As a very new reporter for the Wall Street Journal, before I started medical school, I was sent to North Carolina to report on efforts to unionize the workers in large textile mills. My visit took place well before the story of textile worker Crystal Lee Sutton made it into headlines; her part in the union’s work was dramatized in the movie Norma Rae. No one could have predicted then that those huge mills would disappear, losing their market to overseas competitors. Here’s my report, which was published on November 13, 1974, as well as an epilogue about the subsequent fates of the then-dominant American textile corporations.
Textile Unions’ Fight To Organize in South Is a Tough One to Win
KANNAPOLIS, N.C., —One evening last March, a deputy sheriff in this small, unincorporated town spotted Mrs. Robert Freeman, 50, at the side of the road, clad in her pajamas and clutching a beer can. As the official story has it, Mrs. Freeman was drunk and was duly arrested; she was convicted of public intoxication.
Talk to her husband, though, and you’ll hear a different account. Mr. Freeman, an organizer for the AFL-CIO Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA), says his wife merely stepped outside their home, spied a beer can on the lawn and picked it up to dispose of it, whereupon the deputy hauled her off to jail. Mr. Freeman says she was refused permission to take a breath-analysis test.
“There’s no difference between Kannapolis and Moscow,” he declares in disgust. “In fact, there’s probably more democracy in Moscow.”