The Mostly Unknown Story of a Mill Town Murder
On this day — 89 years ago — the Textile Strike of 1934 began.
It would be the largest strike in the labor history of the United States, involving 400,000 textile workers from New England, the Mid-Atlantic states and the U.S. Southern states.
The strike swept through Southern cotton mills, outpacing the union organizers and employing "flying squadrons" which traveled by truck and on foot from mill to mill, calling the workers out.
Textile workers in the North went out on strike in great numbers as well, although they were spread more evenly across different industries and had more diverse grievances than the Southern cotton mill workers. Within a week, hundreds of thousands of textile workers nationwide had left their jobs and the industry was shut down.
The mill owners were initially taken by surprise by the scope of the strike. They immediately took the position that these flying squadrons were, in fact, coercing their employees to go out on strike.
Gov. Ira Blackwood of South Carolina took up this theme, announcing that he would deputize the state's "mayors, sheriffs, peace officers and every good citizen" to maintain order, then called out the National Guard with orders to shoot to kill any picketers who tried to enter the mills.
Mill owners persuaded local authorities throughout the Piedmont region to augment their forces by swearing in special deputies, often their own employees or local residents opposed to the strike. In other cases, they simply hired private guards to police the areas around the plant. Violence between guards and picketers broke out almost immediately.
In Honea Path, South Carolina, my hometown, seven picketers were shot to death and more than twenty-seven others were wounded on September 6th. Most were shot in the back as they were fleeing the picket line.
There was no National Guard on duty — only anti-union workers deputized by my grandfather, Dan Beacham, who ran Chiquola Mill. The bloody riot at the town's cotton mill on that warm Thursday morning shaped the lives of two generations to follow — not because of the shock of what was known, but by what was unknown.
Fear, threats and intimidation were used to silence the story of the greatest tragedy in the town's history. My grandfather, who was also the mayor and town judge, organized the posse of gunmen who fired on their fellow workers in 1934. It was a communal town secret for more than 60 years.
Today is the 87th anniversary of the murders in Honea Path. Over time, I have learned more about the story and I found the answer to a burning question: How did friends and neighbors in my small hometown reach the point of killing each other over a labor dispute? It never made sense to me.
Essentially, from my research, the “why” was reduced to a simple formula: Religious Fundamentalism + Corporate Greed = Mass Murder. As modern industrial philosophy was being formed in the 1930s, fundamentalist preachers sided with the mill owners over their workers. An explosion was triggered.
I have written the full, updated story of the Chiquola Mill killings in the new fourth edition of Whitewash: A Southern Journey through Music, Mayhem and Murder. It is a compelling story and the first real history of Honea Path.
In order that the murders in Honea Path not be forgotten —on the 80th anniversary — I produced a 48-minute audio documentary. You can listen or download it for free.
Funeral of textile workers killed in Honea Path, South Carolina during the Textile Strike of 1934. It was the largest funeral in the town’s history.
The mill management would not allow the funerals to be held in mill-owned churches.
This window from the abandoned mill is where gunmen fired at the workers. It has since been destroyed.
Photo by Frank Beacham
Why Does Honea Path, South Carolina Not Acknowledge Its Own History?
If you visited my hometown of Honea Path, S.C. on this 89th anniversary of the most important event in its history, you will witness something very odd. There will be no acknowledgement by the town of the 1934 killings at Chiquola Mill. Total silence!
This tiny town never acknowledges the anniversary of the outright murder of seven mill workers or twenty-seven others, most shot in the back after demonstrating to establish a labor union at the mill. All were heroes who changed this country for the better, but it appears that Honea Path would rather forget the tragedy.
The story has been erased, not only from the history books, but from the public consciousness of those people most affected by it. An instrument of fear was so powerful that parents were afraid to tell the story to their own children. It formed a lifelong social contract for the entire community's survival.
