Reading Matters

Learn more about Ella May Wiggins at the Levine Museum of the New South

What can you know of a great-grandmother who died before your birth?

Plenty, according to Kristina Horton, who will give a free talk about her great-grandmother Ella May Wiggins at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at The Levine Museum of the New South.

Wiggins, as we all know, was the union organizer of the 1929 textile workers’ strike at the Loray Mill in Gastonia. She was 28 and pregnant when she was shot through the heart and killed on her way to a union meeeting in Gastonia.

Wiggins was also a balladeer. Woody Guthrie identified Ella May as one of the best songwriters in the country.

To Horton’s credit, she does not rely solely on family lore when she writes about Wiggins. Her book is thoroughly researched.

I asked Horton what it means to her to have told her great-grandmother’s story. Here is what she said:

“As I was writing the book I felt like I was doing a service to my great-grandmother by spreading her story.”

To her surprise, Horton says, she discovered that she was not only helping more people learn about Ellay May. She was also helping them to connect with something deep within themselves.

To hear Kristina Horton talk about her book, Martyr of Loray Mill: Ella May and the 1929 Textile Workers’ Strike in Gastonia, N.C., you must register online: or call 704-333-1887.

Museum of the New South: 200 E. 7th Street, Charlotte, 28202