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Fabric Poetry: The Textile Mills and The Blues: A Poem

Author:

Tim Truzy is a poet, short-story author, and he is currently working on several novels.

Cone White Oak Mill, which has made denim for blue jeans for 110 years, is slated to close in December 2017.

Cone White Oak Mill, which has made denim for blue jeans for 110 years, is slated to close in December 2017.

Brief History of Textile Mills in North Carolina and the U.S.

The first textile mill was built in North Carolina decades before the American Civil War in the western part of the state. In fact, the textile industry began to relocate from New England to North Carolina between the 1880’s and 1940’s. Cotton mills produced substantial amounts of goods and employed thousands of workers, making the Old North State second only to Massachusetts in importance in the industry. At the height of the industry’s presence in the state, there were over three hundred mills in operation. However, unforeseen changes drove the industry in a different direction by the end of the 20th-century.

Several factors combined over time to gradually reduce the number of mills in the state. Starting in the 1930’s, child labor problems were addressed by the federal government for all mills. Unionization put pressure on the textile industry in the state. Steep competition from overseas caused many of the companies to close by the 21st century. Indeed, in certain specialty areas, a few North Carolina mills still lead the globe, but the legacy of “mill towns” remain.

As a resident of the state, I have had many opportunities to visit and learn about the history and economic impact of these businesses. I wrote this poem with the mill worker of those days in mind. This poem is a snapshot of what such employees may have felt then and now. I also included symbolism of the mills in literature along with three books which tell the stories of the textile mills. Enjoy: The Blues Ain’t Always Blue.”

Three Books About the Textile Mills

Here are three titles which provide great stories about the life of individuals who worked in mills. But there are many other books concerning this topic. You may wish to examine historical books as well as fictional texts. There is also poetry about the mills. In particularly, blue grass tunes have been written about the textile industry. Performing research can reveal the book, poem, or song you enjoy:


  • Beatty, Patricia. (2008). Turn Homeward, Hannalee. Paw Prints.
  • Denenberg, B. (2003). So far from home: The diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish mill girl. New York: Scholastic.
  • Winthrop, E. (2006). Counting on Grace. New York: Yearling.

Poll

Cone Revolution Mill was the second cotton mill built in Greensboro NC. It was built in the early 1890s and closed in the 1990s.

Cone Revolution Mill was the second cotton mill built in Greensboro NC. It was built in the early 1890s and closed in the 1990s.

The Blues Ain't Always Blue

The blues ain’t always blue,

Sometimes they are white and brown,

Bread taken from fields,

Baking shantytowns


The blues ain’t always blue,

Grieving with evergreen,

Window close to the roof

Holes worn on faded jeans.

Part of a North Carolina mill village. These larger homes would have been rented to supervisors in the mill.

Part of a North Carolina mill village. These larger homes would have been rented to supervisors in the mill.

No, the blues ain’t always blue,

Blackjack don stitched face,

Rivers red pouring,

Erosion weaving my place.


Looms spin the blues,

Around across the border,

Bluest sky fading fast,

Azure tears eyes’ my daughters.


The former Glencoe Mills, located in Alamance County, NC

The former Glencoe Mills, located in Alamance County, NC

Blue ocean to Asia,

Linen foam washed dreams,

Tattered cotton textile,

Silent mills scream.


Indigo dogs swimming,

India reaches rebound,

Massachusetts to Carolina,

Spreading the gospel mill towns.

Formerly booming mill towns are now ghost towns.

Formerly booming mill towns are now ghost towns.

Poverty no words hum,

Wealth waltz opera choruses,

No, the blues ain’t always blue,

Toxins dyed our voices.

Ten Symbolic Meanings of Textile Mills in Literature

Textile mills can represent a variety of attitudes and situations in literature. This is because these engines of industrial prosperity played important roles in the development of many societies. However, in the U.S., mills often were the subject of strikes and inescapable sickness. Workers certainly had difficult duties. Below I’ve provided examples of what the appearance of a mill in literary works may represent. Of course, authors may vary in what the textile mill may symbolize in their creations:

  1. Starvation and desperation
  2. Decay and tedious existence
  3. Innovation and creativity
  4. Conflict and strife
  5. Disease and sickness
  6. Upward or downward social mobility
  7. Growing or diminishing economic stability
  8. Emotional turmoil
  9. Commitment and dedication
  10. Loneliness and torment

Comments

Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on December 11, 2019:

A song which captures the life of the mill worker actually has the name: "Mill Worker." Written by James Taylor, a N.C. native and also Mass., the song was part of the Stephen Schwartz Broadway musical Working. I've listened to several versions of the tune performed by artists such as Pearl Jam, Bette Midler, and Emylou Harris. The tune really brings the emotion and struggle to life. Thanks.

Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on July 14, 2018:

There are undoubtedly many mills which have come and gone in both eastern and western parts of the state, taking the stories of the people who lived in them along as they vanished. One mill in Rocky Mount, N.C. has built office spaces, condominiums, and other areas in the place once occupied by the mill to encourage economic growth. This has become a common trend across N.C., in Raleigh, Greensboro, and other locations which had mills.

Mills don't completely disappear, they still help the towns they once weaved cotton in for the foreseeable future.

Sincerely,

Tim

Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on October 24, 2017:

Today, I have a little more time - less demands. I wrote this poem after reading about an event in India recently. Apparently, dogs were swimming in a river and turned blue from dyes related to the textile industry. I also was thinking about how textiles helped to shape my state and others when I composed this poem. It is a work of love and labor.

Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on October 22, 2017:

Abwilliams, my wife's grandmother worked for Revolution mill and White Oak Mill. We both had relatives at one time working in those places. You are right - no glamor there.

I'm trying to catch up with reading your writing, my friend, I feel a bit behind on that - but you and I agree on so much as Christians and southerners. I'm looking forward to catching up.

If more Americans could realize how much we share, the country would be greater than ever before.

Donald is one very important man, but hearing from you - reading your articles - and sharing similar beliefs about our country - That's what our nation is about and meant to be.

Thank you so much.

A B Williams from Central Florida on October 22, 2017:

My Grandparents worked in Textile mills when they were young, before child labor laws were enforced. They went back to work in them, as adults. They also worked cotton fields and any place else that was hiring, they weren't picky!

Those that worked in the mills lived close by in what many refer to as the Mill Hill. Many of these places still remain in many small towns throughout the Carolinas and house those that work in the remaining Mills. Several family members found employment in the Mills.

These people that do these jobs definitely weren't born into a life of privilege, no silver spoons in their mouths. They'll never be wealthy, but they believe in hard work, family, Serving the Lord and serving others. They are rich!

Well done Tim!