H.003. Piedmont Industrialization: Bynum, N.C.
- Creator: Southern Oral History Program
- Collection: Southern Oral History Program Interviews
The Bynum, N.C., interviews focus on a company-owned cotton mill town in Chatham County, N.C. Bynum had its beginnings as the site of a grist mill located on the Bynum family property. In 1872, Luther and Carney Bynum and neighbors George Thompson and E. W. Atwater established a cotton spinning mill, the Bynum Manufacturing Company. In addition, they created a mill village to house the workers, which included a church, a parsonage, and a company store. In 1886, John Milton Odell of Concord, N.C., acquired majority shares in the Bynum Manufacturing Company, which was dissolved when it became part of the J. M. Odell Manufacturing Company. The Bynums continued to serve as mill superintendents until 1902 when William Lord London of Pittsboro became secretary of the mill. London came from a distinguished North Carolina family. His grandfather had been secretary to Governor William Tryon. After the Revolution, London settled in Wilmington. His son, Henry Adolphus London, moved to Pittsboro before 1838, established a mercantile business, and served as secretary-treasurer of the Cape Fear and Deep River Navigation Company. Henry London's sons were also active entrepreneurs. Henry Armand London edited the Chatham Record for 40 years and was president of the state senate in 1901 and 1903. With his brother, William Lord London, he founded the first bank of Pittsboro. After returning from the Civil War, William Lord London took over his father's mercantile business. In addition to his banking venture, London served on the board of directors of the Pittsboro Railroad Company and the Elizabeth Hosiery Company. He also arranged for the construction of the Pittsboro court house. In his capacity as secretary of the mill, William Lord London appointed Edgar Moore superintendent in 1904. Except for a break from 1922 to 1927, Moore was superintendent until 1955. By the time William Lord London died in 1916, the Londons had acquired a controlling share in the company. 1916 was also the year that a fire destroyed the mill. Upon reopening the plant in 1917, the company expanded production by adding a second shift and built new houses to accommodate a larger work force. Arthur London succeeded his father as superintendent and, in 1955, became chairman of the board of the J. M. Odell Manufacturing Company. He was succeeded by his son, W. L. London, and, in 1964, by John London. 1955 also was the year that Frank Durham succeeded Edgar Moore as mill superintendent. As early as the 1950s and 1960s, many long-time workers had begun to leave the mill. More workers left in the 1970s after the mill began to manufacture a synthetic blend and hired the Tuscarora Company of Mount Pleasant, N.C., to manage mill operations. In 1977, Chatham County, with assistance from the Agency for Housing and Urban Development, purchased the mill houses, renovated them, and sold them to the inhabitants and other buyers. John London retired in 1979, ending the London family's association with the mill. Most of the Bynum interviewees worked at J. M. Odell Manufacturing Company for part or all of their careers. Many of them began to work at Odell after the 1916 fire. Most of the Bynum mill workers moved around less frequently than their Burlington counterparts and maintained close ties with the rural community after migrating to Bynum from surrounding farms. In fact, some of the interviewees spent part of their working lives as farmers or farm laborers. Because the J. M. Odell Manufacturing Company in Bynum was a spinning mill, the subseries covers only this branch of the textile industry. Among the topics covered are technology, the impact of the Depression and World War II on the mill, paternalism, work discipline, work division by sex and race, and unionization attempts. Many of the workers also discussed at length brown lung and other health hazards of mill work. Many of the workers knew the Londons and shared their recollections with the interviewers. Interviews with John and Lawrence London provide more detailed information about the London family and the mill's history. The interviews also document mill village life in great detail. Interviewer Douglas DeNatale conducted many of the interviews, and the series strongly reflects his interest in rural culture and how it survived and changed in the mill village. Gardens, livestock maintained within the village, diet, homes, and furnishings comprise some of the elements of everyday living covered by the interviewees. Many of the workers also talked about early modes of transportation and the advent of the automobile. The transition from company to private ownership in the 1970s had a major impact on the community, and many of the interviewers discussed this change. Good information about this change can be found in the interview with Greg Warren of the Chatham County Housing Authority. Family ties and relationships are also discussed in these interviews. Childhood, early work experiences, and education are covered in almost every interview. In addition, the interviewees described domestic activities, courting, family violence, and household servants. Most of the interviewees boarded when they first arrived in Bynum, but they tended to lodge with relatives rather than in organized boarding houses. DeNatale was particularly interested in music, religious practices and traditions, and folklore, and, as a result, his interviews explore these topics in detail. Story-telling was a popular pastime in Bynum, and some of the interviewees recounted popular tales. Bynum's musical traditions included gospel singing, Hawaiian music, string bands, and fiddling. Other common pastimes described in the interviews are baseball games, listening to the radio, socials, dances, card playing, movies, hunting and fishing, community fish fries and barbecues, and quilting. Almost every interviewee mentioned religion, and many recalled attending revivals. DeNatale's interest in folkways extended to medical and health matters, and some of his interviews include information about home remedies and folk beliefs. In addition, the interviewees discussed epidemics, especially the 1918 flu epidemic; alcoholism; and health care, including the roles of doctors and midwives. Other topics are covered in less detail. Some of the interviewees left mill work to take jobs at North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill. Race relations are also covered in discussions of African Americans entering mill work, servants, the Ku Klux Klan, and school desegregation in Pittsboro. A few of the interviewees mentioned Bynum citizens serving in World War I. The Bynum interviews include the first interviews conducted for the Perspectives on Industrialization Project by an oral history class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The class was designed to train field workers to conduct subsequent interviews for the project. As a result, the interviews in this subseries vary in quality. After the class ended, one student, Douglas DeNatale, conducted further interviews in Bynum for his master's thesis in the folklore curriculum at UNC Chapel Hill.