. People everywhere reluctantly accepted it, made the best of the situation,
pulled together, and went on with their lives. In fact, the
Sanders village people, including those at Magnolia, felt fortunate just to have jobs, for several million people throughout the country were unemployed. As people generally do in a crisis, they bonded together to find and share some good times in
their personal lives, and in the process, it strengthened their
will to survive. In the end, the good times over-shadowed the
oppressive working conditions in the mills.
Like other Sanders mill people, Magnolia village people
found the time to enjoy social and recreational activities. For
the women and young girls, the little Nazarene Church was the
center of the social and community activities; for the men and
young boys, there was hunting, fishing, and baseball. For the
family, radio provided entertainment as members, often with
friends and neighbors, crowded around it to listen to their
favorite programs such as Lum and Abner, Amos 'n' Andy, Inner
Sanctum, Gene Autry, Superman, Don Winslow of the Navy, Roy
Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, and The Grand Ole
Opry. The Magnolia cinema was a big attraction, Saturday afternoons featured cowboy movies for the young, and Saturday
nights had late shows for the older crowd.
At the Minnehaha River, a popular swimming hole, jokingly
referred to by the boys as "Peter Deep" and the girls as "Deeper Peep," attracted both boys and girls. The loud chatter or
laughter of girls approaching the swimming hole would alert the
boys and usually sent some scampering for their clothes.6
The mill operated two twelve-hour shifts six days per
week, and thus Sunday was a big day in the village. It was
church in the morning, followed by a traditional Southern Sunday dinner, typically fried chicken or round steak with rice or
mashed potatoes with gravy, fried corn or fried okra, lima
beans or black-eyed peas, sliced tomatoes, hot biscuits or
cornbread, and blackberry or peach cobbler or banana pudding
for dessert. Today, the vitals are fondly referred to as "soul
After the week's heartiest midday meal, the younger children usually went out to play ball or marbles in the church
yard or for a swim at "Peter Deep." Older teenagers often simply strolled in small groups about the village, town, or cemetery and at times gathered at the Minnehaha River bridge where
they talked, laughed, joked, and counted cars with out-of-state
license plates as they passed on U. S. Highway 51 enroute to
seemingly far away places at the time, either New Orleans a
hundred miles south or Memphis three hundred miles north. Most
dreamed of going to one or the other some day.8
Like teenagers across the country during the Depression,
Magnolia village teenagers were creative and expert at improvising games and toys. Thread from the mill was used to make
softballs; discarded iron gears became wheels for wagons; and
roller skate wheels were used to make scooters. Old tires were
made into swings, but as often, simply paddled along the street
by young boys, sometimes with a small boy curled inside. Discarded inner-tubes made excellent floats for swimmers or, if
damaged to much to hold air, they could be used to make slingshots. Homemade kites, especially the "skeeter kites," were
very popular. The skeeter kite was easy to make; two slender
pieces of straw or weed stems were simply crossed and pierced
through the corners of a sheet of tablet paper. With a bobbin
of light-weight thread from the spinning room, it could be put
out of sight within minutes.9
The Magnolia village grade school played an important role
in the community. It was near the center of the village and
within four blocks of its outer limits, and thus the short distance avoided the transportation problem that would have prevailed had the youngsters been required to attend the town
school. Limiting the school to the first four grades turned
out to be a substantial benefit because, unlike Kosciusko with
its eight grades, Magnolia village children had more opportunity to interact with town children. After four years at the
village grade school, they attended the town school where they
competed and interacted with others on an equal basis.10 Some
of the boys went on to excel in basketball and football, including Billy Parker, Charles Robinson, James Rushing, Steve
Case, and Pat Fuller; while Betty Jean Shaw, Eddie Virginia
Case, Edna Earl Goff, Evelyn Rushing, and Beatrice Morgan excelled at basketball. Betty Jean, Eddie Virginia, along with
Laura Mae Case and Bernice Rushing, also became popular cheerleaders.
