Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 50/Arthur Lee Emerson

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Arthur Lee Emerson
Tennessee, U.S.
Cause of deathUnknown
  • Union Organizer
  • Lawyer
OrganizationBrotherhood of Timber Workers
SpouseChristine Emerson

Overview[edit | edit source]

Arthur Lee Emerson was a white man born in Tennessee. He organized the Brotherhood of Timber Workers and fought for labor protections. Emerson was interviewed by the Federal Writers Project on December 15, 1938 in Mentone, Alabama. [1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Emerson was born in Tennessee at an unknown date. He had no relationship with his father and his mother died when he was a child. Emerson spent the majority of his childhood in an orphanage in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At fourteen years old, Emerson was taken into foster care by Dr.Parker in Mentone, Alabama. Dr.Parker and Emerson lived on a mountain and were isolated from most people. They spent a lot of their time learning about various subjects before the death of Dr. Parker at eighty-seven. Emerson began working and eventually moved to Western Louisiana to work for a lumber company.[2]

Work as a Leader[edit | edit source]

Emerson was interested in labor movements and organized his first strike at the age of 18. He worked with the Georgia Strawberry pickers to obtain better working conditions and higher wages.[3]

When the Panic of 1907 hit, the lumber company Emerson worked for capitalized on the opportunity to lower wages and increase hours. The company also asked its workers to take a yellow-dog oath against joining labor unions. Emerson refused the oath and worked with Jay Smith to organize the Brotherhood of Timber Workers.[4]

As a leader for the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, Emerson led marches and fought for workers' protections. Emerson also often met with workers in nearby areas to gain support and spread the Brotherhood's agenda. The marches were periodically met with resistance.[5] During a strike against the Galloway Lumber Company in 1912, Emerson's group was met with gunshots from the opposing direction and several men died. The strike became known as the "Grabow riot."[6] During the riot, Emerson was arrested and jailed with fifty-seven other members of the Brotherhood. However, despite the danger Emerson's union encountered, Emerson's "followers idolized him and obeyed unquestioningly every order he issued."[7] Emerson's dedication to labor movements earned him the title: "Andrew Jackson of Southern Labor". [8]

Later Life[edit | edit source]

Emerson resigned as Organizer of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers in 1913. Emerson returned to Chattanooga, Tennessee where he married Christine Emerson and had four children: Arthur Lee Jr., Ralph Waldo, Jewel, and Billy. While in Chattanooga, Emerson shortly practiced law and continued to contribute to labor movements organized by the city's Democratic Party.[9]

In 1921, Emerson had a stroke that limited his speech and mobility. He stopped working as a lawyer and discontinued his involvement in labor movements. Emerson and his wife moved back to Mentone, Alabama with their four children and Mrs. Emerson's mother.[10]

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, Emerson and his family relied on staple foods such as cornbread and cowpeas to survive. Emerson sent all four children to high school, but he worried about being able to afford the cost of universities. Emerson struggled to pay for clothes and was unable to save for the house he had hoped to build. However, Emerson attended Wesleyan Methodist and believed God would take care of his family. [11] The date of Emerson's death is unknown.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Crowds on Wall Street during the Panic of 1907

Workers and the Panic of 1907[edit | edit source]

In 1907, Augustine Heinze and Charles Morse made a substantial investment in United Copper, a copper mining company. The investment was an act of speculation and Heinze and Morse ultimately lost nearly all of the money they invested. The banks and trusts Heinze and Morse were associated with suffered major consequences. People became concerned that banks would go bankrupt and ran to withdraw their money. Growing concern resulted in an extensive run on banks and trusts. The runs were further perpetuated by the closing of the Knickerbocker Trust Company, a major bank in New York.[12]

To compensate the loses of major banks and trusts, J. P. Morgan and the US Treasury granted "emergency loans."[13] Morgan's aid enabled the New York Stock Exchange to remain open and supported "brokers who were willing to extend credit."[14] Emergency loans and financial aid provided relief to banks and helped pave a path for economic recovery.

