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Boyd E. Payton papers

Identifier: MS0071

Scope and Contents

Primarily material relating to the involvement of Boyd Payton, a Textile Workers Union of America official, in a strike at Harriet-Henderson Mills in Henderson, N.C. (1958-61). It includes material concerning his conviction and subsequent imprisonment amidst allegations of a state-supported frame-up, and his eventual pardon. There are transcripts of radio broadcasts, clippings, audio-visual material, and manuscripts of his book, Scapegoat (1970) and some correspondence. The emphasis of this collection is two-fold: it provids a detailed portrait of Payton within his personal and professional milieux and; second, it provides first-hand insight into a conflict between labor and industry in the South and into one person's experience with the American criminal justice system. One component of the collection is the phonograph album: "Story of Henderson" and "The Henderson workers sing." Side 1: The Story of Henderson, soundtrack to a William P. Gottlieb slidefilm production, Education Department, Textile Workers Union of America, 99 University Place, New York, NY, RCA Victor Record Division, Radio Corporation of America, New York, NY, made in USA (not available in UNC Charlotte collection) ; side 2, Band 1: The Henderson Workers Sing - Give me that textile workers union; The Mill was made of marble; That's all; We shall not be moved; It could be a wonderful world; Solidarity forever. Band 2: Prayer (Nannie Hughes). Side 2 is Joe Glazer and the Henderson Workers, The Henderson Workers Sing, which is a recording of a labor union rally on November 17, 1959, commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Harriet-Henderson strike. Recorded on this album is Joe Glazer performing and speaking and a Henderson high school rock band backing him up. Also included is a famous prayer given at the end of that rally by Ms. Nannie Hughes. Details of this event can be found on p. 37 of Labor's Troubadour by Joe Glazer (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2001), Music in American life series


  • 1909 - 1980
  • Majority of material found within 1958 - 1975


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Biographical / Historical

Boyd Ellsworth Payton, 21 Apr. 1908-1 Sept. 1984 was an author and labor organizer. He was born in Dobbin, W.Va. As a youth, he aspired to be a minister, but after graduating from high school (1926), he began working for Celanese Corporation in Cumberland, Md. There he helped form a union. In 1936, and, in 1941, he was elected president of his local. In 1943, Payton began working for the Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA) as regional director for Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. In 1948, he was elected an international vice president and, in 1953, he was transferred to Charlotte as Carolina Regional Director. In this capacity, Payton became involved in the Harriet-Henderson Mills strike, beginning in 1958. As a result of his alleged participation in a conspiracy to dynamite the mill and a power substation, Payton was jailed in 1960. Through the efforts of a concerned public, which included Harry Golden and Billy Graham, Governor Terry Sanford granted Payton clemency in 1961 and pardoned him in 1964. These events are also described in his book, Scapegoat: Prejudice/Politics/Prison. After leaving prison, Payton returned to work with the TWUA in its Washington, D.C. office. He left there in September, 1964 to work for the U.S. State Department in a temporary assignment hosting Japanese labor leaders touring the U.S. In October he was discharged due to a U.S. Representative's complaint of "an 'ex-con' in a position of influence" (Scapegoat: 313). Payton then worked for the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO until mid-1965, when he was employed by the U.S. Department of Labor as director of the Manpower Program in the Northeast. Payton retired in the mid-1970s and returned to Charlotte. Payton married Katherine "Kitty" Jardine Harvey (1908?-73) in 1932. They had three daughters: Patricia, Sandra, and Nancy. Throughout the collection, the closeness of the family is evident, particularly in the support given to Payton during his trial and prison ordeal. Payton also was very active in church work throughout his life. He died in 1984 and was buried in Charlotte.

