After reading “Mountain Shame,” Jake Frankel's account of the labor unrest and possible union organization of The Marion Manufacturing Company on October 2, 1929, my interest was piqued about that fateful day [March 30 Xpress].
In my research into this event, I learned that there were elements of this tragedy that Mr. Frankel did not include. Yes, six factory workers were fatally shot down in cold blood that day. Yes, more than 25 other workers were wounded. After reading Cheap and Contented Labor, Sinclair Lewis' pamphlet about this historic event, I learned that all but two of the wounded or murdered were actually shot in the back. The sheriff and 11 deputies did all of the shooting even though state militia had been summoned to Marion two weeks prior to the killings.
The Sheriff testified in court that the workers had fired at the sheriff and his deputies first, but on closer inspection not one gun was found among the workers. One of the murdered workers was a man named Jonas, who was 68 years old and wracked with arthritis and rheumatism to the point of needing a cane to support himself [but] was still working at the mill, earning $13 per week. Mr. Jonas had fallen to his knees during the workers’ retreat from the gun firing and was shot in the back in that position. He died on an operating-room gurney with handcuffs on his wrists. All of the law enforcement officers were acquitted and the tragedy was buried.
I wish to thank Mr. Frankel for bringing this tragedy to the minds of many Western North Carolina natives. His article was well written, full of facts and very interesting, to say the least.
Mr. Lewis, who had been sent to Marion to record this tragedy for the unions, spent several days there and interviewed many people on both sides of the issue. His pamphlet, Cheap and Contented Labor, is available in the North Carolina reference section at Pack Memorial Library but cannot be checked out. However, the pamphlet is only 32 pages in length and can be copied for 25 cents per page and is worth a great deal more due to its unbelievable content.
— Michael Ayers