Reading Matters

Great-granddaughter writes about Ella May Wiggins

With two novels underway about Ella May Wiggins -- one from Raleigh’s Kim Church and another from Wilmington’s Wiley Cash -- we now have in hand a non-fiction account of the woman’s life. This one is from by great-granddaughter Kristina Horton, who did not know Wiggins but who stumbled on a newspaper clipping about her in some family papers.

In the introduction of “Martyr of Loray Mill: Ella May and the 1929 Textile Workers’ Strike in Gastonia, North Carolina” (McFarland, $29.95 paper) Horton, who teaches elementary school in Asheville, asks:

“So was Ella May’s death a random act of violence against a NTWU striker? Did the shooter get caughter up in the heat of the moment and shoot wildly and by chance strike Ella May? It is very unlikely that Ella May’s murder was in any way accidental. It is morelikely that the shooter knew exactly what he was doing and who he was doing it to. Ella May stood still and the shooter was only a few feet away. There were twenty other strikers around her and many of them were men, who were normally preferred targets. Ella was well recognized as the minstrel of the strike and as the organizer of black workers. Either would be cause enough for some to kill her.”

Horton’s biography is infused with an intense and passionate curiosity about her great-grandmother. She plunges into the question of who actually shot Wiggins, and she gives the name of the man she believes is the most likely suspect. I admire her determination and investigative spirit. This is not a “my-mother-told-me” book. It is thoroughly researched and highly readable.