The General Textile Strike of 1934: Violence in Burlington

A pamphlet produced by the League for Southern Labor to raise funds to support the textile workers put on trial. Image from the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill.On September 14, 1934, workers arriving for the morning shift at the E. M. Holt Plaid Mill in Burlington were confronted by aggressive strikers who were determined to completely shut down the mill’s operations.

The National Guard soon arrived on scene and, using tear gas and bayonets, dispersed the crowd. Five strikers, including a woman, were injured.

That night, a bomb made of stolen dynamite exploded outside the Holt Mill. The blast caused roughly $100 in damages, mostly in broken windowpanes. A second, unexploded bomb was found by authorities the following day under a loom at the Stevens Manufacturing Company.

Authorities labeled the attack as a communist plot and rounded up and arrested 10 men. Though the violent tactics of the National Guard earlier that morning had galvanized the strikers, support dissolved in the wake of the attempted bombings and the mill reopened four days later.

Although the case against the alleged perpetrators was weak, four of the arrested accepted plea deals and testified against the other six. Author Paul Green led the League for Southern Labor in public support of the men, who were seen by many as scapegoats All six defendants were found guilty after a week-long trial.

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