After being closed for a few years, the Magnolia village
school reopened in 1935 with Miss Auline Coney Swearingen as
one of two teachers. She had taught at the school before it
closed in 1926 and often referred to the village children as
"my kids." Some of her students in the 1920s included James
Rushing, Clifton Lamkin, William Sullivan, Laverne Case, Robert
Case, James Alford, Tom Fancher, Mildred McCaskill, Paul Case,
Elmer Parker, and William McCaskill. Later students of the
1930s included Walter Lamkin, Bertrand Pugh, Robert Goff, Fred
Sullivan, Leon Morgan, Hubert Parker, Doris Parker, James Earl
Davis, Houston Parker, Johnnie Carl Rushing, Ethelene Chanell,
Bernice Rushing, Geneva Chanell, Donnis Parker, Hazel Parker,
Halbert Chanell, Bertie Goff, Rufus Morgan, A. D. Alford, Nona
Fancher, Lucien Lamkin, James Alton Rushing, Herbert Randall,
Robert Pezant, Helen Rushing, Willia Dean Sullivan, Laverne
Richmond, William Earl Phurrough, Ethel Mae Dickinson, Benny
Chanell, Avis Pugh, Janelle Taylor, Tommie Etta Dickinson,
Norma Case, W. M. Ravencraft, Ollie McCaskill, Grace Westmoreland, Helen Richmond, Louise Fuller, Mavis Anderson, Othar
Chisolm, James Chisolm, Billy Parker, June Taylor, Pat Fuller,
Marvin Randall, Robert Sullivan, E. J. Westmoreland, Pauline
Fuller, Trelles Case, Doris Pugh, Ralph Loggins, Robert Lamkin,
W. L. Case, Lillian Chanell, Maurice Pugh, James Case, Betty
Jean Shaw, and Evelyn Rushing. There were, no doubt, others.11
The village school was again discontinued in 1938. In
spite of the greater distance to school, the closing benefited
the children greatly by integrating them into the town school
where they could compete without discrimination. There were,
however, anxious moments when the first class entered the town
school. Doris (Pugh) Case, who was in that class, indicates
that the teachers at first opposed their admission on grounds
of insufficient room. Miss Auline Swearingen, the village
school teacher, apparently defused the explosive situation.
Willa Dean Sullivan recalls that her teacher, Miss Swearington,
calmed everyone by accompanying "her kids" to the town school
and introducing them to their new classmates. It is clear that
Miss Swearingen made a lasting impression on her kids; at the
time of this writing, six decades later, her former students
fondly reminisce and relate anecdotes about her. Two village
girls, one born in the late thirties and the other in the early
forties, were named in her honor, Auline Sullivan and Auline
The crime rate in rural America during the thirties was
minimal, but for Magnolia and its mill village, it was virtually non-existent. Without any fear, houses were often left unlocked and bicycles unattended for extended periods of time at
the school or in front of the picture show. Several people recall the thirties as a period of tranquillity, and no one recalls a serious violent crime of any type or a burglary or a
robbery in the village. One village resident, who will remain
nameless, was mentioned as an occasional chicken thief and
another was accused of stealing firewood, but they were generally excused because of the hard times. Perhaps the worst
transgression was that on payday some of the men occasionally
drank too much, shot craps, and a few had fist-fights, but come
Monday morning, all was forgotten.13 Robert Sullivan recalls
that Mississippi was a dry state at the time, and that local
humorists suggested "it will remain dry as long as Mississippians can stagger to the polls."14 It was the one issue that
brought the churches and bootleggers together, for neither
wanted a wet state and both went all out in an effort to keep
The Magnolia mill, in addition to the church building and
the four-year grade school, made sure the villagers had medical
care. Two doctors, G. W. Robertson and J. D. Smith, provided
the care. Patients were generally treated in the doctor's office but house calls were also made. I recall that, as a young
boy, it was a common sight to see the doctors walking the village streets, stopping here and there to check on their patients. In the late thirties, a small fee of twenty-five cents
weekly was deducted from each worker's pay and divided between
the two doctors for their services. Beulah Mae Bird, plant
secretary at the time, indicated that, while the mill paid part
of the costs, the workers were required to participate in the
program and share in its costs.15 The fee also covered medical
procedures performed by the doctors at the small Magnolia Hospital, which were limited primarily to an occasional appendectomy, tonsillectomy, attending a broken bone or stitching a
Rememnsing about life on the Magnolia village during the 1930s, Trelles Case summarized the feelings of most villagers in his statement that "we thought at the time that we were poor, but I now realize that we were very wrong. The village was made up of good and caring people; it was an extended family with people doing for each other, setting up with the sick or giving poundings of food and clothing to those
in need." We were, he added, "bound by an unwritten code of honor to care for each other in times of need; and this camaraderie gave us strength in facing and dealing with the hard times of the depression years.16"
Roosevelt's "New Deal" finally came to the textile industry in the late thirties: it was a great turning point for the Sanders mill workers as it was to bring about sweeping changes and improvements in working conditions. In 1939, the Textile
Industry Committee accepted America's first wage and hour law (FLSA of 1938); it provided for a minimum wage of 32.5 cents per hour, a 40-hour week, and a minimum age of 16 years forchild labor. Most of the industry was in fact already paying more than the minimum, but Sanders, paying far less, joined Opp Mills of Alabama in seeking an injunction against the enforcement of the new law.
The U. S. Supreme Court, in Opp Cotton Mills, Inc. v. administrator, upheld the law which "put a floor under wages and a cap on the hours of the normal working day."17 The decision simply required Sanders to pay the wages most Southern cotton mills were already paying, and, contrary to the expressed fears
of the Sanders and Opp mill owners, neither owner found it necessary to close a mill because of the new wage regulations. It was to be Robert Sanders's last major battle with labor.
Mill workers at the several Sanders mills were ecstatic.
