Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Valinda Littlefield


In 1897, twenty African American women entered the Beaufort Knitting Mill in Beaufort, South Carolina. They were the vanguard of the hundreds of African Americans to labor in the Southern textile industry. Although textile work was almost exclusively the domain of white laborers, the history of African Americans textile workers represents the resiliency of the African American community as well as white supremacy. This dissertation covers the period, 1895-1929. These three and a half decades saw the legalization of Jim Crow laws; the development of racial uplift organizations; the growth of Southern industry; the rise of labor unions; Progressive Era social agendas; and the influence of communism. Newspaper articles, oral histories, census records, company newsletters, and writings of industrialists collected from archival sources and public records form the basis of this dissertation.

In a number of mills throughout the South, black women and men worked under difficult conditions. They stood for long hours, in unhealthy surroundings, including bad lighting, and polluted, lint-filled air. They labored six-days a week, twelve hours a day, to desegregate the industry. Yet, despite criticism, racial animus, and threats of violence, African Americans remained undaunted and engaged in the work of textile manufacturing to build opportunities for their race. They contested the definition of skilled labor on the local, regional, and national level. They also appropriated the language of industrialists to transform their experiences within the Jim Crow South.