The Henderson crisis, which eventually led to Payton's imprisonment, began in August, 1958 when the management of Harriet-Henderson mills, under the direction of president John D. Cooper, refused to renew the company's contract with the union without significant modification. This action surprised union Locals 578 and 584, because they and the company had coexisted peacefully since their first contract in 1944. Moreover, local members had voted unanimously to renew the contract without a wage increase over the past year. The company stood firm, however, and as negotiations between the union and the company proved unsuccessful and the November, 1958 expiration date for the contract drew near, the workers voted to strike. The strike began on November 16, 1958. As Carolinas director, Payton was responsible for directing the strike, maintaining the strikers's morale and making provision for their economic needs, assisting the negotiations between the company and the union, and serving as a channel of communication to the workers and the community concerning the progress of the strike and negotiations. Throughout most of the strike he presented daily radio broadcasts in which he analyzed the situation, encouraged the strikers to continue their battle, and pleaded for restraint from violence. Throughout 1958 and on into 1959, negotiations continued among union officials, company representatives, and federal and state mediators, but they remained deadlocked. The primary unresolved issue was whether the company should have the power to veto an employee's request for arbitration. The company refused to sign a contract without this provision, but the union felt that without access to arbitration it would become virtually ineffectual. On February 12, 1959, the company announced that the mills would reopen on February 16, 1959 and offered jobs to anyone who would work without a contract. Company advertisements promised police protection for those returning to work and threatened to replace those who would not return. Only five percent of the original work force returned. The remainder of the employees remained on strike. Meanwhile, after three months of peaceful picketing, violence at the picket lines and in the community began to occur. The triggering episode happened on February 9, 1959 when the driver of a cotton delivery truck either was pulled or fell from his cab at a mill gate. In response to this incident the company requested and was granted an injunction limiting picketing at the gates. On February 15, 1959, the day before the mills were to reopen, State Highway Patrol units arrived in Henderson, under orders of Governor Luther Hodges, Sr. Hodges denounced the violence in Henderson and criticized the union for its failure to curtail it. In his book, Payton asserts that while city and state officials were hasty to blame the union, acts of violence were being committed by both sides. According to union members, strikebreakers frequently bore arms in their vehicles but they were seldom searched or arrested, whereas arrests of strikers on any grounds were common. Payton and others believed that some of the violence blamed on the union was planted by non-union sympathizers to discredit the union. Payton himself became a victim of violence on February 24, 1959 when he was knocked unconscious outside of his motel room. One point of contention relating to violence was the presence of the Highway Patrol in Henderson. The union accused the Highway Patrol of escorting strikebreakers into the mills and considered the presence of the police as evidence of the state's participation in union-busting. Another problem was that highway deaths had increased while so many units were occupied in Henderson. Finally, Hodges withdrew the Highway Patrol but assigned units of the North Carolina National Guard there. The strongest public criticism of Hodges was his delay in intervening in the deadlocked negotiations. Several prominent North Carolina newspapers and Vance County legislators had urged him to intervene, but he refused. Finally, Hodges agreed to meet with both parties in his office on March 23, 1959. On March 26, 1959, while driving to Henderson, Payton was injured when stones thrown from another vehicle broke his car's windshield and forced him off the road. North Carolina attorney general Malcolm Seawell denounced this incident as a hoax staged by Payton and the union. Payton prepared to sue Seawell for defamation of character. In mid-April, 1959 the company and the union, under Hodges's guidance, came to an agreement on a new contract, which was approved by both locals on April 19, 1959. On the morning of April 20, 1959 however, the scene was bedlam. The company refused to reinstate most of the strikers, requiring that they be rehired. Upon reapplying, the strikers were told their positions had been filled. The incensed strikers began to protest and returned to their picket lines. Hodges again met with negotiators on April 22, 1959 but the settlement had deteriorated. The strikers were bitter, and incidences of violence escalated. In April, 1959, a special session of the Vance County Superior Court was established to handle the numerous arrests that had been made, and National Guardsmen were authorized to make arrests. Judge Raymond Mallard presided over the sessions. According to Payton, arrested strikers received excessively severe sentences. On June 12, 1959, Payton and seven other men were arrested by order of the North Carolina attorney general's office on charges of conspiracy to dynamite a power company's substation and two buildings of the Harriet-Henderson mills. Two of the other men, Lawrence Gore and Charles Auslander, were also union representatives: Gore as Payton's assistant and Auslander as manager of the unions at Leaksville, Draper, and Spray (now Eden, NC). The other five men, Warren Walker, Calvin Pegram, Charles Abbot, Johnny Martin, and Michael Jarrel, were local union members in Henderson. The trial was scheduled for July 13, 1959, in a special term of the Vance County Superior Court. Mallard, who had presided over the arrested strikers's cases in May and June, 1959, was appointed as judge. The TWUA hired a notable defense team, including Arthur Goldberg, David Feller, Hugo Black Jr., William Nicholson, James Ledford, Glen Ledford, and James Randleman. The trial opened in Henderson on July 13, 1959. No jury members had yet been drawn, but thirty-five prospective jurists from Vance County were present. The defense filed a motion for a change of venue on the grounds that the defendants could not get a fair trial in Vance County. The judge ordered the jury to be drawn from neighboring Franklin County, despite the defense's contention that the same conditions existed in Franklin as in Vance because many of the strikebreakers lived in Franklin County. The first four days of the trial were spent on jury selection. When the trial finally began, it was conducted in what Payton described as an emotionally charged climate of apprehension, fear, and intimidation. The state's star witness was Harold Aaron, a former employee of the Leaksville mill who admitted in court to being a paid undercover agent working for the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI). He also admitted to having a criminal record. His testimony revolved around several late-night drinking sessions in which he had convinced Walker and the other local men to "stop production" by bombing the mill and a power substation. These conversations were recorded on tape by Aaron and the SBI. When the men appeared on the night appointed by Aaron for the bombings, they were arrested, even though a search of their cars showed no evidence of any explosives. Aaron also claimed that Gore, Auslander, and Payton were involved in the conspiracy. The sole evidence against Payton was a brief phone call from Aaron intended for Gore in which Payton warned Aaron that the phones were bugged. This simple statement, which according to Payton, he relayed to any caller who might have union business, implicated him as a partner in the conspiracy. Despite the defense's accusations of entrapment by the SBI, the defendants were nonetheless convicted and sentenced each to six to ten years in prison. The conviction was allowable under a North Carolina law that makes conspiracy a crime even in the absence of consequential action. The defendants appealed their case to the North Carolina Supreme Court on January 15, 1960, but the court denied the appeal. On May 10, 1960, they petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing, but the petition was denied in October, 1960. After Hodges turned down two pleas for clemency, the eight men went to prison on November 3, 1960. Payton entered Central Prison, but support for his release continued through the final days of Governor Hodges's term and on into Governor Sanford's term, which began in January, 1961. Leaders of the movement for his pardon included author Harry Golden, evangelist Billy Graham, and Clair Cook, editor of The Christian Century. Sanford shortened the eight men's sentences in July, 1961. Payton was released on parole August 3, 1961. His parole ended on December 18, 1962. He and his supporters continued to petition for a full and complete pardon, which Sanford finally granted on his last day in office, December 31, 1964. Payton was deeply affected by his prison experiences and became very critical of the prison system in the U.S. His conclusion was that prison hardened criminals rather than reformed them, and in a very inhumane way. His prison experiences and the insights he gleaned from them are described in detail in his book Scapegoat, which is recommended reading for anyone studying this collection in depth.


