Textile week emphasizes mill heritage

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

To remember those who carded, spun and wove the fabric that once clothed our nation, the second annual Textile Heritage Week will be celebrated from Saturday through Oct. 12.
Over the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of textile jobs have been lost to low wage countries. Many who grew up in the South’s textile mill villages believe that a shortsighted, fatal error has been committed in making us dependent on foreign imports. “At the very least,” says Lynn Rumley, who directs the Textile Heritage Center in Cooleemee, “our ancestors and their hard work needs to be recognized for its contributions. There is so much we can learn from their way of life and their voices should appear in school children’s lessons.”
A rich legacy in need of preservation exists in the South’s small textile communities that grew up alongside the mills. A unique culture flourished on these mill hills where neighbors looked after one another, individual families worked hard to get ahead and mill owners made a profit but also gave a significant portion back to improve recreation and social life.
Begun in 2007, Textile Heritage Week is aimed at preserving the history of the South’s cotton mill people. The idea originated when more than 200 delegates met to advance textile heritage preservation in Kannapolis in 2005. It is promoted by the Southwide Textile Heritage Initiative, a network of people from more than 160 mill towns and villages in the Southeast.
Textile Heritage Week activities are designed and produced locally. This year’s theme is “Preserving Sacred Ground” ó encouraging mill hills to clean up and maintain their old cemeteries and graveyards.
Fifth graders in the Davie County former mill town of Cooleemee will participate in an Oct. 10 ceremony honoring their ancestors in the 100-year-old cemetery across the road from their school. Small clusters of students will hear from more than a dozen elder storytellers and enjoy songs from the past. They also will create a “Circle of Memory” in the graveyard’s section with unmarked graves, many of them children.
Cabarrus County, once home to textile giant Cannon Mills, has only one mill still operating ó Tuscarora Yarn at Mt. Pleasant. Its textile history will be honored with an exhibit and two programs at the city’s museum Oct. 7 and 8.
In Durham, residents of West Durham ó once a mill village and its business district ó will hold “West Fest” to commemorate Textile Heritage Week on the afternoon of Oct. 11.
In Shelby, the city’s Parks & Recreation Department has organized a Saturday event where former mill village residents and textile workers can share memories and photographs as well as celebrate the 60th anniversary of their city park, established in part by contributions from local textile manufacturers. A gathering will also take place in Huntersville on 9.
In North Carolina’s “textile cradle” of Alamance County on Oct. 11, a mill worker reunion and community events are planned in Saxapahaw, where the old spinning mill has been renovated. The week’s activities will begin Saturday in Glencoe, with an exhibit titled “Preserving Sacred Ground” at the Textile Heritage Museum. Outdoor events, art exhibits and history talks are also planned in Haw River, Graham and Burlington.
In Greenville, S.C., numerous events are planned, including special textile exhibits Saturday at the city’s new Upstate Museum. The events are being organized by the Greenville Textile Heritage Society, representing a dozen mill towns and villages. The public will also enjoy a concert by the Old-Time Textile Heritage Band. A “Spiritual Emphasis” service will be held Sunday at Emmanuel Baptist Church.
To tell the region’s textile saga to school children and the public, a 64-page publication is produced annually with stories from across the South. The latest issue of The Bobbin & Shuttle, with stories from Alabama, the Carolinas and Virginia, appeared shortly after Labor Day. It is available for $3 plus $3 s/h through the Textile Heritage Center, PO Box 667, Cooleemee, NC 27014. Bulk order rates are available for school classes, businesses and nonprofit groups.