For them, the decision upholding the minimum wage and 40-hour week law was the fulfillment of a long dream. After more than a hundred years of long hours, sunup to sundown in the industry, the 40-hour week had finally arrived. Wages were to start
at 32.5 cents per hour, increased to 37.5 cents per hour in June 1941, to 40 cents in April 1942, and finally to 45 cents still later.18 The new law came on the eve of World War II (1939-1945) which was to bring great prosperity to the Sanders mills and, in turn, many opportunities and benefits to the mill workers.
By the beginning of the war, things had already started to
change. Claude McDade had been promoted from weave room supervisor to superintendent and plant-employee relations were improving. It was apparent that McDade, who knew the workers and
their families intimately, was given substantial latitude in
dealing with their needs. For example, McDade made himself
available every Saturday morning for workers in need of salary
advances. Not having cash on hand, he would give the worker a
handwritten note to deliver to the Corner Drugstore. Fred Andrews, the druggist, would give the worker the two or three
dollars and payment was then deducted from his next payday. It
was a good arrangement for the druggist because he was assured
of quick payment of the loan along with all other charges.19
In another example of improved employee relations, the Sanders mills often waived or excused payment of house rent in hardship cases for extended periods of time. A prime example involved the widow of Charlie
Case, a faithful employee in the Magnolia mill for many years. After his death in
1938, his widow Laura, elderly and unable to work in the mill,
was permitted to remain in her village house until she died several years later without the payment or even mention of house rent.20 Rose Pressley was a
similar case; there were others. This paternalistic benevolence
surly left the workers with a sense of well-being and security.
The Depression years had been hard, but life on the Magnolia and other Sanders villages was about the same as, if not
better than, that of most Mississippians. Indeed, times were
bad for everyone, but the village people were at least gainfully employed and had money to spend. In 1940, near the end of
the Depression, Mississippi was still tied to an ailing agricultural economy with 80 percent of its inhabitants still living in the country. Reviewing the period, Dunbar Rowland, former Director of Mississippi Department of Archives and History,
The Second World War was the watershed of modern Mississippi history. Before it there was institutional continuity streaking back 100 years. After it nothing remained the same. This is not to say that World War II
was the cause of all change, but it is a convenient dividing line.... Since the beginning of World War II every one of Mississippi's long-cherished institutions has been
destroyed. King Cotton has lost its throne....Everywhere mechanization and diversification have triumphed....Perhaps even more important, agriculture has lost its
primacy in Mississippi's economy. No longer is it the
chief employer and income producer. Manufacturing now
employes more workers and produces more income than does
The War brought an end to the Depression throughout the nation.. By 1940 the United States, responding to threats of war, had begun to mobilize its resources and prepare for war. The economic stimulus, provided by the massive military buildup, brought the Great Depression to an abrupt end. Suddenly, Mississippi, along with its textile industry, was in the threshold of its greatest change in history. Thanks to Roosevelt's influence, several war plants and military establishments, with
new and higher paying jobs, would come to the South, especially Mississippi, and compete with the textile plants in industrializing Mississippi. Mill workers at all Sanders textile mills, including Magnolia, would be affected and their lives changed
Sanders Industries, except for the Natchez, Winona, and
Yazoo City mills, had survived the Great Depression. It had survived the hard times that forced hundreds of less fortunate cotton mills throughout the country to either close or operate in bankruptcy. Since the peak year of 1910, Mississippi had closed seventeen mills by either liquidation or fire, reducing Mississppi's cotton manufacturing to only eight mills by 1942 and the beginning of the war years (see Table 3). Sanders Industries controlled five of them--the Kosciusko, Magnolia, Meridian, Starkville, and West Point mills. The three non-Sanders mills were the Stonewall Cotton Mill, the Laurel Cotton
Mill, and the Alden Spinning Mill in Meridian.22 Obviously, the Mississippi cotton textile industry was near collapse at the beginning of the forties, but as we will see in the next chapter, World War II would give it breath and life for a few more years.
Mississippi Cotton Mills Closed: 1910-42
Port Gibson Cotton Mills..........Port Gibson.............1910
Batesville Yarn & Cordage......Batesville.................1910
Columbus Yarn & Corage.......Columbus................1910
Noxubee Cotton Mills...............Shuqualak...............1911
Mississippi Textile School......Starkville..................1914
Yocona Mills................................Water Valley..........*1929
Natchez Cotton Mill....................Natchez...................1934
Rosalie Cotton Mill.....................Natchez..................1934
Tupelo Cotton Mills....................Tupelo.....................1937
Yazoo Cotton Mills.....................Yazoo City.............*1937
Winona Cotton Mills....................Winona..................*1940
McComb Cotton Mill....................McComb................1942
* Mills destroyed by fire and not reopened.
