While working on “Small Town Secret,” this photo of young Lois McClain, made by an unknown photographer, was identified for me by McClain’s daughter, Jessie Mae Holder.
The bullet from McClain’s bleeding left hand, after being shot at Chiquola Mill in my hometown of Honea Path, South Carolina on Sept. 6, 1934 was never removed and was still intact when she died at age 91 in 1993.
Eventually, mother of five children, “Granny Lois” McClain, as she was called, worked in the mill in Honea Path through her mid 70s, while also serving as a volunteer midwife, seamstress and cook for local townspeople nearly all of her life.
Some years after the shooting, Tom Stalcup, a Chiquola millworker, revealed that he had shot McClain and asked for her forgiveness, which she granted.
Stalcup, who said my grandfather, Dan Beacham, ordered the mill shooting as superintendent, later became Sunday School teacher for McClain’s daughter at the Church of God in Honea Path. His son, Virgil Stalcup, went on to play shortstop for the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.
Never in her life did McClain, or her husband, Cowan, also a millworker, discuss the shooting or the mill violence with any of their children. For that reason, the circumstances of McClain’s shooting or her role in the labor dispute remain unknown even to her own family.
However, words were not needed. Lois McClain’s story is written on her face in this powerful photograph.
The small town secret in Honea Path, S.C. was kept for 60 years. Though my grandfather was complicit in the shooting, my own family never discussed it. Yet, in the mid 90s, before many of the mill workers had died, the lid came off after a documentary film was produced revealing the town’s secret.
I wanted to know the truth and sought it out. The results are part of my Kickstarter project, Wild History.
Wild History Kickstarter Project