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THE SAXON BAPTIST CHURCH
SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA
REV. BLACKWELL AND "OLD MAN LAW"email@example.com
It was during the late summer of 1945 that I preached my first sermon at the Saxon Baptist Church. The minister of the church, where Elien and the girls went, was doing the preaching for a revival at Saxon. On Saturday night he had a wedding and asked me to pinch-hit for him at Saxon. The minister of the Saxon Church picked me up and I gave the sermon I had prepared for the chapel service the next morning. The one thing the soldiers liked about my sermons was their brevity. I have a hunch that was what made my first sermon at Saxon, seemingly, a big hit. The minister was elated by it. Mr. Blackwell was beyond retirement age and wanted to retire. On the way home he wanted to know if I would be interested in the Saxon Church. I told him that I had no idea when I would get out of the army. Then I told him that I was sure I would no longer fit into the expected mold of a Baptist minister. I shared with him some of my non-Baptist notions. "That makes two of us," he said. He seemed to have no trouble with my theological position.
"In fact," he said, "I have been working thirteen years here just to lay a foundation for a guy like you. When you get out of the army will be no problem. I'll just stay until you get out. I want you and Mrs. Isom to meet with the pulpit committee and listen to their story of the church. I believe the opportunity the church has to offer will be of interest to you."
Keep in mind this is the first time I had met this man, yet he seemed anxious to place in my trust what he had worked thirteen years to build. Here is another stranger offering me what he believed, at least, is a good opportunity, knowing next to nothing about me. I wonder if he was aware that his blind trust in me was a greater challenge to me than the job would be. Someone has said, "Everyone is entitled to the right to be trusted." I wonder, however, if anyone is entitled to that much blind trust. Such trust is a great responsibility.
At this point I was almost an ignoramus about life in an industrial community. I knew next to nothing about the struggle between management and labor. The only labor leader I had ever heard of was John L. Lewis. What I knew about him was little more than the newspapers reported about him, which were usually slanted against him.
On Tuesday evening, after the Saturday I had preached at Saxon, the pulpit committee came to visit with Elien and me. Here is the substance of the story they told us that evening, as I remember it.
The Saxon Mill was owned by "Old Man Law." At least he owned the majority of the stock. I never heard him called by any other name. Mr. Law lived in the largest house in the village, hardly more than a block from the church. The church was within a block of the mill office. Saxon Mill owned all the houses in the village. At a bulk rate the mill bought electricity and gas for the whole village from the power company and resold it to each household or user. Neither the Baptist nor the Methodist churches ever received a bill for electricity, gas, or insurance. At one point, while I was minister, the church asked the mill to bill us for such items. The request was ignored.
Well over ninety-five percent of the members of the Saxon Baptist Church did not work at the Saxon Mill when we went there in 1946. The percentage was about the same when we left in 1951. At any point we could have lost all the village people without serious financial loss or otherwise.
For more than fifteen years there had been a running battle between members of the church and the dictatorial policy of "Old Man Law." Over the years most of the members who had lived in the village and worked at the mill had been fired, laid off or quit. Most of those people found work and a place to live nearby, and remained active members of the Saxon Baptist Church. More than ninety-five percent of the members of the church were such characters or their neighbors, friends and relatives. They were not a multitude, but they were a loyal bunch. A lot of this make-up of the membership was made during the thirteen years Blackwell was minister of the church. Mr. Blackwell owned his own home in another part of town and had an independent source of income, other than what he was paid by the church.
The committee offered us a salary of $3,500 a year, plus a beautiful all most new parsonage with three bedrooms, bath and a half, living room, dining room and kitchen, a large screened in porch, and a furnace room, coal bin and car garage in the basement. The parsonage sat on a plot of land of little more than two acres, across the street from the campus of Spartanburg Junior College.
The story of the parsonage is a revealing one about the situation and the people of the church and its long time minister. After being the minister of the church for a few years, Blackwell realized if the minister to follow him should have no home of his own, he would have to live in one of the houses in the village, which the mill would be glad to provide rent and utility free. Knowing that such living arrangement for the minister would directly and indirectly limit the minister's freedom, he pointed this fact out to the church. In time it was decided that it would be wise for the church to build its own parsonage.
"Old Man Law," hearing the rumor that the Saxon Baptist Church was planning to build a parsonage, offered the church any house in the village for a parsonage, or he would have one built for the church on any vacant lot in the village. That offer should give you some idea about how far the management of the cotton mills would go to get and hold some authority over every organization in the community and every individual who worked with the people in the organization. That offer was no doubt a great temptation to the congregation. Nevertheless they resisted and built the parsonage that I have briefly described.
In brief, that is the story the pulpit committee told us at that first meeting. In the end Elien and I found the offer attractive and a challenging one. We accepted their offer and three or four months later, when I was discharged from the army, we began our work at Saxon on the first Sunday of January 1946.
There were four or five cotton mills in Spartanburg and as many more in less than a ten mile radius from the city. Organized labor was the greatest fear of owners and managers of the cotton mills. Up until World War II a cotton mill village was a small dictatorship of its own. The mill owned everything in the village. Many of them had their own money that was good only at the company store. If you wanted real money, the company store would give you ninety cents for a dollar of company money. The barber, schoolteacher or minister in the village could be fired by the manager of the mill about as easily as a spinner in the mill.
