‘Who are the Gastonia Prisoners?’ from Labor Defender. Vol. 4 No. 9. September, 1929.

Valuable short biographies of striking militants and Communist activists (including leading trade union figures Amy Schechter, Fred Beals, and Vera Buch) framed-up for the murder of a southern sheriff during the Loray Mill strike in Gastonia, North Carolina. Facing potential execution, the Gastonia defense was among the most important campaigns of the International Labor Defense. After the first ended in a mistrial, several of the strikers were convicted and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Others, like Fred Beal, jumped bail and went to the Soviet Union. With the usual excellent ‘Labor Defender’ photos.

‘Who are the Gastonia Prisoners?’ from Labor Defender. Vol. 4 No. 9. September, 1929.

The lives and activity of the sixteen men and women union organizers and textile strikers–who are being tried for murder in Charlotte, N. C.


Fred Beal was born in Lawrence, Mass., in 1896, and at the age of 14 went to work in a textile mill in Lawrence, as a bobbin boy at the wage of $4.48 for a 56 hour week. He was an active strikers in the great Lawrence textile strike of 1912. He was drafted into the army and during the Lawrence strike in 1919 joined the picket line in uniform. He was a leader in the Lawrence strike of 1922, joined the Socialist Party during the strike, and after it was over became a member of the executive board of the One Big Union and secretary of the Socialist Party local. In 1923 Beal took a leading part in the Dover, New Hampshire, strike. When he was arrested 5,000 workers picketed the jail and the militia dispersed the workers with threatening machine guns. At this time he became interested in the Sacco-Vanzetti case. He soon lost faith in the Socialist Party and joined the Communist Party. After becoming secretary of the One Big Union he organized the Lawrence United Front Committee in 1925. In 1926 Beal played a leading role in the New Bedford Strike. Beal was arrested seven times during this struggle and spent one month in jail with Murdock, also a leading organizer of the Textile Mill Committee. In September, 1928 Beal took part in the formation of the National Textile Workers Union, being elected on its executive Committee. He was made the Southern District organizer and started his work in Charlotte in December, 1928. He organized a local of the union in Gastonia and the membership voted the historic strike when union members were fired from the Loray mill. He was the leading spirit in the hard-fought strike.


Amy Schechter was born in Cambridge, England and was brought to the United States when she was 9 years old. She has worked as a proof-reader, translator and labor journalist. She worked with the Labor Research Bureau, London, England, 1920-21 and joined the British Communist Party in 1920, the Communist Party of the U. S. A. in 1921. During the mine strike of 1927-28 she was an organizer for the Save-the-Union Committee in Central Pennsylvania and later in the same strike she was a member of the Miners’ Relief Committee in Pittsburgh. During the New Bedford and Fall River textile strikes in 1928 she was the publicity agent for the National Textile Workers’ Union. She was sent by the Workers’ International Relief to direct relief activities in Gastonia as soon as the strike broke out.


Robert Allen was born in Rhodies, Catawba County, North Carolina, on March 19, 1903. When he was 6 years old his family moved to West Hickory and when his father got a job as an overseer in an East Hickory Mill the family moved there two years later. At the age of 11, he started school and went for 6 years, when he began to work in the mills. When the world war broke out Allen volunteered but was rejected because he was too young. Later he enlisted. When discharged from the army, he found a job on a railroad in Virginia. He was laid off, came to Gastonia and worked in the Ozark mill until the strike was called in April.


Vera Buch was born in Forestville, Connecticut, in 1897, of a working class family. Her father was of German descent, while her mother’s people trace their ancestry back to the Pilgrims. At the age of four her family moved to New York City where they suffered extreme poverty. “My recollections of my childhood are all of unceasing struggle against stark poverty,” she writes. When 18 years old she was sent to a sanitarium with tuberculosis. On her return to New York she joined the Socialist Party, but was soon too far “left” to stay in it. After working in the mills in northern New Jersey, she returned to New York in 1925, where she soon joined the Communist Party and became active in the labor movement. She was active in the Passaic strike of 1926, and worked as a labor organizer in the anthracite region, in Philadelphia and Detroit and helped in the organization of the National Miner’s Union and the National Textile Workers’ Union. She was a member of the New York City executive of the latter union and went down to help Beal organize in Gaston County.