XI. Mill & Village: War Years-1953
Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, and the United States began to expand its armed forces and build defense plants and shipyards in preparation for war. On September 16, 1940, the Selective Service Act became law, and along with young men from all parts of the nation, the young men at the Sanders mill villages began to march off to war, singing the popular song "I'll be back in a year little darling."
Other village men took defense jobs in shipyards at nearby New Orleans, Mobile, and Pascagoula. Still others moved to higher paying railroad jobs at McComb, Meridian, Jackson, Vicksburg, and Memphis.
Their was a mass exodus of employes from all Mississippi cotton mills. At Magnolia the exodus was initially offset, in a small way, by the arrival of several families displaced by the Winona mill fire in 1940. Some of the family heads included Clark Brooks, John Collier, Printiss Collier, Earl Hunsinger, Larry Clough, Ernest E. Strickland, Lester (Monk) Strickland, Clarence Davis, Ike Tindel, Culpert (Cup) Ivy, Charles Edwards, James (Jake) Thomas, and Everett Lishman. Two years later the
nearby McComb mill closed, providing several more experienced textile workers. The fortuitous influx of experienced mill workers from Winona and McComb provided relief, but it was evident that the never-ending line of job applicants was gone for at least the duration of the war. By this time, labor was in short supply, and Sanders initiated free bus service at his mills; at Magnolia, Selma Lamkin was employed as bus driver, to transport workers to and from McComb.1
With the coming of World War II, the Mississippi textile industry and the Sanders cotton mills in particular began to change at a rapid pace. Workers were no longer tied to the mill, and those who chose to stay, were protected by the Fair Labor and Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) which established a minimum wage of forty cents per hour (later changed to forty-five cents) to be achieved through gradual steps by October 1945,
and a standard forty-hour work week by October 1942.2
Before the war, the 1938 wage and hour law had been a panacea for workers at the several Sanders mills, but with the war the protective laws were of less importance. Mill workers were suddenly in great demand as the military, defense plants, shipyards, and railroads began to compete for manpower and offer alternatives to the mill. For the first time, Sanders Industries was confronted with a diminishing labor force in the
face of a booming economy. It could no longer openly complain about the minimum wage and forty-hour week law; but on the contrary, it would not only honor the new law but would have to make other concessions to attract and maintain an adequate labor supply. For example, in addition to free bus transpotation, improvements would be made to village houses.
Along with the critical labor shortage, the war suddenly and unexpectedly thrust enormous production demands upon the American cotton textile industry, including Sanders Industries. Because of the war, England and Japan were no longer producing
cloth for international trade, and suddenly the United States "was almost the sole supplier of textiles for the world."3 Aside from the civilian needs, the quantity of cotton material needed by the military was staggering, cloth for uniforms, bed
sheets, tents, and parachutes for both American and Allied armies were but a few of the many items. Mildred Gwin Andrews reported in her book, The Men and The Mills.
The industry responded by establishing all time production records which, was one of the most remarkable feats in American industrial history.4 With 11,000,000 fewer spindles than World War I, the textile industry in World War II handled 900,000 bales of cotton per month against 500,000
bales in the first war.5
Like most American textile mills, Sanders Industries contributed to the common cause by running all of its mills twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But at the height of increased production demands Sanders, unlike most Southern mill
owners, continued to pay the legal minimum wage which ranged from forty to forty-five cents per hour during the war years. Because of the low wages, Sanders mills had difficulty attracting new employees, forcing the mills to struggle shorthanded
and resort to overtime to keep jobs running. The overtime pay benefited the workers who were physically able and willing to "double over" by working two consecutive shifts, but it failed to make up for the low pay. The younger workers could move to higher paying defense and railroad jobs, but many of the older workers were caught in a web. With no special skills useful in other industries, many had little choice but to stay in the
mill regardless of the pay.6
Early in the 1940s, Sanders Industries set out to improve the poor condition of most of its mill villages and implemented upgrading programs at Magnolia, Kosciusko, Starkville, and West Point. At Magnolia, for example, a program was
initiated to upgrade the village houses by making minor repairs and painting them. A crew of painters, headed by John Case, was employed full time to paint the houses; the same colors were used throughout the village as the exterior walls were painted white and the trim gray. Carpenters, including Wilbur Quinn, Charles and Otto McDaniel, were employed to make minor repairs to the older houses, and near the end of the war, construct several new four-room houses. The new houses had inside plumbing, and for the first time some of the village houses had inside plumbing, and later in the forties, all
houses were piped for natural gas.7
At Magnolia, there was excitement in the air as the painters moved from house to house with their spray guns, painting village houses for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. Then, in the late forties, the installation of natural gas was greeted with even greater enthusiasm. Louise Rushing, a resident of several decades, jokingly boasted, "Now, I'm cooking with gas." Many young boys were thrilled because gas
meant an end to the dreaded job of chopping wood for the fireplace and kitchen stove.8
The paint, repairs, and gas represented a giant step forward for the village people. But, there was more; in the midforties mail delivery came to the village, and in the late forties, the telephone. By the end of the forties, the village was finally taking on the appearance of a middle-class community.9 Similar programs were implemented at Kosciusko, Starkville, and West Point.