The son of Mr. Blackwell studied under Liston Pope at Yale University at the time Pope was making a study of the ministers of churches in mill villages of the south. According to the report of that study, the Saxon Baptist Church was the only cotton mill church they found in the south whose minister could not be fired by the mill officials about as easily as they could fire a second hand. The story of that study was published in a book by the title "The Preacher and the Mill Hand."
One sure way for a worker to lose his job in a mill was to let a rumor get started that he believed in organized labor. The Powell Knitting Mill, a small hosiery mill about two blocks from the parsonage of the Saxon Baptist Church, was the only mill in the area that had a union.
Over a period of many months I picked up bits and pieces of the Saxon Church story the pulpit committee did not tell us at that first meeting. The hassle between the church and mill management had its origin back in the nineteen-twenties, when the company started what the workers called the "stretchout" system. As it was explained to me the company would speed up the machines a little. As soon as the workers became adjusted to working at that speed, the machines would be speeded up again. This process went on to the breaking point. The Saxon Baptist Church was, at the time, publishing a small monthly paper, hardly more than a newsletter. In each issue there began to appear statements like this: "It looks like the workers will have to organize to protect themselves." Such two or three line comments were enough to make the managers at the mill turn gray over night. Immediately steps were taken to find out and silence the guilty party. Such dangerous communist propaganda could not be tolerated in the village.
"JUD" BROOKS - THE GUILTY PARTY
The guilty party turned out to be "Jud" Brooks. Mr. Brooks was a World War One veteran, and was a loom fixer at the mill. He was also a pillar in the Saxon Baptist Church. He had an untarnished reputation. He was widely known for his good deeds and held the respect of all who knew him. He was a bachelor. The story I relate here is not one I got from Mr. Brooks. However true it may be he was too modest a man to have told it. I heard the story a number of times and I assume it is true.
"Old Man Law" gave the superintendent of the mill orders to fire Mr. Brooks. The superintendent passed the order down to the next man in line and he passed it on down the pecking order until it got to the second hand under whom Brooks worked. The second hand sent word back up the chain of command that if "Old Man Law" wants "Jud" fired he would have to do it himself. Be that story true or not, Mr. Brooks was never fired.
If I remember the story correctly Mr. Brooks quit the mill sometime in the early 1940s. He borrowed fifteen dollars to buy an old hand press and began publishing a worker's paper. His younger brother, sister and husband and he bought a house in Una, a community just across the railroad tracks from Saxon. Mr. Brooks knew nothing about the publishing business, and had no skills in the printing trade. His brother soon acquired those skills and they were in business. Mr. Brooks never owned a car. He did most of his traveling by foot. He would walk around town picking up business for calling cards, posters, handbills and anything else that could be done on a hand press. Very soon they were publishing a small weekly labor paper. The first ad he got for his paper was from the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. He was proud of the fact that the Cola ad appeared in every issue of his paper.
By the time I arrived in 1946 he had a Linotype machine, a power press and was in the process of installing a paper folder. At that time they were publishing a six to eight page paper along with their other printing jobs. He employed two or three other people.
The circulation of his paper was relatively small. However, it went to everybody in the state that the politicians thought had some influence with working people. For that reason he made a lot of money on political ads. Except for local news Brooks depended on the publications of the C.I.O and A.F.L. papers for his labor news. His little editorials were widely read.
Mr. Brooks knew all the agencies - national, state or local - that could help the poor. He knew many people had some paid up insurance on policies they had dropped. He knew how they could claim such funds. Brooks was a private social service agency for many people in Spartanburg.
By 1946 the anti-labor people in the community gave up trying to squeeze Brooks out of business. He had the respect and trust of enough of the business community to be economically independent. This was not only important to Brooks and his family. It was important for the independence of the Saxon Baptist Church as well. It was the quiet and independent leadership of Mr. Brooks, over a number of years, that contributed, more than any other thing, to making the church what it was when we arrived in 1946. Brooks was about sixty years old then.
There were other people in the church who played important roles in making and keeping the church what it was. One of them was Mr. Clarence Guthrie. He was, in many ways, the right hand of Mr. Brooks. They worked well together and made each other's efforts more effective. Mr. Guthrie worked for the Post Office. He was a large, not fat, man with a sharp mind, who knew his way around in the war between labor and management. He was not a great public speaker, but he knew how to express his ideas and arguments, as well as that of others, with pen and ink. When there was an important letter to be written, or a position paper to be compiled, it was Guthrie that we turned to. If such papers were not official papers of the church, it was usually Mr. Brooks who signed them.
Guthrie was a quiet man, no rabble-rouser. At the same time he was no push over either. Like Brooks, he did not go off half-cocked. Being sure of his facts and the justice of the cause he had the grit of a bulldog. He had learned, through personal experience, that you could lose battles and still win the war. For some years he carried on a personal battle with officials of the Post Office over the status of his job. For political reasons, mingled with a personal grudge, the manager of the Post Office, without the consent of Mr. Guthrie, had Guthrie transferred to a small town some miles from Spartanburg. It took three or more years of letter writing to people in the chain of command all the way up to Washington, as well as enlisting the help of senators and congressmen from South Carolina, before that transfer was made null and void and Guthrie returned to the Spartanburg office.
