White Cross School Blog


NC Literary Hall of Fame





Wiley Cash’s third novel, The Last Ballad, set in 1929’s Gaston County’s textile mill country, forces us to confront uncomfortable facts about the brutal conditions workers faced on the job and in their struggles to make a life on their meager pay. Ella May Wiggins, the lead character in Cash’s book, is based on a real person, who was killed while participating in a major strike at Loray Mills in Gastonia. The 28-year-old Wiggins had given birth to nine children and was working a 72-hour week for which she earned $9. She wrote and sang protest songs, some of which were later performed by Woody Guthrie. Cash follows her decision to support the strike at Loray Mills where her ballad singing at worker rallies mobilized audiences more than the speeches of union leaders. He relates how her actions provoked negative responses from union opponents that led to her death. The picture Cash paints is an ugly one, showing conditions of Wiggins and her fellow workers to be only a step or two away from serfdom and slavery. But Cash’s storytelling turn these facts into a poignant, moving, and important novel.

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