The Society Times
July 2005
South Pittsburg, Tennessee
Volume I, Issue II
Governor Recommends Princess Theatre for "ARC" Grant!
For Immediate Release                                                                                      Contact: K. Dawn Rutledge Jones             
July 20, 2005                                                                                                     E-mail: [email protected]
                                                                                                                       Office: 615.532.1910

Governor Bredesen Recommends $353,743 ARC Grant
To Assist Marion County

NASHVILLE - Governor Phil Bredesen today announced the recommendation of a $353,743.89 Appalachian Regional Commission grant to assist Marion County with the renovation of the Princess Theater.

“I am pleased to make this recommendation to the ARC on behalf of Marion County to assist them with the renovation of the Princess Theater in South Pittsburg,” said Bredesen. “I look forward to hearing an affirmative response from the ARC in support of this project to promote economic and community development in Marion County.”

Funding for the $731,000 project will include $226,456.11 in local funds. In addition, $150,800 has been requested from USDA Rural Development. The grant was recommended following an application by Marion County Mayor Howell Moss and has the support of Senator Ward Crutchfield and Representative Bill Harmon. U.S. Senators Bill Frist, Lamar Alexander and U.S. Congressman Lincoln Davis also aided in securing the funds.

The Appalachian Regional Commission is a federal-state partnership that works with the people of Appalachia to create opportunities for self-sustaining economic development and improved quality of life. The Commission is a unique partnership composed of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a presidential appointee representing the federal government.

The Department of Economic and Community Development administers the ARC program in Tennessee. The program provides resources to help leverage community development and economic growth opportunities across the state to assist in job creation.

“ARC grants provide necessary funds for key projects in communities across the state,” said state ECD Commissioner Matthew Kisber. “It’s a beneficial and valuable program within our department that helps to spur economic and community development, particularly in rural communities like Marion County.”

“I look forward to the community receiving ARC’s grant to renovate the Princess Theater,” said Sen. Ward Crutchfield. “This is an important economic development landmark in the community that I’m happy to support.”

“This funding will be a critical component in the renovation efforts of the Princess Theater in Marion County,” said Rep. Bill Harmon. “I am looking forward to continuing to work at the local and state level to support this worthy project.”

Allocation of ARC funds is based on priorities set at local levels where community needs are best known. The recommended project will now be forwarded to Washington for review and approval.

SEPT. 11, 2005

MURFREESBORO—While the concept of “legacy” strikes a positive chord in our minds, what truly transcends time and period is often shaped by both the best and worst of humanity.

That’s what Middle Tennessee State University’s Dr. Barbara Haskew, professor of economics, and director of the Tennessee Center for Labor Management Relations, and Dr. Robert Jones, professor of history, discovered during their two-year study of a labor dispute that occurred in South Pittsburg, Tenn., in the pre-depression era 1920s, which ended in bloodshed. The now-completed study has been published in the Winter 2004 “Tennessee Historical Quarterly.”

“To our knowledge, this is the first time this labor dispute has been analyzed and published,” Haskew said. “Now it can become a formal part of the labor history of the southeast in this period.”

Because Haskew and Jones want to share their story in person and hear from area residents who may have stories of their own, they are traveling to South Pittsburg on Sunday, Sept. 11, to meet area residents at the South Pittsburg Senior Citizens Center (315 Elm Street). The event, billed as “The Shootout in South Pittsburg,” will begin at 2 p.m.” Everyone in Marion County, as well as surrounding counties, is welcomed.

It was a labor-management dispute in the southern stove industry that faced increasingly cut-throat competition. It was a time when workers were trying to organize to gain a voice in their workplace and to ensure a fair wage.  At the same time, labor organizations were falling out of favor across the country, with management preferring the open shop and claiming that union or closed shops were incompatible with the American way and the U.S. Constitution.

“The dispute was between the H. Wetter Stove Company in South Pittsburg and its unions—the Iron Molders, Metal Polishers, and the Stove Mounters,” Haskew explained. “The stove company employed 800 workers in a community of slightly more than 1,200 residents. As the company tried to rid itself of its unions, the dispute spilled over into the broader community. The small town chose up sides and became polarized.”

The conflict extended to law enforcement in South Pittsburg and Marion County, Haskew noted. One visiting reporter observed that, even though other industries and their
unions had moved away, there was still a strong and stubborn union spirit that remained in the area—and the Wetter dispute was a kind of last stand for unionism.

Haskew and Jones detail other behind-the-scene intrigues that fed the growing animosity. Bitter political rivalries emerged from local campaigns. There were political favoritism and nepotism and efforts to stack the deck on town councils toward one side or another. There was the hiring of special armed city police purportedly to protect property and preserve order and the recruiting of Wetter security guards. Then there were the strikebreakers, sympathetic to the company—and the organized workers, loyal to the union. The tension grew and finally erupted.

On Christmas Day in 1927, there was a shootout that some said involved as many as 20 men. In less than 10 minutes, when the shooting stopped, five men lay dead—the sheriff and his deputy, a city policeman and night marshal, and one of the special police hired by the Wetter Company. A sixth person, South Pittsburg’s police chief, died the next day. The “Christmas Massacre,” as it soon would be coined, claimed six lives.

“The shootout generated regional and brief national news coverage at the time, but after that, it disappeared from the radar screen,” Haskew pointed out. “Bob and I were surprised to find out that no one had fully researched and published an account and analysis of this dispute. We have hypothesized that the town intentionally shut the door on this matter because they were embarrassed about the image reported in the press.

“In undertaking this task,” she continued, “we not only pored through area resources but through documents in the archives of the U.S. Conciliation Service and journals of the unions that we found in the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society.”

Now that the article is published, Haskew and Jones want to collect family documents and oral histories from people who may have heard stories from family members or friends.

“Bob and I will prepare a program, but there will be plenty of time for questions,” Haskew said. “We will also show a few slides. We are anxious to hear what people in the region heard from their parents and grandparents about the labor dispute and shootout.”

The legacy of South Pittsburg in the 1920s of staunch loyalty and dogged determination is part of the historical texture of the South and an entire nation spurred by the power and promise of industrialization.

“In South Pittsburg, the commitment of stove workers to their unions extended over a quarter of a century,” Haskew and Jones state in their article. “These deep roots help to explain the impressive persistence and staying power of the workers. … Looking through this window into the southern stove industry and the town provides scholars with some sense of the passions and forces generated by industrialization and the labor movement in the small town South.”

Family members of those who died in the shootout still live in the area, Haskew noted. “Bob and I are particularly indebted to Billy and Ida Smith, who first told us about this labor dispute and shootout,” Haskew said. Billy Smith is the grandson of one of the lawmen killed in the shootout, she noted.

Haskew added that while visiting South Pittsburg on Sept. 11, she and Jones will be especially interested in people’s recollections, stories, letters, or diary entries, if they are willing to share those records.

For questions or more information contact the Society at [email protected].

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