Such was the quality of the people and leadership I had to work with in Saxon. From them I learned what the hard facts of industrial life were during the first half of the 20th century, especially in a cotton mill village. Through the experiences I shared with them I learned what the facts were in a cotton mill village during the first five years after World War II.
THE MILL'S NEW OWNERS
Between the time I accepted the invitation to become the minister of the Saxon church and the time I began work there, "Old Man Law" sold the mill. Within a week after we moved into the parsonage the new owners had one of their preacher friends to call on me to tell me what fine people they were. The minister was from a nearby cotton mill village. He was some years older than I, soft spoken and friendly. He had been a minister in a cotton mill village all his adult life. He appeared to believe all the things he told me. He knew the new owners of the Saxon mill, and informed me that they were aware of the longstanding dispute between the Saxon mill and the Saxon Baptist Church. They wanted him to tell me that they were of better breed. They were only interested in providing jobs and in making a good quality of cloth; that they had no interest in trying to run the churches or any other organization in the village. They would be glad to support the churches in whatever way they could, without trying to dictate their activities. The kind minister reassured me that the new owners were generous people and could and would be a great help to the church and me.
I thanked the minister for coming and for what seemed to be the good news he brought with him. I confessed that I could think of no reason why the church or I would not get along with such people. That conversation took place early in January of 1946.
THE TEMPER OF MY MIND
I should try to describe the temper of my mind when I went to Saxon. During the war it had been my theme song that those of us who did not get killed during the war should be prepared to take some risk, if need be, to help build a more decent human society after the war - a society that would be an honor to those who died to make it possible for the living to build. Such was not only what I preached. I personally felt it was my duty to the war dead to show some bravery in trying to create a human society on this earth that would be worthy to justify, in part at least, the full sacrifice made by those to win the war.
I suppose my years at Saxon were the most daring years of my life, even though at the time I felt they were more cowardly than brave. There were three issues about which I had to be frank and honest, at least as much as I had the guts to be. I refused to ignore them or keep silent about them. They were the plight of the lowest paid working people, the sin of race prejudice and its terrible crimes, and the nuclear arms race, motivated by the Cold War.
To get oneself branded as a communist, during those years, one need not be a rabble-rouser about such issues. One could earn such a title by speaking ever so softly for a decent wage for cotton mill workers, or for civil rights for Black people, or for a sane nuclear policy.
One of the more discouraging experiences of my life had to do with a public forum conducted by a group of nuclear scientists. Such a group was touring the country, trying to share what they knew about the atom bombs that they had helped to make. The largest auditorium in the city had been rented for the meeting. I thought the local newspaper and radio stations had been generous enough in advertising the meeting and I assumed it was announced in all the churches the day before the meeting. I went with the expectation that by the time the meeting began there would not even be standing room left.
When the moderator began the meeting the auditorium was three-fourths empty. Keep in mind the speakers were scientists who had helped to make the bombs we dropped in Japan. Yet only a handful of people showed up to hear what they had to say. This lack of interest and concern over the one issue that everyone should be influenced by facts, rather than feeling, shocked me. In fact, it frightened me. It seemed futile to me to hope for a sane nuclear policy if most of the people were going to choose to remain ignorant of the basic facts essential for such a policy. In ignorance we supported an atomic arms race, motivated by the emotional issues of the Cold War.
YOUNG DEMOCRATS' CLUB
During the war years, for lack of members, the Young Democrats' Club died. There was a mid-term election in 1946. Politically minded people in the community decided to revive the club. A time and place for the meeting were announced for that purpose. I picked up two college students who were members of the church and took them to that meeting. There must have been more people showed up for the meeting than was expected by those who called the meeting. When all of us got into the relatively small room, in which we met, we were crammed in like sardines in a can.
I went to the meeting with no intention of saying anything. I had no interest in getting involved in the politics of the organization. My main objective was to get the young men with me interested in civic affairs. I was, age wise, almost too old to qualify as a member.
The meeting was called to order and a temporary chairman was elected to conduct the meeting. The Young Democrats' Club in Columbia had recently reorganized and a member of that group had a copy of their constitution. It was suggested that it be read for the purpose of seeing if we could modify it to suit our purpose. The reading began. I was having no trouble with what I was hearing read until he began reading the qualifications for membership. "Any white citizen twenty years old, but not older than thirty-eight, may be a member of the club."
I don't remember what was in the rest of the constitution. My attention stopped at the word "white" as a qualification for membership. I knew then I could not let that pass in silence. As the reading continued I became more tense. There was no time to consult with the young men with me. I didn't want to say anything. I was a stranger, a newcomer to the community.
After the reading of the constitution there were a few minor changes suggested and made; no significant changes were considered. Then there came the time when there was silence after the moderator asked if there were any other suggestions. I must have waited to the last second before someone would have asked for the question. My heart was pounding like a sledgehammer when I stood and very meekly said, "In the qualifications for membership I move that the word 'white' be omitted."
Yes, you could have heard a pin drop in the crowded room. Silence reigned until one of the fellows with me, Roger Guthrie, stood and said, "I second the motion". There was some whispering and mumbling, but no significant discussion of the motion. When the question was put to a vote there were four votes in favor of the motion. One other person voted with the three of us from Saxon.
