The number of textile mills in Georgia increased dramatically during the late nineteenth century. Atlanta Constitution editor Henry Grady fervently called for a Cotton Mill Campaign to rebuild the region after the Civil War and “bring the cotton mills to the cotton fields.” In his vision of the “New South,” railroad lines would link cotton mills to markets in the South and the North.
Northern mill owners and southern entrepreneurs, attracted by lower taxes, cheaper labor, and the absence of a labor union, embraced this vision to establish industry in the South. By 1880, Georgia boasted the largest number of spindles and looms among all southern states. The new mills were larger, multi-story brick buildings increasingly operated by steam-power and full of efficient new machinery that produced yarn, cloth, and other textile products. Many Georgia cotton mills built company towns to maximize their profits and manage their employees. Workers rented homes from the company, the size based on the number of family members working at the mill; bought food and supplies at inflated prices from the company store; attended the mill church; and sent their children to the mill school. By 1900, 92 percent of mill workers in the South lived in company-owned mill villages. Textile mills employed primarily white workers, both adults and children, in the factories. Men obtained higher-paying jobs as supervisors and mechanics, while women and children operated the machines.
In the segregated South, African Americans faced fewer opportunities and lower pay: black men worked “on the yard,” in the cotton house, or in janitorial work, while their wives and daughters could only find employment as domestics in the homes of white families in the mill village.