During the Panic of 1907, there was little money circulating in the economy and firms had minimal funds to afford wages and continue production. Many businesses were forced to close or significantly decrease wages.[15] The "building, clothing, metal, and tobacco trades" were impacted the most with unemployment rates of 42.1 percent, 43.6 percent, 30.3 percent, and 55 percent.[16] In the state of New York, nearly one third of all workers were unemployed.[17]

The Brotherhood of Timber Workers[edit | edit source]

In Western Louisiana and Eastern Texas, lumber workers were under the authority of the southern labor trust. Out of resentment towards their working conditions, lumber workers in surrounding areas met in 1910 and formed the Brotherhood of Timber Workers. The Brotherhood created a list of improvements they demanded from lumber barons. In the list, they included higher wages, lower hours, and increased job security. [18]

Despite strained race relations in the Deep South, the Brotherhood of Timber Workers was an interracial union that represented black and white laborers.[19] The Brotherhood found power in high rates of participation. Membership in the Brotherhood grew steadily after its first meeting in 1910 and reached over 25,000 workers by 1912.[20]

The Brotherhood of Timber Workers focused their efforts on marches, public speeches, and newspaper writings. Marches and speeches rallied the support of frustrated workers and "confront[ed] and/or convert[ed] 'scab' labor."[21] The Brotherhood's newspaper, The Lumberjack, helped the union gain publicity and share its platform. The newspaper updated readers on recent events, as well as the Brotherhood's progress and upcoming gatherings. The Lumberjack was faced with opposition from the southern labor trust, who tried to prevent the newspaper from being printed.[22]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. The Andrew Jackson of Southern Labor, the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709.
  2. lbid., 193.
  3. lbid., 192.
  4. lbid., 194.
  5. lbid., 195.
  6. Ferrell, "The Brotherhood of Timber Workers and the Culture of Conflict." 164.
  7. The Andrew Jackson of Southern Labor, the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709,194-196.
  8. lbid., 202.
  9. lbid., 197.
  10. lbid., 197-199.
  11. lbid., 198-201.
  12. Moen and Tallman, “The Panic of 1907.”
  13. Frydman, Hilt, and Zhou, “Economic Effects of Runs on Early ‘Shadow Banks’: Trust Companies and the Impact of the Panic of 1907.” 903.
  14. Moen and Tallman, “The Panic of 1907.”
  15. Huber, “Human Behavior and The Panic of 1907.”
  16. "Panic's Effect on Labor.: 32.7 per cent. Idle Union Men At Close of 1907."
  17. lbid.
  18. Smith, “The Historic Tale of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers.”
  19. Green, "The Brotherhood of Timber Workers 1910-1913: A Radical Response to Industrial Capitalism in the Southern U. S. A." 161.
  20. Smith, “The Historic Tale of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers.”
  21. Ferrell, "The Brotherhood of Timber Workers and the Culture of Conflict." 165.
  22. lbid., 166.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Ferrell, Jeff. "The Brotherhood of Timber Workers and the Culture of Conflict." Journal of Folklore Research 28, no. 2 (May 01, 1991): 163-177. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1308429433?accountid=14244.
  • Frydman, Carola, Eric Hilt, and Lily Zhou. “Economic Effects of Runs on Early ‘Shadow Banks’: Trust Companies and the Impact of the Panic of 1907.”  Journal of Political Economy123, no. 4 (2015): 902–40. https://doi.org/10.1086/681575.
  • Green, James R. "The Brotherhood of Timber Workers 1910-1913: A Radical Response to Industrial Capitalism in the Southern U. S. A." Past & Present, no. 60 (1973): 161-200. http://www.jstor.org/stable/650194.
  • Huber, John. “Human Behavior and The Panic of 1907.” sabercapitalmgt.com, December 18, 2017. http://sabercapitalmgt.com/human-behavior-and-the-panic-of-1907/.
  • Moen, Jon R., and Ellis W. Tallman. “The Panic of 1907.” Federal Reserve History, December 4, 2015. https://www.federalreservehistory.org/essays/panic_of_1907.
  • "Panic's Effect on Labor.: 32.7 per cent. Idle Union Men At Close of 1907." 1908. New York Times (1857-1922), Apr 20, 7. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/96869136?accountid=14244.
  • Smith, Daniel T. “The Historic Tale of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers.” CenLamar, April 17, 2011. https://cenlamar.com/2007/05/09/the-historic-tale-of-the-brotherhood-of-timber-workers/.
  • The Andrew Jackson of Southern Labor, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.