In the course of a little over two years the young people of the Saxon Baptist Church, with the help of a few other individuals, took over he Young Democrats Club of Spartanburg and voted to omit the word "white" as a qualification for membership. We took over the club, not because there were more of us, but by default of the majority. Most of the other members just stopped coming to the meetings. They did not have the will or courage to agree with our position on qualification for membership. At the same time they could not find the gall (or evil) in their hearts to openly oppose our position. Our victory, I confess, was a bittersweet one. We won, but in doing so we killed the Young Democrats' Club as a citywide organization. Nevertheless it was a tiny victory in the right direction, a victory a little ahead of the "Dixiecratic" times.
" A DAMN COMMUNIST"
During the summer and fall of 1946 the daily paper of Spartanburg was running a pro article and a con article on a given subject in the Sunday issue. Late in the summer the editor called me. After informing me that he wanted to run a pro and a con article on the 65 cent minimum wage bill being debated in congress, he asked me if I would write one of the articles. I told him I would write for the bill but not against it. He promised to call me back. An hour or so later he called back to tell me he had found a person to write the con article. He did not tell me the person's name. He turned out to be the head of the law firm that handled most of the legal business for most of the mill companies in the area. That is who I was told he was. The pro and con articles were given a two-page headline, pro article on one page and the con article on the other.
I don't have the article before me, but I remember how I began. I said that I would be happier to write in favor of the minimum wage bill if it was calling for a minimum wage of a dollar an hour, rather than just 65 cents. Then I went on to give my four or five arguments for the bill. That article did more than any other one thing, in the minds of a large section of the business community, to brand me as a communist agitator. It set in motion a series of events, the last of which occurred during Christmas week, some three months after the article was published.
Shortly after the article appeared in the paper the treasurer of Saxon Mill contacted the minister of the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, complaining that the minister of the Saxon Baptist Church was a damn communist and wanted to know what the Baptists were going to do about getting rid of him. Shortly thereafter the minister of the First Church ran into Mr. Blackwell in a barbershop and made the mistake of telling Blackwell what the treasurer of the mill had said about me. Remember, Blackwell was the old minister I followed at Saxon. Blackwell wasted no time in telling us what he had heard.
The Saxon Church made no public fuss about this. In fact, it was never publicly discussed in the church and the church never took any official action on the matter, even though ninety-nine percent of them, perhaps, knew the essential facts and knew what was being done.
If I remember correctly it was at an informal meeting of the Board of Deacons that the subject was discussed and a decision was made as to what we would do. The first thing was to address a letter to the treasurer of the Saxon Mill. The letter would quote what we had been told he had said about the minister of the church, clearly informing him our source of information. That was to be followed by a short paragraph to remind the treasurer that he was a Methodist and had never heard me preach; and that the members of the church resented him going around making false and slanderous remarks about their minister. Mr. Brooks and Mr. Guthrie were asked to compose the letter and it was agreed that it would be best if only Brooks signed the letter. It was further decided to wait for a response to the letter before doing anything else.
In due course Mr. Brooks received a hot letter from the former minister of the First Church of Spartanburg, who had moved to Memphis. At an informal meeting of the
Board of Deacons the letter was read and discussed. It was decided that Brooks and Guthrie would compose an answer. The letter was to remind the minister that he did not deny telling Mr. Blackwell what we quoted him as saying. In the letter to Brooks the minister accused Brooks of trying to hurt the treasurer of the mill and complained that Brooks had violated the principle of the Golden Rule. The letter that Brooks and Guthrie composed asked the minister what principle the treasurer of the mill violated in falsely accusing the minister of the Saxon Church of being a "damn communist?" Also the letter reminded the minister that if the principle of the Golden Rule had been practiced in the first place by the treasurer of the mill none of these letters would have been necessary.
A copy of this second letter was sent to all persons receiving a copy of the first letter. The only difference this time was that the letter went to the minister in Memphis and a copy was sent to the treasurer of the mill as well. We never received a response to this letter from anyone. By the time our second letter had been received and digested it was Christmas.
On Friday before Christmas, when I went home for lunch, Elien informed me someone at the mill office had called and wanted me to stop by. On my way home that afternoon I stopped but the mill office was already closed. Saturday noon I stopped again but I found the office closed. The next morning I told Brooks I had been invited to stop at the mill office. Without the slightest hesitation he said, "They want to give you something."
Due to all that happened over the past three months it was hard for me to believe that was the reason for the invitation, and I said as much to Mr. Brooks. No, he was sure, they wanted to give me and the church a Christmas present. "If that be the case," I said," I don't think I should accept it."
At an informal meeting of the Board of Trustees the invitation for the minister to come to the mill office was discussed. All present agreed with Brooks that I had been invited to come by to pick up a gift. It was decided that it would, perhaps, be best if I accepted the gifts. If I refused they would make a big to-do about it. Besides, it was allowed that they should have to pay something for their "sins."
With some misgivings I went along with their advice. Monday morning I stopped at the mill office, introduced myself to the woman behind the desk. No man was in sight. I told her I had been asked to come by. She reached in the desk and pulled out two envelopes, saying as she handed them to me, "The company wants you to have these." I took the envelopes, thanked her and left. In one there was a $500.00 check for the church. In the other was a $50.00 check for me. The treasurer of the mill who had called me a "damn communist" had signed the checks.
I must say, we never again heard of the treasurer of the mill saying anything good or bad about me. The "good" new owners of the mill never offered any apology to me or to the church for the false and slanderous thing he had said about me. I assumed that is what they were trying to say, or wanted us to believe they were saying, through the checks. However, future events would prove that belief na´ve.
