Publication in: Fall 2023 Issue

“A left-wing Confederacy?”: The Southern Student Organizing Committee and the 1966-1967 Cone Mills Strikes
Ellie Woolard
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Faculty Mentor(s):
Sarah Judson
Alvis Dunn
Abstract / Summary:
Founded in 1964 by white Southern college students inspired by the civil rights movement, the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC) has been largely overlooked in historiography of radical New Left activism. SSOC platformed ideas like opposition to the Vietnam War, support for the civil rights movement, and Black Power, but it paradoxically also proudly embraced a Southern identity rooted in Confederate symbolism. In 1966-1967 SSOC engaged in a campaign to support members of the Textile Workers Union of America in a series of strikes against the Cone Mills Corporation in North Carolina. This thesis examines the rationale behind SSOC’s support of the striking workers. Examining SSOC’s emphasis on Southern identity, and its usage of anticolonial ideology drawn from the Black Freedom Struggle reveals that the organization hoped to recruit white moderates for a Southern working-class revolution. SSOC believed that an interracial working-class revolution would eradicate racial and class oppression, but in its efforts to appeal to reluctant white Southerners the organization inadvertently supported white supremacist narratives. Examining SSOC’s support of North Carolina textile workers sheds light on the groundbreaking but mercurial reality of student activism in the 1960s American South.
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