Claude Cannon, Lee Crawford, Ira Davis, E. M. “Bill” Knight, Maxie Peterson, C. R. Rucker and Thomas Yarborough all celebrated Labor Day for the last time on September 3, 1934 in the small town of Honea Path, South Carolina. Three days later six were dead and one was mortally wounded.
The general textile workers strike of 1934 strained relations between mill owners, management and workers throughout the eastern United States. The strike began in the south on September 1st and grew to become the largest general strike in U. S. history. In Honea Path, three days into the strike, hundreds of workers from the Chiquola Milll were picketing outside the mill when violence erupted. What happened to start the violence remains unclear. Whatever the flashpoint, when the guns fell silent six mill workers were dead (the seventh died days later) and dozens were wounded.
Fox Movietone News Story 23-157 documents the funeral held for the murdered textile workers on September 9th. George L. Googe, Southern Regional Director for the American Federation of Labor, spoke at the funeral as did John A. Peel of the United Textile Workers.
The scope of the funeral is itself a testament to the significance of this event. According to one source, over 10,000 people attended–a figure that is plausible based on what is visible in this film (note: the film’s audio was poorly recorded at the time).
The full story of the Chiquola Mill massacre remained unknown for most of the 20th Century. Frank Beacham (grandson of Honea Path’s mayor at the time) has written movingly about how in 1994 he came to learn the truth about the killings, killings which he acknowledges may well have been ordered by his grandfather.
Labor Day began as a celebration of the dignity of labor and while most Americans (including me) see the day foremost as the end of summer we ought to remember that the labor of men and women over the generations has help make this country great. Some, like Cannon, Crawford, Davis, Knight, Peterson, Rucker and Yarborough gave their lives to make our nation better.
– Greg Wilsbacher