Remnants of the old textile mill still stand, though years ago there was funding to tear it down. The town government was so incompetent, the money was wasted. A demolition company took what was valuable and then sold bricks from the mill on eBay as souvenirs of the “historic” mill. The town even turned down grants to turn the abandoned mill into a textile museum that could have brought tourists to the sleepy town.
So why does Honea Path refuse to remember its past? I’ve thought a lot about that question. I think it’s a combination of old time stubborn Southern pride, belief in corporate-generated myth and collective mendacity — the fog of lies created to hide the truth about the past. This silence comes down to the very essence of what history is about. It's the story of our lives. To hide it is to deny the forces that shaped our very being.
If you think all this is very passive, think again. During a visit to Honea Path over the Christmas holiday in 1996, my family’s long-time physician confronted me in a very public way at lunch hour in a local restaurant and proclaimed loudly that I should be shot for writing about the story. No jury, he shouted to the gathered diners, would convict the shooter. He wasn't kidding.
Due to the residual propaganda put out by the old mill owners — including my grandfather, who ran the mill — many in the town somehow feel ashamed about what happened in 1934. They shouldn't feel fear or shame at all. Though the workers efforts ended in defeat and much suffering to follow, the deaths of the Honea Path Seven were certainly not in vain. The disillusionment of the workers and the outrageous conduct by the mill owners made a strong impression on the Roosevelt Administration.
This helped spur passage of the Wagner Act in 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. Out of these laws came reforms that vastly improved the lives of all workers in the United States. These laws abolished employment of children under sixteen in the mill, helping young people stay in school to get an education. The establishment of the minimum wage and the 40-hour work week came directly out of the Honea Path tragedy.
Though Honea Path has a rich history, the town has tried hard to forget. It’s a sad story. However, the good news is intelligent young students often call me, asking about the event they find so hard to understand. I try to help them learn the truth — one person at a time. In this environment, it is the only way to keep the story alive.
“Honea Path,” a song written and performed by Matthew Grimm and Red Smear.
Roger Waters is 80 years old today.
An English musician, singer-songwriter and composer, Rogers was a founding member of Pink Floyd, serving as bassist and co-lead vocalist.
Following the departure of bandmate, Syd Barrett, in 1968, Waters became the band's lyricist, principal songwriter and conceptual leader. The band subsequently achieved international success in the 1970s with the concept albums, The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall.
Although Waters' primary instrument in Pink Floyd was the bass guitar, he also experimented with synthesizers and tape loops and played rhythm guitar on recordings and in concerts. Amid creative differences within the group, Waters left Pink Floyd in 1985 and began a legal battle with the remaining members over their intended use of the group's name and material.
They settled the dispute out of court in 1987, and nearly eighteen years had passed before he performed with Pink Floyd again. The group have sold more than 250 million albums worldwide, including 74.5 million units sold in the United States as of 2012.
Here, Waters is joined by David Gilmour to perform “Comfortably Numb.”
Robert Pirsig, author of 1974’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was born 95 years ago today.
Born in Minneapolis, Pirsig, the son of a Minnesota law professor, rose rapidly to fame with his novel, which was based partly on his own experiences. The book chronicled the cross-country motorcycle journey of the narrator, a former philosophy professor who underwent involuntary electric shock treatment for alleged insanity, with his 11-year-old son.
Along the way, the narrator ruminates on philosophical approaches to life, arguing that motorcycle maintenance is a metaphor for life. He also succeeds in healing a deep emotional rift with his son.
The book was rejected by more than 120 publishing houses before it was published by William Morrow and Company in 1974. Pirsig received only a $3,000 advance and was warned that the book would probably bomb. It became a cult classic, selling more than four million copies in the next 25 years. Tragically, Pirsig’s son was stabbed to death in a mugging 10 years after the book came out.
After the book’s publication, Pirsig spent several years living on a boat and traveling the world.
In 1991, he published Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, another deeply philosophical novel.
Pirsig died at his home in South Berwick, Maine, on April 24, 2017, after a period of failing health.
David Allan Coe is 84 years old today.
