At four floors and 83,200 square feet, Chiquola Mill loomed large over Honea Path for a century. Incorporated in 1902, it opened in 1903 and operated until 2003. Pronounced shuh-cola, the textile mill likely took its name from a French derivative of the Indian word Chicora. It initially produced coarse sheeting before switching to print cloth.
Chiquola Mill is remembered today as the site of a tragic event known as Bloody Thursday or the Uprising of ’34. That is the year the United Textile Workers of America organized strikes at several plants along the East Coast. In Honea Path, 300 union members – both men and women – gathered to protest low wages and poor working conditions exacerbated by the Depression. The strikes were ordered on Labor Day, three days prior. However, some Southern mills, such as Chiquola Mill, did not get word in time and thus began their strikes later in the week.
Tensions were high as the crowd gathered the morning of September 6. The mill’s superintendent, Dan Beacham, who was also the town’s mayor and a judge, asked South Carolina Governor Ibra Blackwood to authorize the National Guard to send troops to Honea Path. Blackwood refused. Beacham then deputized 126 townsmen and anti-union millworkers; armed with rifles, pistols, and shotguns, they surrounded the protestors. Beacham also mounted a World War I machine gun to the factory’s roof.
When the newly-annoited deputies began to poke the protestors with pickets, a fight ensued and shots were fired into the crowd. Seven people – Claude Cannon, Lee Crawford, Ira Davis, E. M. “Bill” Knight, Maxie Peterson, C. R. Rucker, and Thomas Yarborough – were killed in the massacre, all but one shot in the back as he tried to escape. Cannon was shot five times before he collapsed on the sidewalk. Thirty more were wounded. (Note: Only six died at the mill itself. One died later of injuries.)
Eleven men were charged with murder, and all eleven were acquitted. Beacham later issued a public statement saying that he was not present during the massacre because he had returned home for breakfast. Decades later, research confirmed that he was indeed present and in fact had given the order to fire.
The accusation was made at the time as well, and the front-page article in the Greenville News the day after the event includes the subtitle “Mayor Gives Order.” During trial, two eye-witnesses also testified that they had seen Beacham shooting at protesters. Beacham arrested them both on charges of perjury.
A funeral for the victims was held in a nearby field as none of Honea Path’s churches, each of which was owned by the mill, would allow a service. The funeral, which was documented in a Foxtone Movie News Story, was attended by as many as ten thousand people. At the time, the strikes constituted the largest labor revolt in American history. Soon after, President Franklin Roosevelt enacted both the 40-hour work week and minimum wage.
Following the event, mill workers involved in the strike either moved away or returned to work. Those who returned to work were forced to denounce the union, and a gag order was issued to prevent discussion of the revolt. The effects of this gag order are felt even today, and the community has begun to publicly revisit the tragedy only in recent years.
A memorial to those killed in the massacre, seen above, was erected in neighboring Dogwood Park in 1995. Dan Beacham’s grandson, journalist Frank Beacham, who grew up in Honea Path but now lives in New York, worked to document the events of that day first in his book Whitewash: A Southern Journey Through Music, Mayhem and Murder and later in an e-book called Mill Town Murder. He helped work for the monument and attended its dedication (1).
More Pictures of Chiquola Mill
Reflections on Chiquola Mill
Contributor Shelley G. Robinson writes, “The mill was the lifeblood of Honea Path for nearly 100 years. Until the late 1960s, it was virtually the only place to work in town.”
Chiquola Mill: Our Sources
Whitewash: A Southern Journey Through Music, Mayhem and Murder, Frank Beacham, Booklocker.com, Inc. & Beacham Story Studio, Inc., 2007.