Date of Award
While labor unrest itself is no stranger to American history, the strikes across the Piedmont textile industry in 1934 present a curious case. Throughout the conflict, a sizeable portion of the workers remained loyal to their companies and those who protested returned to the factories within a short period, often to the same management and conditions. Historians Daniel Singal and Trent Watts – in attempting to explain the workers’ willingness to return to work – have offered that the textile industry deliberately recreated the South’s traditional master-slave labor relationship. They suggest that mill management’s paternalistic efforts and persistent attempts to maintain a racially and economically homogeneous white workforce bound the workers’ families to the factories for life. There is a large body of evidence to support this position, however, historians have overlooked a crucial element in their analyses – the game of baseball. Each company, in the spirit of welfare capitalism, sponsored an employee baseball team. My research builds on the scholarship of Thomas Perry and G.C. Waldrep, which documents South Carolina’s mill teams, and examines the importance of these ball clubs to Piedmont mill communities during the tense years preceding the textile strikes. In this project, I assess the impact of welfare capitalism, class consciousness, and Southern politics on mill employees and argue that their beloved baseball teams fostered a sense of togetherness which they could not find elsewhere.
Perch, Aaron, "More than a Game: Baseball and Southern Textile Communities 1880-1935" (2018). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. 424.