Heffner was born May 1, 1912 at Catawaga County, North Carolina. His father was a mill worker. He went to school until he was 14, when he began work in the Regan Mill in Bessemer City, as a doffer in the twisting room. After a year here he went to work in the Arlington mill and remained there about 2 years. “Shortly after the strike in the Loray Mill began in April I got a job there. But I did not want to scab so I went around and joined the union as soon as the strike broke out.”


“I was born in New York City in 1910. I attended high school for one year. I went to work at the age of 14 in a millinery factory where I earned $10 a week as a learner. Later I worked in Woolworth’s 12 hours a day, earning $10.80 a week, at the same time attending a business school in the evening where I learned stenography and typewriting and got a job in an office.

“At the age of 14 I joined the young pioneers of. America. In 1926 I was sent by the Young Pioneers to do organization work among the children of the textile strikers of Passaic. In 1928 I was the organizer of the Children’s Miners Relief Committee of New York. “I came to Gastonia shortly before the fatal raid to organize the children to help in the conduct of the strike.”


One of the most active of the strikers is Louis MacLaughlin. He was born into a family of mill workers, in 1906, in Atlanta, Ga. When he was thirteen years old he went to work as a sweeper in the Augusta Cotton Mills. Three years later he came to Gastonia-in 1928. He worked for the Manville-Jenckes Co. both in their High Shoals and Loray Mills. He was working at the Loray mill when the strike was called. “I walked out with the rest and was always ready to do my share to help win the strike. I am with them and that’s why I’m in jail today.”


Gibson was born into a poor farmer’s family near Waynesville, Haywood County, N. C. His childhood days were spent on the farm and he never had a chance to get an education. When he was ten years old he and his father went to work in a mill at Clifton, S. C. When he was 11 years old his father died, leaving 11 children, several of them married. He has traveled thruout the South working in about 45 mills in five states. When the war broke out he volunteered, saw service on the battlefield and was wounded by shrapnel. After being discharged from the army he went to the government hospital at Greenville, S. C., where he was told he had T. B. He remained in the hospital 118 days, after which he went back to the mills in Gastonia. “I have worked in the American mills, Osage, Bambie, Loray and High Shoals mills. When the strike was called I was working in the Saxton mills in Spartansburg, South Carolina. I came back to Gastonia several weeks later and went to the Loray mill but finding that a strike was on, I joined the union and decided not to go to work. I stayed out and did everything I could to help the and the strikers.”


Russell Knight was born 24 years ago in Charlotte, N. C. His parents were textile mill workers in Charlotte and later in Greensboro, N. C. where Knight finished the elementary grades. He went to work in the mills and took a correspondence school education. He was greatly moved by the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. “It dawned upon me,” he writes, “that this outrage was a grave injustice to the whole working class.” He participated in his first strike while on the medicine show. After working in Draper, N. C. and New Bedford, Mass., he returned to work in a mill in Gibsonville and participated in his second strike. After working on a farm for a while, he came to Gastonia and got a job in the Loray Mill. “I was there about months when the N.T.W.U. called the strike. Fred Beal and myself and others went to Elizabethton where the U.T.W . had sold out the strikers, to expose the fakers. We were all arrested but released. We came back to Gastonia and the next day the hirelings of the bosses made a raid on our headquarters. I was taken in with 71 others in the police dragnet.”


Clarence Miller war born in New York City in 1906. He early became acquainted with socialist literature and was a member of the Young People’s Socialist League. He has worked in an iron foundry, in a cigarette factory, ship yard, as a cement mixer, silk worker and plumber’s helper. Miller was active in the Paterson silk strike in 1924, was a youth organizer in the Passaic strike and of the United Front Committee of Textile Workers in Connecticut. He was president of the American Association of Plumbers Helpers, which he led in organizing and which had 4,000 members in New York City. He has been a member of the National Executive Committee of the Young Communist League for several years, and was in charge of the Philadelphia district of the League for a year. He has often been arrested for his activity in the labor movement, and during the Passaic strike was under $10,000 bail. He served a sentence in Occagran, Va. for participating in a demonstration demanding the release of John Porter. He came to Gastonia about the middle of May to organize the young workers.