THE SILENT PICKET LINE
It was the next summer, I think, that the officials of Saxon Mill knowingly accused the Saxon Church of being party to sponsoring a labor rally on the property of the mill without their consent. Remember, the Saxon Baptist parsonage was not in the Saxon village. In a wooded area back of the parsonage grounds a small picnic area had been created. The labor union of Powell Knitting Mill always had its annual picnic in that picnic area. If I remember correctly the picnic was to be in the shank of a Saturday afternoon. The union president had sent or called in a public announcement to the local newspaper, giving the time and place of the picnic, describing the place as the picnic area adjacent to the parsonage of the Saxon Baptist Church. When the announcement appeared in the Thursday paper the word parsonage had been left out.
When the paper was delivered to the office of Saxon Mill and the announcement was read, the manager of Saxon Mill called the manager of Powell Mill, wanting to know why his workers had announced a meeting on their property without his knowledge or consent. The manager of Powell Mill called the president of the labor union to find out what the score was. He read her the announcement which read, "adjacent to the Saxon Baptist Church." She explained where the picnic was to be, pointing out that the paper failed to include an important word in the announcement she had sent in, the word "parsonage." The president of Powell Mill got the impression that the people at Saxon were satisfied with their explanation. The president of the union then called me to tell me all what had happened. So, I assumed that little misunderstanding had been settled and thought no more of it.
The Saxon Baptist Church sat among a cluster of beautiful oak trees. On the east side of the church there were some vacant lots, on which there were some trees. In the middle of these vacant lots there was a cement bandstand. In years past the area must have been a small park, used for a variety of outdoor activities. At the time of which I write the area was covered with undergrowth, weeds and blackberry vines that almost hid the bandstand. On Friday morning before the Saturday labor picnic to be held adjacent to the parsonage, I went to the church to get some work done. There was a work crew cleaning up the vacant lots east of the church and tearing down the old bandstand. Thinking this would be a good time to get the church grounds spruced up, I asked one of he workers who was the foreman of the crew. He looked around but did not see him. I asked the worker to tell him to clean up the church grounds and send the church the bill. I went on in the church. Not once did it cross my mind that the cleaning up of he grounds had anything to do with the hassle the day before about the misunderstanding about the union picnic. When I left the church late in the afternoon the bandstand was gone, all the undergrowth had been cut and hauled away and the leaves and trash had been raked off the ground right up to the line of the church grounds beyond which not even a leaf had been touched. Again I did not associate all this cleaning up and the failure to clean the church grounds with the hassle the day before about the labor picnic. Whatever reasons may have run through my mind that was not one of them.
When I arrived at the church Sunday morning a member standing near the line of the church grounds motioned for me to come over. On arriving he pointed to some signs tacked to the trees all around the church grounds. On the signs was written "No Trespassing."
Then the Saxon Mill officials spread the rumor that the labor union of Powell Mill, with the cooperation of the Saxon Baptist Church, had planned a labor rally in the Saxon village and they had prevented the union from doing so. The officials of the Saxon Mill spread the rumor around and put the "No Trespassing" signs around the church, knowing from the beginning that the labor union of Powell Mill had never planned or intended to have a picnic or rally on the grounds of Saxon Mill or the grounds of the Saxon Baptist Church. It is still hard for me to believe that people responsible for operating a sizable industry would stoop to such petty and dishonest methods of trying to harm a small church that they could not control - a small church that asked for no more than to be left alone.
The church took no official or unofficial action on the matter. Someone did give the signs tacked to the trees a name "The silent picket line of Saxon Mill against the Saxon Baptist Church". That name caught on fast and spread rapidly through the community. No doubt the officials of the mill soon learned what their "No Trespassing" signs were being called. The church made no effort to get the signs removed. No protest was made. All we did was to call the signs what they were, a silent picket line, on the part of the mill, against the church. After a few weeks the mill silently, under the cover of night, removed the signs. Their silent picket line had backfired, became a constant and visible embarrassment to them, rather than to the church.
Even though I saw them with my eyes and heard them with my ears, and was often the object of their evil intent, it is still hard to believe what officials of cotton mills, during the nineteen-forties, were driven to do by their fear of labor unions. Those having no firsthand knowledge and experience in such things must find what I have related here hard to believe. To the inexperienced it would be useless to tell of the indirect and subtler things they would do. Actually, many of them are very hard for those experiencing them to believe.
"MAN WITH A HOE"
One Sunday afternoon I was hauled more than fifty miles, by a labor leader, so there would be a minister to say the blessing over the picnic table of a labor rally. That will give you some kind of idea of how few ministers there were who felt free enough to give any kind of moral support to organized labor. For better or worse I was the only minister in the area, to my knowledge, who could or would identify himself with organized labor. For that reason I was often called upon to play some minor role in their activities.
I prepared myself a conclusion for my labor talks that I always used the first time I talked to a group. It consisted of quoting by memory Edwin Markham's poem, "The Man With the Hoe", with a copy of the panting, that inspired the poem, hanging on the front of the podium.
I expressed my desire for a copy of the painting to a friend who lived across town. I wanted one not less than two feet square. My friend knew "Old Man Law's" sister, who was a painter. He told her I wanted such a painting and what I was going to do with it. She volunteered to paint a copy of the painting and give it to me. My friend attached to the painting, a nice roller made of walnut wood, with a small walnut slat at the top, with small hooks on it.
