Friday, June 24, 2016

Charlotte NC 6/23/2016

The weather in Charlotte, North Carolina is quite warm.  To beat the heat we headed out for an indoor activity and that was the Levine Museum of the New South.  We found this to be a very well put together museum.  We always find appreciation in museums that are well organized, concise, successful at gaining the interest of all ages and also create an interest for people to want to research more after they leave.  We felt that this museum hit that mark well.  The center piece exhibit is entitled 'Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers'.  This exhibit is a social historical journey through the economies that transformed this area from having the small farms following the Civil War, to developing America's main textile factory region, to now being the second largest American banking center.

The Civil War abolished slavery and also marked the break up of the large plantations into plots to be farmed by both white and black sharecroppers.  The large number of Cotton sharecroppers eventually drove the price of cotton from 25 cents a pound in 1860 down to 5 cents a pound in 1890.  The small sharecropper farmer became more and more in debt and unable to survive.  At the same time, the owners of the farmlands increased their economic power and began to invest in the building of textile factories.  The very people that gained their wealth off of the tenant farmers, lured these same farmers to their factories with promises of a new future and an escape from poverty. 

While most of the lives of these newly made factory workers improved from the desperate poverty they left, the owners of these factories were known to exploit these people once again.  And this new 'opportunity' was not available to the blacks.  While blacks were allowed to be sharecroppers they were not allowed to work in the Mill factories.

Over 90 % of the mill factory workers lived in mill villages that often consisted of 100 homes with the Loray factory planning 400 homes.  Each home was 3-4 rooms with a common area in the village to pump water and usually a church too. Mill owners intentionally built their mills with adjoining mill villages away from cities.  This enabled the mill owners to keep closer tabs on their workers and to exercise greater control over them than they might otherwise have.  If a mill worker disagreed with their manager they not only risked losing their job but risked losing their family home too.  Often the mill workers would only be paid in mill coins - coins that could only be used at the mill mercantile. The mill owner wanted their 'employees' to work hard and be well rested, and the owners would rap on a worker's door if they saw lights on after 9 PM.  Oh and the church was well funded too by the mill owner, and known to only preach factory owner friendly sermons.  Most in the family were required to work.  The men did factory manual stuff, the women did weaving and spinning and the children as young as 6 swept floors.  While the mill owners were in many ways exploiting the factory worker families, the mill community was tight knit and most felt that their lives had improved, or at least in the early years they felt this way.  

This prosperity waned, however, once mill managers began what was known as the 'stretch out system'.  This system required mill workers to produce more and get paid less and was the precursor to one of this area's largest labor union strikes, the Loray Mill Strike of 1929.  The strike began with 1800 workers walking off the job.  After a month, many of the workers could hold out no longer, but a few hundred workers continued to strike. Evicted from their mill homes, tent cities were erected nearby.  People were killed including the police chief.  And in the end, the union and its workers lost, with working conditions remaining basically the same.  The strike is a sad memory in this part of the country, so much so that even today only 11% of wage and salary workers in the state are union members. 

At this museum we also learned more history concerning some people with common names.  Stuart Crammer is credited with inventing air conditioning. However, his first efforts were not to make workers comfortable, but rather to optimize cotton mill production.  Cannon, as in Cannon towels built his first towel factory here in 1894.  T.A. Tompkins is credited with discovering something to do with all those cotton seeds, create cotton seed oil.  James B. Duke as in Duke energy began as the first company to mass produce cigarettes and eventually the first to realize that dams could be linked to Cotton Mills for energy. Belk, the nation's largest privately owned department store was begun by William Belk in 1888, just outside of Charlotte.  Today they operate 299 stores in 16 states but primarily concentrated in the Carolinas.

The last economy to emerge that was covered in this exhibit was the banking industry.  Charlotte was one of the first cities to allow branch banking.  Later, in the late 70's, North Carolina National bank tested a legal loop hole to cross state lines when they purchased some bank branches in Florida.  This move was upheld by the courts and is credited with being the founders of interstate banking. Today Charlotte is the second largest financial center in the United States.  

Finally, there was a visiting exhibit entitled 'NUEVOlution Latinos and the new South'.  Included in the exhibit was some of the works of Rosalia Torres-Weiner who is an art activist who is trying to make a difference in the lives of immigrant families. We both felt this exhibit did a good job of covering both the spoken and unspoken challenges of immigration for both legal and illegal Latinos as well as the resulting social issues of families being torn apart by partial family deportations, and children being deported that don't know any life or language other than that of the US.  The immigration issues we face are so much more complex than many realize and this exhibit touches on many of these complexities.  

Last we drove out to see Metal Metamorphosis.  Metal what you say?  It is a 22 foot high metal sculpture constructed of 14 tons of horizontal plates that move intermittently.  The artist is David Cemy, a Czech artist.  Below the picture is a link to a video of Metal Metamorphosis in action.

Cool Monument outside the Museum
Cool Monument outside the Museum
Cool Monument outside the Museum
What neat benches near the New South Museum
What neat benches near the New South Museum
Cannon' first bath terry cloth yet
Wow, like check out the length of that christening gown
Mill Villages Coins
Banking in North Carolina
Sort of a cool display with a full size Man (in white)
Metal Metamorphosis.
See it in motion at this link:

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