Campbell students contribute to Southern Historical Collection

Although the history of Erwin, N.C., dates back only to the 1900s, the community is rich in a history that extends to Colonial times, the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States. In 1903, the town of Erwin was founded with the construction of a cotton mill. Its history is in a large part the history of this milling enterprise, the Erwin Cotton Mills Company, later Swift Industries, until the mill was closed in 2000. In the fall of 2000, students in Dr. Bruce McNair’s freshman honors course conducted an oral history project concerning former mill workers of the Erwin Mills. Later, in March 2006, McNair, who is an associate professor of history, donated the project’s results to the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library. Through the interviews, the students sought to better understand the nature of mill work in the mid-twentieth century, the kinds of jobs the workers performed, social issues that affected the mill, life in mill houses and other such topics. These recorded interviews will be available to researchers and the public. The Southern Historical Collection contains over 15 million items and is one of the world’s largest archives documenting southern history since the 18th century. “The students enjoyed interviewing about a dozen former mill workers, especially their stories of living in mill houses and how the mills handled problems related to such things as race and unions,” said McNair. “Their work is a great accomplishment and will help other researchers in North Carolina history.”

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