Birmingham recall: 22,000 workers begin nationwide strike in 1934, deaths follow

Local News

A textile worker arranges business suits. (AP)

October 02 2021 06:00 pm

On this day in 1934, around 22,000 Alabama textile workers walked off the job across the state, sparking a nationwide strike against what the workers considered low pay, increased work duties, and unjust working conditions. In Alabama, walkouts occurred in Huntsville, Florence, Anniston, Gadsden, and Birmingham.

The strike was by no means limited to the Heart of Dixie. While it began in Alabama, workers in several states across both the North and South walked out, causing a crisis for mill owners. Enraged by the strike, owners successfully encouraged government officials to crack down on striking workers.

In South Carolina, for example, Gov. Ibra Charles Blackwood deputized “mayors, sheriffs, peace officers, and every good citizen” and “dispatched the National Guard with orders to shoot to kill any picketers who tried to enter the mills.” Days later, the Gov. John Ehringhaus did the same, followed by the governors of Maine, Georgia, and Connecticut. In Rhode Island, the governor declared martial law.

This crackdown led to violence and even deaths across the country. Two picketers were killed in Augusta, Georgia. Another picketer and a mill guard were killed in Trion, Georgia. In Honea Path, South Carolina, six workers were shot in the back as they fled the picket lines, and more than twenty others were injured.

The strike would end when President Roosevelt announced his support for the report of a mediation committee he had created at the beginning of the strike. The United Textile Workers Union proclaimed victory, but little was actually achieved at the time. Mill workers, for example, did not reinstate many of the workers who had participated in the strike.

Birmingham recall” is a series of ongoing articles documenting notable events in the city’s past. Check back each weekday to recall another event in Magic City history.

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