Quest for Streetcar Unionism in the Carolina Piedmont, 1919-22

"The New South is still full of surprises. Who would have guessed that the humble streetcar had such tales to tell! Leatherwood’s account is nuanced, rigorously researched, and engagingly written. It is an important contribution to our understanding of economic development, Southern labor history, and the paradoxes peculiar to the New South."


Robert Weldon Whalen
Queens University of Charlotte
The North Carolina Historical Review, XCIV:4 (2017)

 Ever since the courtroom doors closed in 1919, the tragic Charlotte Streetcar Strike has haunted the collective memory of the Carolina Piedmont region.  During a season of labor unrest, it briefly made national headlines.  Streetcars in Charlotte and Winston-Salem were paralyzed, as were the trolley lines in Greenville, South Carolina.  Five men were killed and at least twelve others were wounded by gunfire during a demonstration against Southern Public Utilities, a major subsidiary of James B. Duke’s Southern Power.  For many who lived afterward in North Carolina’s “Queen City,” the strike and riot were events better left forgotten, while for later generations, the “Battle of the Barn” has become a curiosity.   

As the strike's centennial approaches, Jeffrey Leatherwood presents Quest for Streetcar Unionism in the Carolina Piedmont, the result of over ten years’ worth of primary research about the Charlotte Streetcar Strike, a story that rightfully belongs to a larger narrative about the AFL’s post-war campaign to organize transportation workers among the textile mill towns of North and South Carolina.  Prior to the 1919 Charlotte Strike, the national streetcar union had overcome fierce anti-labor sentiment, from South Carolina’s state capital of Columbia to the new Upcountry citadel of Spartanburg.  To streetcar union organizers, Charlotte's trolley lines represented the last link in the Piedmont chain.

 

This book includes many rare photographs from bygone days and sheds new light on what really happened at the "Battle of the Barn" on August 25, 1919. 

          

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