This Crusading Socialist Taught America’s Workers to Fight—in 1929
Fred Beal went down to North Carolina with a mission to defend the common man. He left with a murder conviction and a direct ticket to the USSR. Then his story got really weird.
Illustrations by Scott Balmer
The night of June 7, 1929 seemed destined for trouble in Gastonia, a textile hub some 20 miles west of Charlotte, North Carolina. For two months workers had been striking at the Loray Mill over low wages, long hours, perilous working conditions, and decrepit mill-owned housing. Although the mill management had refused to make any concessions, and most townspeople sensed that the strike was on its last legs, the die-hards were unwilling to give up the fight.
The strike’s leader, Fred Erwin Beal, arranged for the night shift to walk out one more time, hoping that the new action would breathe life into the movement. A 33-year-old organizer with the Communist Party-affiliated National Textile Workers Union (NTWU), he had arrived in North Carolina to establish Southern affiliates and lead laborers to challenge mill owners’ abuses. Although usually modest and reserved in private, he came to life in front of a crowd, and now he stood up in front of the remaining p…
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial