The Old, Old Story
By Jim Huskins
“Lord, don’t let my son grow up to be a sweaty cotton mill man.”
This poignant petition was written by Joe Langston and recorded in 1964 by Jim and Jesse. I was seventeen when I first heard Cotton Mill Man. The song grabbed me by the throat and would not let go. My father was not a cotton mill man, but we lived in a cotton mill town. I was a sucker for Langston’s lyrics because I lived in Marion, North Carolina.
“I was born in the shadow of a cotton mill smoke stack down in Alabama’s bottom land. Where my grand pappy broke his back, pulling on a cotton sack, raising my pa to be a cotton mill man. I’ve got lots of memories of government commodities, when all our meat came in a can. While the bossman on the hill, bought his steak and ate his fill. Called upon to clean his grill, a cotton mill man.”
The first stanza of Langston’s brilliant critique of the Southern textile industry cuts deeply. I knew that everything he wrote was genuine because I grew up among his field studies. I was appalled by conditions in the mills and their villages. Little did I know that Southern textile culture in 1960 was dramatically better than the circumstances of only a generation earlier. I may have had a better perspective on that improvement if someone had seen fit to tell me about the Marion Massacre.
My hometown catapulted to national infamy in the wake of a deadly confrontation during the early morning of October 2, 1929. The local sheriff and a team of “deputies” faced down a group of workers who walked out of Marion Manufacturing as part of a wildcat strike. The officers eventually fired into the crowd. Six men died. At least several dozen more were injured. The local hospital refused to treat the injured. Local churches refused to help bury the dead. The day after the shooting, most of the mill workers reported for work. Either they had no idea what else to do, or they were terrified of being the next one in the crosshairs.
The most deadly confrontation in Southern textile labor relations prompted Sinclair Lewis to spend that summer in Marion. Woody Guthrie composed a song called Marion Massacre. Americans everywhere heard about it, but by the time I started school less than thirty years later, the Marion Massacre had become a dark and shameful secret. I did not know about the killings until my mid-forties. Only recently have I learned some of the sordid details.
I am a life-long advocate of free enterprise capitalism. I regret that we have cast it aside. Even more important to me, however, is another cornerstone of the American System: equal justice under the law. Nothing about the conditions experienced by the employees of Marion Manufacturing in 1929 was just. Apparently, the bossman on the hill, Reginald Baldwin, held his employees in lower regard than he did the machinery they operated. I understand why Baldwin and his cronies were happy to sweep this event under the rug, but I am astounded that everyone else did the same. For decades, no one discussed the tragedy.
I am of the generation who became socially aware during the 1960s. If someone had told me about the causes and results of that deadly melee, I may have had a better understanding of the social and political dynamics which followed JFK’s assassination. Our hometown massacre was rooted in corporate greed, oppression of the powerless, corrupt government, biased law enforcement, unbalanced courts, medical and ecclesiastical malpractice, and even communist intervention. I may have been better equipped to confront such demonic forces during my transition from adolescence to manhood if my education had included exposure to the most local of history. The massacre was never discussed.
I have recalled that tragedy many times over the six years since I became convinced that the entire Bible is both true and relevant. In a conspiracy of silence unimaginably larger and more destructive than the coverup of the Marion Massacre, everyone who nurtured me in Christian faith and practice conveyed misinformation about who Jesus is, what He came to accomplish, and why. I was taught that Unchangeable God changed His mind sometime between the books of Malachi and Matthew. They told me that the Nation of Israel has been replaced by something called the “gentile church.” They said God had reneged on promises made to Israel since the days of Abraham. They insisted that Jesus died, not to deliver His children from sin and guide them in paths of righteousness, but so that we might sin at will and without consequence. I was taught that Paul the Apostle—in direct contradiction of both the Father and the Son—somehow revoked God’s instructions for living which He conveyed through Moses.
I suspect that some of my teachers noticed the glaring failure of these doctrines to conform with clear, Biblical teaching. I wish that those who noticed the inconsistencies had found the grace to share their concerns. I may have been inspired to lay aside the manmade doctrines long enough to discover what the Bible says.
Salvation cannot be earned. It comes only by grace through faith. Most believers refuse to admit, however, that the Bible also teaches that saving faith does not exist outside of those whose lives are characterized by righteous obedience. Faith is incomplete unless it leads to righteousness. See the second chapter of James and 1 John 2:3-4.
The death of six mill workers in 1929 is an unspeakable tragedy, but that event offers profound lessons about human nature. The Bible is long and deep and challenging, but it is the Living Word of God. Most believers are unaware and apparently unconcerned that the Word contradicts most of what they have been taught. Perhaps it would be better to learn the truth now rather than to someday hear Jesus say “I never knew you!”
Jim & Beverly Huskins are members of Obedient Heart Fellowship in McDowell County. Beginning July 2, 2022 Obedient Heart Fellowship will meet at 10:00 Each Sabbath (Seventh Day) in space graciously shared by New Covenant Church in Christ. 2460 US 221 Business N. In Marion, NC. Call for info. 828-460-7913. You can read more good Christian news from Jim HERE.