The first time I used the poem and painting was at a rally of Bell Telephone workers, who were out on strike. They had been out for some time and were having a hard time of it. Some of the workers were beginning to show signs of giving up and going back to work. A big rally was planned for the purpose of encouraging the workers to stay out until they won the fight. was asked to speak at that rally. I concluded my talk by quoting Markham's poem, "The Man With the Hoe", with the painting by the same title hanging on the front of the podium. I doubt if my speech had little, if anything, to do with the outcome of the strike. The workers did stay out until they won a contract.
STATE CONVENTION ELECTION
The Democratic Party of South Carolina, as in every other state in which I have lived, was run and controlled, most of the time, by a small handful of old timers, who faithfully went to their precincts, elected themselves delegates to the county convention where they elected each other to the state convention. In the election year of 1948 the old timers managed to keep control of the county convention but they did not have a very easy time of it.
After the war the C.I.O. launched a massive drive to organize the workers in the south, especially the cotton mill workers. The state headquarters of the C.I.O. organizing drive was in Spartanburg. By 1948 the labor organizers had contacted a lot of workers and knew all the workers who were their friends in all the precincts in the county. They quietly encouraged all the pro labor workers to go to their precincts and elect themselves as delegates to the county convention. As it turned out the pro labor people outnumbered the old timers in many of the precincts, and elected themselves as delegates rather than the old timers.
My precinct met at Powell Mill where there was a union. We had no trouble in controlling our precinct. I was elected as one of the delegates.
It was well known that for years the county convention had been, by gentleman's agreement, conducted in a very informal way. It was agreed that everything would be done by voice vote. Such procedures as checking the delegate's credentials, and properly seating the delegates so they could be counted, and sending all visitors and non-delegates to the balcony, were dispensed with by voice vote. The chairman of the county convention, who was greatly responsible for such informal ways of doing business, had been re-elected year after year. One of the things the new renegade delegates wanted to do was to elect a new county chairman.
A well-known man of the county, who was somewhat liberal, had agreed to run against the old chairman. The convention was being held in one of the theaters in town and the theater people had been promised that the convention would be over long before show time in the afternoon. The C.I.O. people knew the rules of parliamentary procedure. They had taught a number of the workers those rules. When the meeting was called to order, after electing a temporary chairman it was suggested that by voice vote we agree to dispense with checking the credentials of the delegates and seating them by precincts. The pro labor delegates seriously objected, forcing the chairman to set up procedures to check credentials and properly seat the delegates. All non-delegates were not only asked to take seats in the balcony, the chairman was not allowed to continue until all such people actually went to the balcony.
There was a lot of debate about these housekeeping matters and most of the morning was gone before we could begin the process of electing a county chairman. Shortly before that time arrived the state director of the C.I.O. organizers, Mr. Daniel, informed me that the man who had agreed to run against the old chairman had become faint hearted and backed out of the race. He wanted to know if I would allow my name to be placed in nomination. I pointed out, as he well knew, that I would be a very poor choice. I could only hope to get the labor vote and the votes of a few friends.
I agreed to allow myself to be nominated only if no one else would run. Well, I ended up being the goat. Daniel, in nominating me, made a stirring speech on my behalf, but a bit long winded. Some one else had been primed to second the nomination with a speech. The new delegates insisted that the voting be done by roll call, precinct by precinct. All of this took a lot of time. It was a foregone conclusion that I would lose. Yet, if my memory is not deceiving me, I got more than a third of the votes. I had a loud and enthusiastic group of supporters. Judging by the noise they made I should have won the election.
By the time the permanent chairman was ready to take charge it was already nearly show time. Time was hanging heavily over his head. There were still a number of business items to be disposed of as well as delegates elected to the state convention. Yes, it was long after show time before the convention finally adjourned. What good we did was perhaps, very little. At least the news reporters seemed to enjoy reporting what went on at the convention.
1948 was the year of the Dixiecrats in South Carolina. The Dixiecrats simply took over the State Democratic Party, sending delegates to the National Democratic
Convention, as well as to the Dixiecrats' Convention, where Strom Thurmond, the Governor of South Carolina, was nominated as the Dixiecrats' candidate for president.
Labor and the liberal elements supported Thurmond when he ran for governor of South Carolina. I remember his first few public speeches, after he became governor, as being very liberal statements of what he hoped to accomplish as governor. Then, all of a sudden, he flip-flopped, becoming very conservative, anti labor and anti Black. He has, in my judgment, been going backward ever since.
In 1948 each party was responsible for printing and distributing its ballots to the voting places. The Dixiecrats, in taking over the State Democratic Party, left the democrats without any organized or unorganized group to be responsible for getting the democratic ballot printed and properly distributed. An ad hoc committee called a state meeting of all who were interested in the matter of a ballot for the democrats. At that meeting a working committee was elected to take care of the ballots and to promote the candidates of the Democratic Party in whatever ways they could. I played a small part in that effort. On a long shot hope that Truman could beat Thurmond I voted for Truman. In fact, in the county where Spartanburg is located, Truman did get more votes than Thurmond. However I was a Wallace man. I even sent him a little campaign money. As far as I could see Wallace was the only candidate talking sense in 1948.