The upgrading programs, however, came late and lagged far behind the elaborate programs in the Piedmont states. Beginning in the 1930s, mills in those states developed modern villages with well-kept homes, landscaped grounds, paved streets, and sidewalks which gave the communities a look of prosperity. Some had elaborate community centers with swimming pools, theaters, bowling alleys, pool tables, skating rinks, basketball
facilities, and at least one had a golf course.10 Speaking of the trend, Mildred Andrews notes in her book, The Men and The Mills, that:
Owners of mills and their villages started installing
indoor water and plumbing in each home, replacing the
one water spigot per block and the backyard privy....
Electricity, as it was installed in the mills, was
added to village houses to replace the kerosene lamps.
...The mill community, if it borders a town, is a welcome adjunct to the corporate community. Its well kept streets and homes give an additional appearance
of prosperity to a town.11
Sanders Industries never approached that level of social consciousness at any time at any of its mill villages; it instead simply applied a coat or two of paint and made some minor repairs to the village houses. It is worth noting that the non-Sanders mill at Stonewall--Mississippi's only surviving cotton mill--upgraded its village in the 1930s, and it continues to be a modern, well-maintained, and attractive mill town.
On August 15, 1945, World war II ended, and after the excitement subsided, Magnolia village men, who had served in the military services, began to come home. Four young men, however, had died in the service: James Robinson, Frank Dykes,
James Earl Davis, and Charles Edwards. An air of euphoria
greeted the returning veterans, no longer just mill workers but
heroes of a sort. They included James Alford, Clifton Lamkin,
Charles Brooks, Ellis Vann, Thomas Fancher, Jewel Rushing, John
Will Vann Buskirk, William Sullivan, William McCaskill, Ollie
McCaskill, Cecil Foster, Archie Kuyrkendall, R. L. Kuyrkendall,
Clemon Bates, Halbert Chanell, Fred Sullivan, Wilfred Case,
Betrand Pugh, Paul Case, Robert Case, Laverne Case, Houston
Parker, Hubert Parker, Wilbur Logan, Robert Lucas, Robert Goff,
James Lea, William (Billy) Phurrough, and James (Jake) Thomas.
Others returned from defense jobs, including James Rushing, Roy
Skipper, Leaton Randall, Felix Foreman, Clarence Davis, and J.
E. Hamilton. Like other Mississippians, servicemen and defense
workers from the village had seen for the first time a world of
prosperity, and they returned with a new vision and hope for
After the war, the military service continued to be a vehicle for escape for many young village boys. Most entered the Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marines straight out of high school and, as events turned out, those who entered the military service in the late forties and early fifties found themselves caught up in the Korean War. The Magnolia group included the writer, Robert Pezant, James Alton Rushing, Herbert Randall,
Marvin Randall, Paul Pezant, Pat Fuller, Trelles Case, Robert Sullivam, Charles Robinson, Pete Hamilton, Stanley Strickland, William (Billy) Parker, Willie (Billy) Collins, Robert (Bobby) Martin, Benny Channel, Robert Lamkin, James Sullivan, Cecil Case, R. Gene Davis, Arlen Rushing, Brady Brooks, J. W. Brooks, Peyton Dickinson, Cliftin Laddel (Billy) Anderson, Charles Davis, and Othaman (Man) Fuller. The Kosciusko group included
Bennie Ivey, Frank Shaw, Howard Moore, James Chisam, James Booth, Jimmie Fields, along with many others. That war too took its toll as two of the Magnolia young men died in the service, Robert (Bobby) Martin and Willie (Billy) Collins.13
Returning to the end of World War 11, many of the village veterans and defense workers returned to the mill, but it was temporary for most. With the aid of
the G. I. Bill of Rights, many pursued college degrees at universities throughout the country, while others received technical training at nearby Southwest Mississippi Junior College at Summit, Mississippi. Several became educators, some established successful businesses, and a few became corporate executives.14
It should be noted, however, that the quest for more education began very early in
the forties as a national trend, and coincident with the trend, the practice of Magnolia
village children automatically taking mill jobs at age sixteen
decreased as more and more chose to finish high school and attend
college.15 Some of the early 1940s high school graduates were
Bernice Rushing, Virgie Fuller, Mildred Foreman, Clemon Bates,
Geneva Channell, Brice McComb, Jewel Case, William McCaskill,
Opal Toney, Madeline McCaskill, Albert McComb, Ollie McCaskill,
James Earl Davis, Eva Rushing, Shirley Kuyrkendall, Mary Bell
Van Buskirk, Georgia Mae Van Buskirk, James Robinson, Laverne
Case, Ethelene Chanell, Fred Sullivan, Norma Chadwich, Halbert
Chanell, and Janelle Taylor. There were probably others. A few
worked part time at night in the mill while attending school,
but by the end of the war, most young people concentrated on
education and viewed the Sanders mill as a place for summer or
temporary employment only. Very few, if any, saw it as a career; they were instead determined not to be tied to the mill