Byers was born on a farm near Cliffside, Rutherford County, North Carolina, Nov. 23, 1909. His father was born on the same farm and worked it until Byers was 13 years old, when the family moved to Gaffney, S. C. Son and father both worked side by side for the Gaffney Manufacturing Co., where they averaged $16 per week. He worked in various textile mills and then found work with the Phoenix Utility Co. which was erecting a power line between Philadelphia and Wilkes Barre. After two years he returned to work in the Loray mill. He walked out when the strike was called in April and was one of the most active strike leaders. He was arrested after the first police raid on the Union headquarters and after his release did Union organization work in Lexington. He was arrested again while distributing leaflets in Elizabethton. Byers was arrested together with Beal in Spartansburg after the raid on the camp in Gastonia and charged with murder.


Delmar Hampton was born July 24, 1900, near Murphy, Cherokee County, North Carolina. He spent his childhood working on his father’s farm. He did not have an opportunity to learn how to read and write until he was 18 years old. At 13 years of age he went to work in a furniture factory at Murphy. Since then he has worked in shipyards and textile mills. He enlisted in the army for one year and was sent to Fitzmore General Hospital No. 21 at Denver, Colorado. After his discharge from the army in 1921 he returned to Gastonia and worked in the Loray Mill. He has been engaged in two previous strikes, a riveters strike in Savannah, Ga. and a shipyard strike at Hogg Island · “I joined the N.T.W.U, shortly after the strike was called and did everything I could to win the strike. Today I am in jail because of my activities, because of my loyalty to the Union.”


Hendryx, 29 years old, is the son of a poor farmer of Piney Creek, N. C. H e attended school for several years and “learned to read and write.” At nine years of age he was working in the Fries, Va. cotton mill as a doffer. Just before the strike was called he had been offered a better job in the Loray mill than the one he had in the Trenton mill. “When I learned that the strike call had been made I did not go to work and did my best to help win the strike of the Loray mill workers.” He was attacked once, before the night of June 7 by the two police brutes, Gilbert and Rankin, who tried to beat him up, but were frightened away by the appearance of several strikers. Several nights after the raid upon union headquarters he was arrested as an active union member and thrown into Gaston County jail, charged with murder.


Joseph Harrison was the striker who was wounded on the night of June 7th when Aderholt led his raiding parry in an attempt to destroy the headquarters of the union. He was born in 1905 in New York City. He had to go to work in Passaic at the age of fourteen in a bleachery earning $9.60 per week . When the Passaic strike broke out he was working in the United Piece Dyeworks in Lodi, N. J. During the course of the strike he was arrested several times for picketing. During the summer of 1927 he participated in the New Bedford strike. He went back to Passaic and worked in several mills during the winter and spring seasons. “I became interested in the struggle of the Southern textile workers under the leadership of the N.T.U. and finally decided to study the southern situation and get firsthand information. I arrived during the last week of May and was asked to remain in the south as an organizer and was preparing to leave Gastonia to go to another city to organize when the raid was made upon the tent colony. During the fight, I was wounded.”


W.M. McGinnis was one of the most active of the Loray mill strikers. He was born in the South and, although in his early twenties, he has worked in the mills for a number of years. He joined the National Textile Workers’ Union as soon as the strike was called in the Loray mill and played an active part on the picket lines and in organizational work. He was arrested and charged with murder after the raid on the camp on June 7.


The seven Gastonia strikers charged with “secret assault with deadly weapons with intent to kill,” are all native Southern workers who were employed in the Gastonia textile mills and walked out when the strike was called. They were among the most active of the strikers and are facing long prison terms for that reason. They are: Ernest Martin, Walter Loyd, Clarence Townsend, D. E. MacDonald, Robert Litoff, C. M. Lell, and J. R. Pittman. Their trial has been set for October 14, in Gastonia.

Labor Defender was published monthly from 1926 until 1937 by the International Labor Defense (ILD), a Workers Party of America, and later Communist Party-led, non-partisan defense organization founded by James Cannon and William Haywood while in Moscow, 1925 to support prisoners of the class war, victims of racism and imperialism, and the struggle against fascism. It included, poetry, letters from prisoners, and was heavily illustrated with photos, images, and cartoons. Labor Defender was the central organ of the Scottsboro and Sacco and Vanzetti defense campaigns. Editors included T. J. O’ Flaherty, Max Shactman, Karl Reeve, J. Louis Engdahl, William L. Patterson, Sasha Small, and Sender Garlin.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/labordefender/1929/v04n09-sep-1929-LD.pdf

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