The Death of Ella May

Book Review:

Cash, Wiley, “The Last Ballad.” William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2017

Two pages of the book’s afterword, 371-2, reprint everything that is actually known about American labor’s great heroine known usually as Ella May Wiggins. A little more is known about the Gastonia textile strike of 1929. This author uses what is known to weave together a fine piece of historical fiction that certainly satisfies my own high regard for Ella May.

Four of Ella May’s nine children died from pellagra and whooping cough. The one in her womb died with her when she was murdered by strikebreakers. The living children went to an orphanage. The men charged with murder were defended by the mill owners and found innocent.

Ella May’s story is not a happy one, but it is important. Whether she did or didn’t do all the things in this book, historians agree that she stood up for integrating the African American and Caucasian strikers. This was a long time before black/white unity began to pay off in victories for working families. Ella May was a pioneer as well as a martyr.

There are details of her short life, March-1900 to Sept 14-1929, on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_May_Wiggins

The author was born in Gastonia, North Carolina, in the area where the strike and the murders took place. With this book, he won the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction and my heartfelt gratitude.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

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