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 in 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 influential 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 in the face of an industrial evolution gaining momentum in other southern states. The time had come for Mississippi 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 la- bor, 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
Mississippi Mills Wesson 1867
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
Tomspanbee Mill Columbus 1887
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
Bellevue Mills Moorhead 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
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' 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 appearance.
A&M's 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 dependence 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 its development in Mississippi in the twentieth century.
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." 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. Rather than the purchase or construction of additional mills, Robert's expansion program was restricted to the expansion of existing mills. Nevertheless, Sanders Industries held its dominant position and, in the end, controlled most of the cotton manufacturing in the state during most of the first half of the twentieth century--particularly from 1911 through the Depression and World War II years.
For discussion purposes, I will divide the Twentieth Century mills into two groups: (1) the independent 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 Tomspanee 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.
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
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 cotton-seed products factory. Within a two-block area of 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.
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 compara-ble 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, 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 Mississippi town.
The final count was two hundred and thirty persons killed, two thousand injured, and over eight hundred homes destroyed. One mill family of thir-teen, the Burroughs family, suffered an unthinkable blow; the entire family of thirteen was killed.
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.
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 news- paper. The boycott was ineffective; McLean continued his reports in support of the mill workers.
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. 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, 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. 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." Both sides were intransigent in their positions, and after three weeks of un- productive 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.
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.
My father and mother were among those displaced and forced 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." The Tupelo mill never reopened.
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 in- dustry. 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.
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 imita-tion leather for tops and upholstery of automobiles. 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, op-erate 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. 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.
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 ma-chinery, along with several employees, to Valdese, North Carolina where, for the third time, they organized and began the operation of a new cotton mill. 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.
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 operator 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.
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.
In 1887 Columbus, a small town on the Tomspanbee River in the northeastern part of the state, established its first large industry and the first of two cotton mills. The mill, named Tomspanbee 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.
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."
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.
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. The small yarn mill never had a chance; it floundered from the start and closed before the end of the decade.
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.
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 mid-thirties. 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 con- tinues 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.
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 cen- ter 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.
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. 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, Meridan, Yazoo City, and Natchez, and will reviewed in that order.
VII & VIII
Chapter IX & X
Chapter XI & Biblio
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