I have no way of knowing what, if any, difference it would have made if an anti Cold War candidate had been elected president of these United States in 1948. It might have, hopefully for the better, drastically changed the course of history during the last forty years. By November of 1948, however, we had already been so brainwashed and frightened by anti communistic propaganda that it would have been impossible to have elected a president who had a positive position and program for peace and plenty for all. No doubt Stalin's government brainwashed the people of Russia and frightened them with anti American propaganda. But it was then, and still is, hard for me to believe the anti American forces in Russia did a better job of brainwashing than the Anti Russian forces did in these United States.
There were well-organized and financed committees in both houses, looking behind every bush expecting to find a communist. It seemed to me that the vast majority of the candidates were exploiting their own brands of anti communism for every vote they thought they could wring and twist out of it.
Joe McCarthy was about to stumble upon the national scene and hold center stage for three or more years, with his bags of lies, by which he reduced to silence many who had something sensible to say, if they were in positions to be heard. Many of those who dared to fight back with the truth were crucified politically, financially, and emotionally. As I saw it then, and still do, had the people not been so brainwashed and frightened by anti communistic propaganda Joe McCarthy would have been thrown out of the senate, tried and sent to prison for his blatant use of lies to slander. In fact, without the opportunity to exploit the cultivated fear of communism he would never have been elected to any public office.
As shameful as the McCarthy episode was, it was insignificant when compared to the arms race, the appetite of which continues to grow by what it feeds on; the Vietnam War and our use of arms and covert actions in South America and around the world: these are the huge tragedies of the Cold War that are motivated and made possible by the blind fear of anything that's called communism. I have often said and still say that communism is not our greatest enemy but our blind and thoughtless fear of it is.
I was also involved, a little, in the Black politics of South Carolina in 1948. The Blacks organized their own Democratic Party, held a state convention and elected delegates to the National Democratic Convention. I was invited to attend the convention. I went. The convention was in Columbia, South Carolina. I went with four black men in a car. Of course they could not use the rest rooms where we stopped to get gas. Neither did I use them. Going and coming we stopped to relieve ourselves in the woods. Experiences like that can make you ashamed of being white.
The night I got home from the convention the editor, or a news reporter, from the Spartanburg Herald called to tell me he had heard a rumor that the Blacks were going to appoint me as one of their delegates to the National Democratic Convention. He wanted to know if it were true and expressed the fear, be it true or false, that it might hurt me if it was published. I told him he was reporting news to me; that I knew of no such rumor and no one had asked me to consider being a delegate. I further stated that I did not know if I would be able to go were I offered that opportunity. "However", I said, "I don't see how the reporting of such a rumor, be it true or false, should hurt me." As far as I know the rumor was never published.
I think I am correct in reporting that the Black Convention did send delegates to the National Democratic Convention. The Black delegates had gone to the convention pledged to support and to work for the election of the nominee of the convention. They claimed the right to be seated because the white delegates were Dixiecrats and had no intention of supporting the nominee of the convention: all of which was one hundred percent true. Yet, if memory serves me correctly, the white delegates were seated, who later got up and walked out, went home and nominated Thurmond and worked for his election.
A NEW MAGAZINE
During the fall of 1946, three of us "upstart" Baptist ministers and three laymen met in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to explore the possibility of launching a new magazine. Kelley Barnette, minister of the Baptist church at Chapel Hill was one of the other ministers. I don't remember the other minister's name. Clarence Guthrie was the layman from Spartanburg. After two days and nights of discussions we decided to try publishing a magazine that would blaze new trails in thought and action. The name we gave the magazine reflected our ambition "Christian Frontiers". We wanted to find and publish articles that would reflect the thinking and spirit of the more liberal elements among Southern Baptists. It was to be a monthly magazine and Kelly Barnette was elected as its editor. About the time we launched the magazine the president of Southern Baptists Convention made a trip to Russia. In his reports of the trip he reported what he saw, heard and experienced. He told how he preached to overflow crowds wherever he went without any interference from any one. He said that he found nothing during his rip to suggest that the people of Russia were not free to worship when and where they might choose.
One of the more articulate of the rabid anti-communists, at the time, wrote a blistering criticism of the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, saying, in effect, that the president's report of his trip was like unto the three monkeys who were determined to see, hear or think no evil. The article consisted of the same old blind anti-communistic propaganda. The editor of our new magazine published this asinine and totally unfair article.
I contacted the editor, wanting to know why he let such a jackass use our magazine to promote his absurd point of view. It turned out that he had asked the president of the Southern Baptists Convention to send him an article to refute his critic. What the president sent the editor was copyrighted material that he could not use. After some discussion of the wisdom of the magazine publishing such an article under any condition, the question was raised what to do about it now that it had been published. The editor then asked me if I would write an article giving my own views about Russia. Over three or more years I had read a number of books about Russia that were written by people, in and out of the government, who had been in positions to allow me to assume they knew something about the subject. I agreed to write the article. The article, I believe, was printed in the January issue of 1947. It would surprise me to learn that we ever had two hundred subscribers. Also the magazine died at the tender age of three years, give or take a month or so.
