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Campaign Button "I Gave to Free the Gastonia Prisoners," 1929; 1.75 cm.
Lew Powell Collection
Campaign Button "National Defense & Relief Week: Smash the Gastonia Murder Frame-Up," 1929.
Lew Powell Collection

The violent Gastonia strike of 1929 can be traced to rising economic and social tensions connected to the textile industry’s accelerating development throughout the South during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Like so many other regional mills, Gastonia’s Loray Mill was owned by northern businessmen, who had relocated their mills to southern states where labor costs were significantly cheaper than in New England. Textile mills were among the first industrial operations to implement what was called the “stretch-out,” the practice of requiring more work in the same time period without raising (and often reducing) pay. By early 1929, the mill workers’ general frustration and simmering anger with the stretch-out finally erupted in strikes throughout the region.

The work stoppage in Gastonia, in Gaston County, was North Carolina’s most serious. Violence there resulted in the deaths of the chief of police and two textile workers. It also led to the imprisonment of the strike’s leaders, including three women. Following the upheaval in Gastonia, many laborers contended that authorities had framed them and sought to discredit their legitimate grievances by associating them with Communist agitators. Some of the imprisoned leaders were eventually released; but others who were convicted chose to flee the state. The Loray Mill continued to operate, but closed its doors several years later due in part to financial losses it incurred during the deadly strike. In 1935 the Firestone Rubber Company purchased the mill and village. The Firestone Mill closed in 1993.