THE trouble had not been stirred up overnight. The Union had been gathering forces slowly but it was not until the April before this September that we knew how much was happening with our gates. One perfect afternoon of warm sun and burnished skies the United Textile Workers ha staged on Main Street what was probably the greatest labor parade in the history of the South. The line was two miles long. Nearly five thousand workers and they sympathizers marched three abreast. They were led by Francis J. Gorman, whose light-hearted mood seemed to be shared by only a part of those who followed in his train: some were sullen, some were bored, some were openly contemptuous of the assembled citizenry who gape in amazement from sidewalks and porches along the way. Many paraders were dressed in their Sunday best—“best” that was not so fine as local observers reported it to be, for the occasional fur pieces, worm fashionably in the warm weather, were cheap imitations and the silk stockings we heard so much about were not without darns. Some of the girls wore high heels and parading was as difficult for them as it was for cripples with their crutches and mothers who carried babies. Past the Elks’ Club, past the more prominent Methodist and Baptist churches, past the best homes, the line moved on to the spirited music of a lively band.
The banners of the UTW waved beside the Stars and Stripes.
Huge placards flashed by:
WE ARE THE UNDESIRABLES
55 HOURS OF WORK FOR $13.50 COULD YOU LIVE ON THAT
DISCHARGED BECAUSE WE JOINED THE UNION
WE WANT AN OPPORTUNITY TO DEMONSTRATE
TO OUR EMLOYERS THAT WE BEAR THEM NO ILL WILL
It had been feared by gloomier spectators that there would be a special demonstration in front of Mr. Fitzgerald’s residence. But the workers did no more than stare at the white house here curtains were drawn as though the family had safeguarded themselves from this tumultuous scene.
Near me on the sidewalk two middle-aged women with flat voices gossiped cheerfully.
“Poor Mr. Fitzgerald, I now he never thought eh’ live to see this day. These common people ought to be ashamed of themselves. Just look how many of those mill girls have got on silk hose! Somebody was tellin’ me the other day that they won’t buy anything but the best grade hose and a friend of mine who knows a clerk in the Schoolfield store says they buy strawberries in March. And here they are grumblin’ about $13.50 a week. I don’t pay my cook but $3. How much do you pay yours? You do? Well, honey, if the poor whites keep on like this, the next thing we know the niggers will be paradin’ around.”
“Saints preserve us! But I declare it’s awful for these foreign agitators to come stirrin’ up trouble in Danville. The police ought to get busy right now.”
“You’re exactly right. I just can’t help thinkin’ of Mr. Fitzgerald. He’s always been so good to everytbody and now it looks like the whole town is fussin’ at him. It’s not just these laborin’ people, either. The stockholders are furious because they didn’t get any dividends. They say he ought to have cut salaries long before now.”
“Well, he certainly has done some whackin’ now. He cut everybody from himself right on down.”
“Yes, he used to get $75,000 and now he just gest $60,000. Goodness, I can’t conceive of that much money!”
“It is a lot of money. But, then, he’s a mighty generous man. Of course, I recon he’s been too extravagant, too. You know what they say about his daughter’s trousseau, all the finery she bought in New York. They say she spent thousands on that weddin’. Just like money grew on trees—”
At this point I had to follow the paraders to Ballou Park where there was to be speech-making by the visitors. I knew what the rest of the dialogue would have been. Every time that trousseau was described by the disgruntle stockholders or the general public its costly magnificence became more and more incredible. Thousands of dollars, they said. The best silk lingerie from Fifth Avenue. Silk chemises and step-ins like movie stars wore. Handkerchiefs that cost ten dollars apiece. And, meanwhile, no dividends for the poor widows whose husbands had seen fit to put t heir earnings in our local common or preferred. It was true that salaries and wages had been slashed at last and some of the men who made fifteen or twenty thousand would have to be content with less, just as the weavers and doffers and carders must suffer their ten percent, too. Why single out the fact that a salary of $60,000 was noting to kick about? Couldn’t Mr. Fitzgerald get that much from another mill any time he pleased and, besides, didn’t he give away a large part of his earnings to private and public charities?…
Thus, as I hurried toward the park, I reviewed in my mind what had been hear-say along our streets. I wondered fearfully what the outcome of all this trouble would be. Ours was the largest independent mill in the South and if the Union entered these mill gates you might as well say that their biggest battle was won and that other victors would ensue. Danville, so The Nation, said was labor’s outpost in the South. The Industrial Democracy which Mr. Fitzgerald founded and nursed had been eulogized far and wide as a happy scheme of cooperation between those who hired and those who labored. It seemed now, however, that our little world was less secure. Sadly I recalled local-history classes and the time we were kept in after school if we did not know that Danville, with its motto of “Danville Does Things,” was the birthplace of Nancy Astor, the largest of loose leaf tobacco market, and, most particularly, the home of one of the greatest cotton mills in the world…
The crowed at Ballou Park had been tremendous. In an open space near the reservoir a platform ha been erected and upon it were seated Mr. Gorman and his co-workers, a few of the local Union leaders, and, quite ironically, in view of what was to happen later, our Chief of Police, J. Hannibal Martin. I did not recall the name of the minister who dared to ask God’s blessing upon this meeting, beseeching Heaven to grant a square deal for all and a victory for the Union, but, whoever he was, he risked his name.
“And God bless Brother Gorman for coming down here to help us in the hour of trouble—”
Brother Gorman arose and stood silently during several moment of thunderous applause. Then, at last, his voice rang forth with undeniable fervor which charmed even a minority of his hearers, who had been slightly suspicious of this “furriner”, variously reported to be a Cockney, Irishman, and Jew. If he was nothing else, Gorman was a good orator for his element; he was a persuasive actor and he possessed considerable knowledge of mob psychology; if he had been employed by the mills, he could have made the workers believe they were happy citizens of Industrial Democracy as easily as he convinced them that only by grade of the United Textile Workers could they be led from the bondage of a capitalists’ hell.
“A policy of persecution has been stalled within the mills in an effort to discourage you and intimidate you,” he said, his eyes shining with a sparkle that was part of his power, his Cockney-American voice glowing with satisfaction. “They want to prevent you from following your rightful inclination to join a Union—”
His glance moved about the crowd as though he were speaking exclusively to each individual in his vast audience. There was a subtle flattery in his approach which increased as he used simple language and workers’ slang. Men pressed nearer to the platform. Mothers stuck nipples in babies’ mouths and strained to hear. Gum-chewing girls in silk hose tried to u understand the fine-sounding words.
“So you’ve got an Industrial Democracy!” Gorman cried with a significant sneer. “A fine Industrial Democracy with your own Senate and House, your own representatives—”
“Apple sauce!” shouted a man from the crowd and cheers filled the air.
“Apple sauce is right!” Gorman said when the mob grew quiet again. “Well, don’t worry, folks, we’re going to bury that Industrial Democracy! It’s time for a funeral.”