Ten or eleven years later I was minister of the Unitarian Church in Wichita, Kansas. At that time Kansas was beyond the boundary of the Southern Baptist Convention. There was a hot bed of Birchers in Wichita at that time. One day the Congregational minister up the street called to ask if I had written an article about Russia that was published in the January 1947 issue of the "Christian Frontiers". I confessed I had written such an article. He went on to inform me that he had just received a photocopy of the article along with a copy of the front cover of the magazine. He expressed the fear that some of the things in the article, used out of context, might hurt me. I told him I had lost my copy of that issue of the magazine years ago, by loaning it to someone who forgot to return it, that I could not remember everything in the article but I could not recall anything that I thought might be used to hurt me. I informed the minister that the article reflected what I believed to have been true about Russia according to the light of my knowledge and ignorance a dozen years ago; that the footnotes printed with the article indicated the sources of my information by which I justified my beliefs. I heard nothing else about the good or bad effects on my reputation by the use the Birchers were making of the article.
One thing about the resurrection of that article in Wichita did disturb me. How did the Birchers come by the article? The chances that someone in Wichita was a subscriber to that magazine back in 1948 seemed to me no better than a billion to one. At that time there was not a single Southern Baptist church in all of Kansas. Assuming such a subscriber was possible, the chances would have been two billion to one that he kept the article and twelve years later still remembered where it was and that my article was in it.
I finally concluded that there had to be, in or out of government, an organization keeping a ready made file of everything published, however insignificant the author and publication. That such a file existed in the library of congress seemed possible, but that everything was so well indexed that a group like the Birchers could readily find, in such an unknown magazine, an article written by such an unknown person as I surprised, as well as frightened me. Such a file would give any kind of "Big Brother" government the means to find evidence to justify persecuting anyone who did not toe the line.
Greenville, South Carolina is about twenty miles from Spartanburg. The Jewish community of Greenville invited Pierre van Passen, author of "Days of Our Years" and a number of other books, to give a lecture on Palestine. The communists of the city found Passen's name listed in their literature as having belonged to some communist organization. Such a fuss was made of a communist speaking in a city building that the city fathers got cold feet and withdrew their permission for the use of the city auditorium. The Jewish community found a school auditorium they could use.
A carload of us from the Saxon Baptist Church drove down to hear the lecture. The speaker was introduced and his subject announced without one word about all the fuss the anti communists made about the speaker. Passen walked to the speakers stand and gave his prepared lecture. His response to all the accusations was absolute silence that said more and better than a thousand words could have. I never forgot that.
I regret to have to report that I became a bit of a disappointment to Mr. Blackwell, who persuaded me to take his place at Saxon. All my anti labor and anti Black critics called me a communist along with other names. After one shower of such name calling, about something I said, wrote or did, Mr. Blackwell invited me to come by to see him. I don't think Mr. Blackwell disagreed with what I was trying to say and do, certainly not as much as my lack of effort to defend myself. But I will let him speak for himself, as best I can remember in his own words. His kindly critical advice was summed up in two remarks.
He said, "Regardless of how many times you are called a communist you never deny it. Also, you are critical of and are trying to do something about some of the evils in our society. But, you never say anything bad about Russia."
Everything else he said was only commentary about those two statements. If you had known Mr. Blackwell the fact he felt he had to offer me such critical advice would clearly suggest to you how heavily laden the atmosphere must have been with anti communist sentiment. I was never sure just how he took my response to his advice. My response can also be summarized by two brief statements. After expressing my sincere appreciation for his concern and advice, which I tried to assure him I would not dismiss lightly I said, "You are right, I never say I am not a communist. I just don't have time to go around trying to explain to every Tom, Dick and Harry that I'm not a communist. Those who call me a communist would not believe me if I denied being one on a stack of bibles as high as my head. I really believe it is a waste of time trying to defend yourself that way. As for never saying anything bad about Russia, I believe that is partly due to a bit of advice my father gave me years ago. He said, 'Son, always clean your own front yard before you try to clean the back yard of somebody else'".
It was about this time when Look Magazine published the report of the F.B.I. on the number of known communists in the United States. The F.B.I. report consisted of a map of the United States, spread out over two pages of Look Magazine with a big number in each state, indicating the number of communists in the state. Even I was surprised that the number in South Carolina was only 9. With all the name calling and expressed fear of the communists it was a it hard for me to believe there were only nine known communists in the state, according to the F.B.I. which was itself a very anti communist agency of the government.
My barber talked the communistic line and seemed to agree with the Russians' methods of achieving it. One day he admitted to me that he was not a card carrying communist. He said he knew of only one such communist in Spartanburg, who was a janitor in one of the down town office buildings. Knowingly, I never met or talked to a member of the Communist Party. The secretary of the Communist Party of North Carolina once wrote me a note expressing his reaction to the article I wrote about Russia that was published in "Christian Frontiers". He expressed a desire to stop by to see me if he ever made is way to Spartanburg. I answered his note and assured him he was welcome to come by. He never came. Even though I have been called a communist many times I'm still waiting to meet my first bonified communist, but I have known a number of people who were called communists because they were supporters of civil rights for Blacks and equal justice for those who do the essential work in our country.
One of the more tragic results of the decades of anti communistic propaganda in this country is that the word communism has become synonymous with evil. By associating something with communism you brand it as evil in the minds of many people. In South Carolina, during the forties and fifties, every decent thing anybody tried to say and do in favor of better wages and working conditions for working people and for civil rights for Blacks was considered to be communist or stooges of the communists.
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