World War II and the 1940s obviously changed Mississippians in general;
in fact most historians agree that the war brought much of Mississippi into the mainstream by introducing its people to the outside world and prosperity. The village
people at each mill town, along with the local country people and town people, were among those who benefited. They had all struggled together through the depression and war years, and they had all changed together as they adopted a new vision of
prosperity. By the end of the war, the Sanders mills and villages did not fit into their new vision.16
Mill owners in the Piedmont regions of the Carolinas and Georgia had upgraded their wage scales and village houses to meet the competition and changing times. Sanders Industries had fallen behind; it had continued to pay the minimum wage and
provide shoddy housing through most of the war years, particularly the village housing at the small towns of Kosciusko, Magnolia, and West Point. Its generosity stopped at providing each village household with a turkey for Thanksgiving and a bag of fruit for Christmas, but it was too little, too late. By the time the upgrading programs were initiated near the end of the war, Sanders Industries had lost considerable control over
its labor force, and eventually, had difficulty attracting an adequate and dependable labor supply at any of its mills.17
Other major problems confronted the Southern textile industry, including Sanders Industries, after the war. Most of the machinery had operated for six years, almost non-stop, and was worn out. It needed to be replaced with more modern equipment and, in fact, retooling was essential in order to compete with new equipment being installed in Europe under the Marshall Plan and in Japan under the Supreme Command of Allied Powers.
Modernization was costly, in fact staggering. Historian
Mildred Andrews estimates that the industry spent, within five
years after the war, more than one billion dollars on modernization, renovation, and expansion.18 In addition, the American
textile industry was no longer the sole producer of textile
goods, for large textile establishments in Europe and Japan
began to enter the international marketplace. Japan's quick
reentry, with the latest in modern machinery, dashed the hopes
of the Southern textile industry. As noted by Patrick Hearden,
Southerners looked forward to a revived export trade in
the postwar years as predictions abounded that it would
be a long time before the destroyed Japanese cotton industry could fully recover. Yet, to the surprise of many,
Japan doubled its spindle capacity between 1946 and 1951
by installing the most modern equipment. As a result,
southern textile exports declined again, and Japanese imports into the United States steadily increased.19
Coincident with the Japanese industry gaining strength,
the Mississippi textile industry, including Sanders Industries
and the Magnolia mill, found itself in a loosing struggle for
survival. In 1945 the Sanders mill at Meridian was closed, and
in 1952, the Alden Spinning Mill at Meridian went under. By
this time, the Mississippi cotton textile industry was reduced
to six mills; four operated by Sanders and two nonSanders mills
at Laurel and Stonewall. The four Sanders mills included Magnolia Textiles, J. W. Sanders Mills at Starkville, Aponaug Mill
No. 1 at Kosciusko, and Aponaug Mill No. 2 at West Point.20
Early in 1953 Sanders closed its Winona Chenille Plant and
rumors began to circulate that the Magnolia mill was a candidate to be either sold or closed. The rumors were reinforced
by the arrival of Paul Swink, who suddenly came in at a level
over Superintendent Claude McDade and assumed the management of
the mill. Swink immediately initiated cost cutting measures,
including workload increases reminiscent of the stretch-out system during the Depression year, causing workers to compare him
with G. M. Tidwell of that period. Johnnie Carl Rushing, a
doffer, recalls that his workload was doubled, and that being
unable to handle the increased workload, he was forced to resign. He pleaded for other work, spinning, fixing, or sweeping, but Swink insisted that he "handle both jobs or quit." A harsh devastating blow came when he was denied unemployment benefits
on the strength of Swink's statement that he had refused work
available to him.21
By this time, the workers suspected that the rumors were
true--the end was near. The dreaded news came on August 27,
1953, when Robert Sanders announced that on doctors orders he
was disposing of some of his holdings. He said, "I am cutting
my business down to my size, although I have no plans to retire
fully at the present time." Meeting with O. W. Phillips, the
Magnolia mayor, in his office, Sanders indicated that two
plants were to be sold, the Magnolia Textile Mill at Magnolia
and the Aponaugh Manufacturing Company at Kosciusko. His other
enterprises, he said, would continue to operate.22
Mayor Phillips called on C. K. Taylor, who had acted as
agent in selling the Magnolia mill on three occasions, to assist in finding a buyer who would be willing to keep the mill
open. Before a buyer was found, Sanders closed the mill in
September 1953, exactly fifty years after it opened in 1903.
