Defying Dixie at the Cotton Lofts

Glenda Gilmore’s Defying Dixie describes the leftist activism that laid the foundation for the subsequent Civil Rights and Movement for Black Lives. Her stories of hit home for many of us — her recounting of the Atlanta Six case at Atlanta’s Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill in particular for me and Atlanta folx.

My great grandmother and great aunt (we just called her Sista) worked for a time at the Cotton Mill during the 1930’s and 40’s. Black workers were only allowed to fill janitorial roles at the place. My great grandmother and many other workers at the factory lived in the nearby Reynoldstown neighborhood. According to Gilmore, the factory was one of the “harshest employers” around.

Reynoldstown mural
One of the murals behind the Cotton Mill

My aunt recounts how one of the workers there was arbitrarily framed, arrested, tried, and quickly executed for supposedly raping a white woman. None of the Black workers who could have easily provided life saving alibis were allowed to testify. Her story foreshadows the infamous trials of the Scottsboro Nine that occurred throughout the 1930’s.

The US communist party, with backing from the Comintern, tried to support Black workers like Sista and Granny in their attempts to organize. But just saying “you deserve to be treated like a human being” or daring to raise the prospect of interracial solidarity brought the full force of the police and their paramilitary affiliate, the KKK.

My aunt recalls frequent Klan night rides through the neighborhood. It was common knowledge that the people who were factory bosses by day donned hoods at night.

The organizers the Atlanta Six had to flee the state for their lives. The state arrested the interracial group of organizers and and sought the death penalty. The lone Black congressman at the time, Oscar DePriest, denigrated Black folk for the audacity to embrace socialism.

Nearly 40 years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. was lying dead on a hotel balcony for agitating for Black sanitation workers.

You see how this works?

It is 80 years after the Atlanta Six, 50 years after Memphis, 4 years after the U.S. elected a president who used the Scottsboro Nine playbook on the Central Park 5, and despite a Covid pandemic that rages, Black, Indigenous, Brown, and undocumented workers — gig and otherwise, the people who keep y’alls Black Friday deliveries from the Amazon coming —- are still being treated to the same abuses that plagued Sista and Granny.

Dixie is alive and well in the Amazon. There are still DePriests out there asking us to keep quiet.

I’m just asking you to acknowledge what’s up.

I’ll leave you to ponder a beautiful mural that exist just behind the old Cotton Mill. Oh the mill has now been gentrified into the Cotton Lofts.

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