LaGrange strikers detained by the National Guard. Photo Courtesy of the Troup County Archives

The Great Depression affected the textile industry of Georgia. As the demand for cloth decreased, some textile mills closed while others went on shortened work days and weeks. Families with several workers in the mill were told that only one member could continue to work, even though he or she had to do the work of two people. Mill owners simply could not pay the needed employees and still make a profit for the business. Often, entire families were fired and forced to leave the mill village. Those that remained on the payroll were hopeful when the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, a part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, required mill owners to follow new rules related to workday hours and employee wages and benefits. Textile mill employees saw the codes and regulations as a way to be treated fairly, and the right to form unions for their benefit.

Many mill owners ignored the codes and were angered at the idea of unionization because they would lose control over the workers, their mills, and their profits. Code violations continued throughout the south, and textile workers workers grew increasingly tired of laws being broken at their expense. On September 1, 1934, The General Textile Strike of 1934, also known as the Uprising of ’34, began. 170,000 southern workers and 44,000 Georgia workers joined in the strike. Textile workers walked off their jobs at the mills and joined caravans of cars that traveled to nearby manufacturing facilities encouraging everyone to join the strike.  Mill owners hired armed guards to protect their properties while picketers angrily marched in front of them demanding fair treatment and pay. Violence broke between the guards and picketers in Cedartown, Columbus, Macon, Augusta, Trion, and Porterdale textile plants. As the news of violence against the workers spread across the south, Georgia workers joined the United Textile Workers (UTW) union for protection.

Concerned that the ensuing violence and unrest would cost him the upcoming election, Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge declared martial law. Although he promised during his campaign that no force would be used against the strikers, as soon as he had secured a second term as governor he sent in the Armed National Guard to put down the unrest. Strikers were bullied, beaten, and arrested, and some strikers lost their lives when the Guard used force. One worker at Callaway Mills in LaGrange was beaten to death in front of fellow strikers by National Guard officers when he did not vacate mill property quickly enough. Female strikers who worked in Sargent and the East Newnan Cotton Mills in Coweta County (just south of Carroll County), were the first to be arrested and taken to holding cells on a military base in Atlanta until the strike ended.

Dwindling resources and the fear of arrest – or even death – caused the the strike to end after only three weeks. The government assured the strikers that textile mills in the south would be investigated for unfair treatment and violations of law. Textile workers returned to work but were afraid their employers would seek retribution. Many of the strikers were fired from their jobs, evicted from the mill villages, and placed on a “blacklist” that circulated among textile mills in the area. The strikers who were allowed to return to work turned their backs on labor unions because they were afraid they too would be fired and blacklisted. Their work continued under the same conditions as before the strike. Labor unions never gained a foothold in Carroll County, although certain mills in communities like Rome, Griffin, and Columbus were slowly unionized during the 1940s.