Efforts to find a buyer willing to reopen the Magnolia mill
were unsuccessful. Near the end of September, the Magnolia
Gazette reported that the Sanders plants at Magnolia, Starkville, Kosciusko, and West Point were sold to R. E. Dumas Milner, a Jackson business man and industrialist, in one of the
largest commercial deals in the history of Mississippi. According to the Gazette:
The machinery and inventories of the four plants, Magnolia, Kosciusko, Starkville and West Point, includes
around 550,000 square feet in buildings, 350 houses,
about 500 acres of land other than several million dollars worth of machinery and equipment.23
Rather than the Magnolia and Kosciusko mills only, Sanders had
disposed of all of his cotton mills.
The Gazette speculated that the Magnolia mill would reopen, but that was not to be the case. The Starkville mill
operated under new owners until 1962, but the Sanders mills at
Kosciusko, Magnolia, and West Point remained closed. In January 1954, the 350 village houses at Kosciusko, Magnolia, Starkville, and West Point were sold to a real estate and land company.24 The machinery was sold and removed, and eventually
most of the brick buildings were dismantled and removed. Then,
on September 25, 1954, Robert Sanders died in Kosciusko, and,
ironically, after suffering a heart attack while attending a
conference with local business leaders regarding the possible
reopening of the Kosciusko mill.25
Most of the Mississippi cotton textile industry died in
1953 with the closing of the Sanders mills. Only three mills
remained open; the Laurel mill survived until 1955, the Starkville mill until 1962, and today the only cotton manufacturing
plant in the state is the Stonewall Cotton Mill.26 Fortunately by 1953, Mississippi had finally begun to move toward industrialization, and, as indicated earlier, most former mill work ers had moved on to higher paying jobs in industry, education,
health care, and some were on their way to becoming successful
businessmen, corporate executives, educators, and farmers.27
The Industrial Revolution of the South, led by the southward movement of cotton textile mills beginning in 1880, never really reached Mississippi. While cotton textile manufacturing in Mississippi was extensive, it fell short of igniting an industrial revolution, but James Wesson, Captain William Oliver,
T. L. Wainwright, James Sanders, Robert Sanders, C. K. Taylor,
and a few other mill owners and executives must be given credit
for paving the way for the industrialization that finally came
with World War II and the 1940s.
James Sanders and his son, Robert, accumulated their conglomerate of Mississippi cotton textile mills and kept industry alive during the difficult years of the 1920s and 1930s. While the Sanders played an essential role in moving the state closer to industrialization, they may have contributed to the demise of the Mississippi
cotton textile industry which, in turn, prevented or retarded potential growth in related industries. While other factors contributed to the failure, Sanders Industries failed to change with the times and upgrade its mills, villages, and pay scale and, as a result, could no longer compete and attract a dependable supply of labor during the war years. C. K. Taylor, reminiscing with a representative of the Magnolia Gazette in 1968 about the Sanders cotton mills, said:
When Robert Sanders in 1954 died all his mills in the state were closed and sold to 'undertakers' who attempted to sell them. The mill here [Magnolia] had one of the best locations I've ever seen for getting together a hard-working, harmonious crew. Robert and his father James Sanders tried to industrialize the state, but I guess Mississippians just didn't get into the textile industry deeply enough to make it last. But the Sanders must be given credit for their efforts in bringing industry to the state for nearly half a century in very difficult times.28
It was an appropriate eulogy for the Mississippi cotton textile
industry, delivered by one of its most devoted and knowledgeable promoters.
The dazzling success of the textile industry in the Piedmont states, along with the continuing success of the Stonewall Cotton mill, suggests that the state could have done better. Mississippi's failure to develop the industry obviouly benefited the Piedmont states, particularly North Carolina and South Carolina where the textile industry continued to dominate the manufacturing base in those states. As late as 1970, textiles in South Carolina accounted for "57 percent of all manufacturing jobs" in the state, and a decade later in North Carolina, "despite the growth in other industries, the industry still provided over 30 percent of all manufacturing jobs in the state." Mississippi's Stonewall mill, at the time of this writing, is undergoing another major expansion program and the mill town has the appearance of a prosperous middle-class
Ironically, the failure of Sanders Industries may have benefited its mill workers. Like most Mississippians, Sanders mill workers did change with the times; they tasted prosperity, liked it, and were determined to move to better things. As an
example, with the closing of the Magnolia mill, a few of the workers remained in the area to find a better life, and a few moved on to cotton mills as far away as Sand Springs, Oklahoma and McKinney, Texas. But, as indicated earlier, most moved on to higher paying jobs in industry, education, health care, and agriculture; several became educators, some established successful businesses, others established successful farms, and a few became corporate executives. Similar accomplishments were repeated by former Sanders mill workers at Kosciusko, Meridian,
Starkville, and West Point.
Their successes were substantial and proved that, after all, the village people as a group were typical of Mississippians in general; there was little difference between their background, customs, and education and that of the average
farmer, mechanic, policeman, teacher, storekeeper, and other Mississippians. They had all lived together during the same hard times, the same good times, in the same general environ¬ ment, and most shared the same advantages and the same disadvantages. There should have been no surprises; their successes were predictable.