3.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


Papers documenting Payton's involvement in the Harriet-Henderson Mills strike and his subsequent imprisonment. Includes transcripts of radio broadcasts, news clippings, audio-visual material and manuscripts of his book, Scapegoat. Also includes a phonograph album "Story of Henderson" and "The Henderson Workers Sing."


The Boyd E. Payton Papers are divided into the following five series (with expanded synopses): Series 1, CHRONOLOGICAL FILE (1909-80), consists of correspondence, clippings, articles, and essays by and about Payton. The bulk of the material covers 1958-75 and documents the Henderson strike, Payton's arrest, the trial and conviction, his imprisonment, release, and pardon, and his work history following his pardon. A major portion of the correspondence of 1960-61 consists of letters between Payton and his family, primarily his wife Kitty, while he was in prison. These letters provide a poignant insight into prison life and his family's devotion. Also includes biographical information and obituaries. Series 2, BOOK (1961-77), contains material relating to the publication of Payton's book Scapegoat. This series includes correspondence between Payton and his publishers concerning the publication of the book, miscellaneous financial information regarding book sales, reviews, and incomplete handwritten typed drafts of the book. Also included is a published copy. Series 3, SCRAPBOOKS (1960), consists of photocopies of two scrapbooks. One was compiled by the TWUA as a tribute to the Henderson strikers, and includes clippings, March-April, 1960, about their perseverance. The second scrapbook, probably compiled by Payton, contains clippings about the Henderson trial and pardon efforts and about political activities of North Carolina attorney general Malcolm Seawell in 1960-61. Series 4, AUDIO-VISUAL MATERIAL (1958-59, 1971), includes a filmstrip and a 16mm film (ca. 1958-59) about the strike in Henderson, four tape recordings of short broadcasts in which Payton describes the operation and function of the union, and a tape recording (1971) of an interview with Payton by Alan Labar about Scapegoat. There is also a phonograph album: side 1, The Story of Henderson, and side 2, The Henderson Workers Sing. Series 5, PHOTOGRAPHS (1950-70), primarily of Payton.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Boyd E. Payton, 1981 ; Transfer from Harry Golden Papers, 1986 ; Gift of Lisa S. Fisher, 1989.

Processing Information

Processed by Debbie McCachern.

Boyd E. Payton papers
Debbie McCachern
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collections, J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections and University Archives, UNC Charlotte Repository

Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte
9201 University City Blvd
Charlotte 28223 United Stated

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