A songwriter, outlaw country music singer and guitarist, Coe’s biggest hits were "Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile," "The Ride," "You Never Even Called Me by My Name," "She Used to Love Me a Lot" and "Longhaired Redneck."
His best-known compositions are the #1 successes, "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)," which was covered by Tanya Tucker, and "Take This Job and Shove It," which was later covered by Johnny Paycheck and inspired a hit movie with the same name. Both Coe and Paycheck had minor parts in the film.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Coe was sent to the Starr Commonwealth For Boys reform school at the age of nine. He spent much of the next 20 years in correctional facilities, including three years at the Ohio State Penitentiary. He received encouragement to begin writing songs from Screamin' Jay Hawkins, with whom he had spent time in prison.
After concluding another prison term in 1967, Coe embarked on a music career in Nashville, living in a hearse which he parked in front of the Ryman Auditorium, where the Grand Ole Opry was located. He caught the attention of the independent record label, Plantation Records, and signed a contract with the label.
Early in 1970, Coe released his debut album, Penitentiary Blues, followed by a tour with Grand Funk Railroad. In October, 1971, he signed as an exclusive writer with Pete and Rose Drake's publishing company, Windows Publishing Company, in Nashville. He remained there until 1977.
Although Coe developed a cult following with his performances, he was not able to develop any mainstream success, but other performers achieved charting success by recording songs Coe had written. These included Billie Jo Spears' 1972 recording, "Souvenirs & California Mem'rys," and Tanya Tucker's 1973 single, "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)," which was a #1 hit. The second song was responsible for Coe becoming one of Nashville's hottest songwriters and Coe himself being signed by Columbia Records.
Coe recorded his own version of the song for his second Columbia album, Once Upon a Rhyme, released in 1975. The album also contained a cover of Steve Goodman's and John Prine's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name," which was a Top Ten Billboard hit, and was followed by a string of moderately successful hits.
Coe was a featured performer in Heartworn Highways, a 1975 documentary by James Szalapski. Other performers featured in this film included Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Steve Young, Steve Earle and The Charlie Daniels Band.
In 1977, Johnny Paycheck released a cover of Coe's "Take This Job And Shove It," which was a #1 hit and Coe's most successful song. While Coe lived in Key West, Shel Silverstein played his comedy album, Freakin' at the Freakers Ball, for Coe, spurring him to perform his own comedic songs for Silverstein, who encouraged Coe to record them. This led to the production of the independently released album, Nothing Sacred.
Jimmy Buffett accused Coe of plagiarizing the melody of "Divers Do It Deeper" from Buffett's "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," stating, "I would have sued him, but I didn't want to give Coe the pleasure of having his name in the paper." In response to the success of Buffett's song, Coe wrote a song insulting Buffett, and it appeared on Nothing Sacred. The album was released by mail order in 1978, through the back pages of the biker magazine, Easyriders.
Coe's 1979 Columbia album, Spectrum VII, contained a note stating "Jimmy Buffett doesn't live in Key West anymore," a lyric from a song from Nothing Sacred.
In 1982, Coe released another independent album, Underground Album, which contained his most controversial song, "Nigger Fucker," which resulted in Coe being accused of racism. Coe responded to the accusations by stating, "Anyone that hears this album and says I'm a racist is full of shit."
Coe's drummer, Kerry Brown, is black and married to a white woman, as was Brown's late father, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Coe's musical style derives from blues, rock and country music traditions. His vocal style is described as a "throaty baritone." His lyrical content is often humorous or comedic, with William Ruhlmann describing him as a "near-parody of a country singer."
Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes Coe as "a great, unashamed country singer, singing the purest honky-tonk and hardest country of his era [...] He may not be the most original outlaw, but there's none more outlaw than him."
Here, Coe performs “Call Me By My Name” at Farm Aid, 1994.
Jimmy Reed was born 98 years ago today.
A blues musician and songwriter, Reed was a major player of electric blues, as opposed to the more acoustic-based sound of many of his contemporaries. His lazy, slack-jawed singing, piercing harmonica and hypnotic guitar patterns were one of the blues' most easily identifiable sounds in the 1950s and 1960s.