At Magnolia, the little Nazarene Church, like the village people, persevered through it all. At the time of this writing or sixty-seven five years after the arrival in 1931 of the two Nazarene evangelists, Miss Dell Smith and Miss Jonnie Dance, it continues to hold services on the corner of First and Price Streets. Every year, it sponsors a reunion and former village people come from far and wide to see old friends and reminisce about the good times. For many of the old timers, it borders on being a pilgrimage: they all agree that, after all, it was a "good life tempered with a bit of hard times to build character."
The Magnolia reunion is not unique. At Kosciusko, former Aponaug mill workers, together with some of their children who grew up on the village and attended the village school, hold an annual reunion.
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Anderson, O. L. Jr. interview by author, McComb, Ms. 21
Bridges, Evelyn (Rushing). interview by author. Kentwood, La.
21 August 1993.
Burdine, Estelle (Myers). interview by author. Kosciusko,
Miss. 18 June 1995.
Case, Trellis, Ph.D. interview by author. Magnolia, Miss.
21 August 1993.
Case, Doris (Pugh). interview by author. Magnolia, Miss.
15 September 1994.
Chadwick, George. interview by author. Magnolia, Miss.
1 September 1994.
Chadwick, Ella (Pugh). interview by author. Magnolia, Miss.
1 September 1994.
Compton, Guy. interview by author. Magnolia, Miss. 24 August
Daugherty, Bernice (Rushing). interview by author. Murphy,
N.C., 20 July 1994.
Davis, R. Gene. telephone interview by author. Cleveland,
Tenn. 28 January 1995.
Goff, Pearl (Myers). interview by author. Starkville, Miss.,
18 June 1995.
Phurrough, William. interview by author. Hammond, La. 21 August
Hardin, Fred. interview by author. Magnolia, Miss. 24 August
Herring, J. W. interview by author. Gluckstadt, Miss. 21 June
Hyde, Ethel Mae (Dickinson). telephone interview by author.
Kentwood, La. 20 September 1994.
Jones, Frank. interview by author. McComb, Miss. 9 June 1994.
Lea, Alton. interview by author. Magnolia, Miss. 5 October
Rushing, Susie (Counsell). interview by author. Kentwood La,
11 August 1994.
Rushing, James. interview by author. Magnolia, Miss. 19 August
Rushing, Jewel. interview by author. McComb, Miss. 21 August
Rushing, Jewell (Ellzey). telephone interview by author.
Opelika, Ala. 29 May 1994.
Rushing, Johnnie Carl. interview by author. Magnolia, Miss.
29 August 1994.
Shaw, Frank Sr. interview by author. Kosciusko, Miss. 21 June
Simmons, Beula Mae (Bird). interview by author. Magnolia, Miss.
19 August 1993.
Smith, Cathrine (McDaniel). interview by author. Magnolia,
Miss. 29 August 1994.
Smith, Paul. interview by author. McComb, Miss. 8 June 1994.
Strickland, Betty (Shaw). interview by author. Magnolia, Miss.
21 August 1993.
Strickland, Ruby (Herring). interview by author. Clovis, N. M.
4 November 1993.
Strickland, Ernest Jr. interview by author. North Webster, Ind.
23 November 1994.
Sterling, Thelma (Grafton). interview by author. Magnolia,
Miss. 8 June 1994.
Sullivan, Robert. interview by author. Hammond, La. 12 December
Sullivan, Willa Dean. interview by author. Hammond, La. 12
Wilkerson, Inez (Strickland). interview by author. Long View,
Texas. 30 July 1994.
Narvell Strickland has personal knowledge of the Mississippi textile industry. He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and grew up in the mill towns at Tupelo, Kosciusko, and Magnolia. His parents, along with several relatives, were employed in several Mississippi and Alabama mills giving him the unique opportunity to witness living conditions and experiences of mill workers in those states.
After serving a tour of duty in the Air Force, he began a 40-year career (1950-90) with the Illinois Central Railroad; most of the first 25 years in Chicago as Director of Labor Relations representing the railroad in labor matters and the last 15 years in New York as General Manager. In 1982 he was listed in "Who's Who in American Railroading," and for many years has been a member of the New York Chapter of Mensa International--the largest and best-known high-IQ society in the world. During his railroad career, he was an active member of several transportation, industry, and trade organizations; after leaving the Illinois Central, he was appointed in August 1994 by the National Mediation Board to its list of Labor Arbitrators and Mediators.
Mr. Strickland's formal education includes a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Roosevelt University in Chicago, a Masters of Arts degree in History at Southeastern Louisiana University, and a Juris Doctor Degree in Law from combined studies of four years at John Marshall College of Law in Chicago and one year at Northwestern
Copyright © 2001 Narvell Strickland, All rights reserved.
Pass on to friends who may have an interest in this history.