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.
The mass exodus at Magnolia 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. 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. 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.
With the coming of World War II, the Mississippi textile industry and the Sanders cotton mills in paticular 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.
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 Indutries 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 transportation, 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." 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. The industry responded by establishing all time production records which, according to Mildred Gwin Andrews, was "one of the most remarkable feats in American industrial history." 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."
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, most had little choice but to stay in the mill regardless of the pay.
Early in the 1940s, Sanders Indus-tries could no longer ignore the poor condition of most of its mill villages and it implemented upgrading programs at Magnolia, Kosciusko, Starkville, and West Point. At Magnolia, for example, a program was initiated to upgrade the village houses with a coat of paint and some minor repairs. 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 sprayed with white paint and the porch floors brush painted with 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 sev-eral 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.
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 but proudly 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.
The paint, repairs, and gas represented a giant step forward for the village people. But, there was more; in the mid-forties 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. 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. 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.
Sanders Industries never approached that level of social consciousness at any time at any of its mill villages; it instead simply applied a coat 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 the future.
After World War II, the military service continued to be a vehicle for escape for 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, 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.
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, some pursued college degrees, 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.
Actually, the quest for more education began very early in the forties. After the war started, the practice of Magnolia village children automatically taking mill jobs at age sixteen stopped as more and more chose to finish high school and attend college. 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, Made-line 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 for life.
World War II and the 1940s, as most historians agree, 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.
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, Mag- nolia, 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.
Other major problems confronted the Southern textile in- dustry, 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. 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 re-entry, 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.
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.
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 sy- stem 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." The coup de grace came when he was denied unemployment benefits on the strength of Swink's statement that he had refused work available to him.
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.
Mayor Phillips called on C. K. Taylor, who had acted as agent in selling the Magnolia mill on three occasions, to as- sist 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. 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 re- open, 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. 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.
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. Fortunately by 1953, Mississippi had finally begun to move toward industrialization, and, as indicated earlier, most former mill workers 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.
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 indus- try alive during the difficult years of the 1920s and 1930s. Although the Sanders moved the state closer to industrialization, they also contributed to the demise of the Mississippi cotton textile industry which, in turn, prevented or retarded potential growth in related industries. While other factors may have contributed to the failure, Sanders clearly failed to change with the times and upgrade their mills, villages, and pay scale and, as a result, could no longer compete and attract a dependable supply of labor. C. K. Taylor, reminiscing in 1968 about the Sanders cotton mills, noted:
When he [Robert Sanders] 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. But I guess Mississippi just didn't get into the textile industry deeply enough to make it last.
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 obvisouly 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 community.
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 environment, 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. Sixty-seven five years af- ter 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 two years 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."
At Kosciusko, a similar reunion is held annually for its former mill workers.
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August 1905. Copy available at Lownes County Library
System, Columbus, Miss.
Cotton Fabrics Glossary. New York: Frank P. Bennet & Co., 1914.
Directory Southern Cotton Mills, 1907 ed. Atlanta: Industrial Press, 1907.
Kosciusko-Attala County Historical Society. "Kosciusko-Attala History." Published by Kosciusko Star Herald, 1976. Copy held by Mid-Mississippi Regional Library at Kosciusko, Miss.
Linton, George E. The Modern Textile Dictionary. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1963.
Malone, Dumas, ed. Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 8. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935.
Man-Made Textile Encyclopedia. J. J. Press, ed. New York: Textile Book Publishers, 1959.
McComb Directory, 1924-1925. Published by McComb Chamber of Commerce. Copy held by McComb, Mississippi Public Library.
Meridian City Directory, 1873. Published by Meridian Chamber of Commerce. Copy held by Regional Library and Archives at Meridian, Miss.
Meridian Library-Archives. A booklet, "Metroplis of the South- West." N.p. 1888. Copy held by Regional Library and Archives at Meridian, Miss.
Mississippi A. & M. College, Catalog Bulletin 1904-05. Copy held by Starkville, Mississippi Public Library.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register, 1904.
National Cyclopedia of American Biography. "Robert David Sanders."
Wingate, Dr. Isabel B. Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles. New York: Fairchild Publishers, 1967.
Anderson, O. L. Jr. interview by author, McComb, Ms. 21 August 1994.
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 1994.
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 1994.
Hardin, Fred. interview by author. Magnolia, Miss. 24 August 1994.
Herring, J. W. interview by author. Gluckstadt, Miss. 21 June 1995.
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 1994.
Rushing, Susie (Counsell). interview by author. Kentwood La, 11 August 1994.
Rushing, James. interview by author. Magnolia, Miss. 19 August 1993.
Rushing, Jewel. interview by author. McComb, Miss. 21 August 1993.
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 1995.
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 1993.
Sullivan, Willa Dean. interview by author. Hammond, La. 12 December 1993.
Wilkerson, Inez (Strickland). interview by author.
Long View, Texas. 30 July 1994.
Narvell Strickland was born
in Tupelo, Mississippi and has personal knowledge of the Mississippi textile
industry, growing up on mill villages at Tupelo, Winona, Kosciusko, Meridian,
and Magnolia in the late thirties and early forties. He received 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 J.D. Degree in Law from combined studies of four years at John
Marshall College of Law in Chicago and one year at Northwestern California
Mr. Strickland was Director of Labor Relations for the Illinois Central in Chicago from 1957 to 1971; he was then appointed General Manager in New York, Eastern Sales, by the railroad and remained in that position until he retired. In August 1994, he was appointed by the National Mediation Board to its list of Labor Arbitrators and Mediators. He is listed in "Who's Who in American Railroading, 1982" and has been an active member of several transportation, industry, and trade organizations.
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