Reed had a significant impact on many rock and roll artists who followed, such as Elvis Presley, Billy Gibbons and the Rolling Stones.
Born in Dunleith, Mississippi, Reed maintained his reputation despite his rampant alcoholism throughout his life. Sometimes his wife had to help him remember the lyrics to his songs while recording.
In 1957, Reed developed epilepsy, though the condition was not correctly diagnosed for a long time. Reed and doctors assumed it was delirium tremens. In spite of his numerous hits, Reed's personal problems prevented him from achieving the same level of fame as other popular blues artists of the time, though he had more hit songs than many others.
Jimmy Reed died in Oakland, California in 1976, of respiratory failure, eight days short of his 51st birthday.
The Rolling Stones have cited Reed as a major influence on their sound, and their early set lists included many of Reed's songs, including tracks like "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby,” "The Sun is Shining" (also played at the Stones' 1969 Altamont concert), "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Shame, Shame, Shame.”
The Yardbirds recorded an instrumental dedicated to him entitled "Like Jimmy Reed Again," which was released on the "definitive edition" of their album, Having a Rave Up.
Van Morrison's group, Them, covered "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Baby, What You Want Me To Do,” both of which can be found on The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison.
"Big Boss Man" was sung regularly by Ron "Pigpen" McKernan with the Grateful Dead during the 1960s and early 1970s and appears on their live album, Skull and Roses. It was revived a few times by Jerry Garcia with the Dead during the 1980s.
Bob Weir of the Dead also played it a few times with Kingfish in the mid 70s, and more recently with Ratdog. Phil Lesh also plays it with Phil & Friends. The Grateful Dead have also performed Baby What You Want Me to Do with Brent Mydland on vocals.
Elvis Presley recorded several of Reed's songs, scoring a 1967 hit with "Big Boss Man" and recording several performances of "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" for his 1968 Comeback TV Special.
Here, Reed performs “Bright Lights, Big City” at Carnegie Hall.
Henry Diltz is 85 years old today.
Diltz is a folk musician and photographer, who has been active since the 1960s. Among the bands Diltz played with were the Modern Folk Quartet. While a member of the Modern Folk Quartet, Diltz became interested in photography, met The Monkees, played on some of their recording sessions, and took numerous photographs of the band.
His photography also attracted the eye of other musicians who needed publicity and album cover photos. He was the official photographer at Woodstock, and the Monterey and Miami Music Festivals, and has photographed over 200 record album covers.
Diltz photographed 1960s folk-rock stars who lived in Los Angeles's Laurel Canyon. During that time, Laurel Canyon was a center of American music. Many rising stars were drawn to Laurel Canyon, a laid back neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills.
In 1971, he and songwriter Jimmy Webb nearly died in a glider aircraft accident. Webb was piloting and Diltz was taking motion picture film from the rear seat. Both suffered significant injuries. The film did not survive.
Diltz contributed all the photographs to the 1978 book, California Rock, California Sound, which archived the Los Angeles music scene of the 1970s. Anthony Fawcett, the British writer, provided the bulk of the text.
He also has a book titled, "California Dreaming," from Genesis Publications UK. His self published, "Unpainted Faces," a book of black and white photographs, was released through the Morrison Hotel Gallery.
Diltz is co-founder of the Morrison Hotel Gallery along with Peter Blachley and Rich Horowitz. There are galleries in New York City’s SoHo and West Hollywood. They specialize in fine-art music photography, including Diltz’s own works.
Diltz is still actively making photographs, including a role as contributing photographer to The Henry Rollins Show. He was among the 43 photographers invited to donate a print to "FOCUS: an auction of the finest photography to benefit City Harvest...."
Living in North Hollywood, California, Diltz’s archive in his bungalow holds some 800,000 photographs, alphabetized from "A" (for America) to "Z" (for Zappa).
Joni Mitchell, Laurel Canyon, 1970
Photo by Henry Diltz