Charles A. Cannon: A Mind for Business, A Heart for People


– [Joe Lambert]
Well, people like Mr. Cannon come along once
every 1000 years. – [Clarence Horton]
It was said that he could just walk onto the factory floor and listen to the
sounds of the machines, and he knew exactly how
well his mill was running. – [Kenny Brandon]
He had a vital interest
in the community. – [Robin Hayes]
The mill just meant
a lot to us and to our families. – [Scott Trott] He never
was mired in the past. He was always aware
of the present, but looking to the future. – [Narrator] Charles A. Cannon
was a powerful visionary whose leadership played
out on a global stage. He was called the
Great Negotiator, and he approached life
with a relentless effort to build a successful business
and a successful town. He had a vision that
was unconventional and
uncompromising. And when he had
fulfilled that vision, he left a legacy of
giving that will continue far into the future. Charles A. Cannon:
A Mind for Business, A Heart for People. Small towns. They were the heart
of America. Across this
great country, they embodied the values
we lived as a nation. Kannapolis, North Carolina
was one such place. It was totally built around
a manufacturing work site, but it was not a
typical company town. It was a true community
created by J.W. Cannon, and brought to its full
potential by his son, Charles. A place where the concept
of work, play, live, arose a hundred years
ahead of its time. – Kannapolis was
known around the
world as America’s largest unincorporated
town. What does that mean? Unincorporated? Well, Mr. Cannon
owned everything. – [Clarence] The local bank. – [Buddy Hilbish]
He subsidized the schools. – [Tom] It was his checks
that paid the teachers. He often provided
housing for them. – [Rob] A world
class YMCA. – [Norris] They didn’t
have paved streets, but they had sidewalks so
they could walk to work. – [Tom] The downtown, he
owned the whole downtown. – [Linny] Provided
police protection. Provided fire department. – [Tom] The churches. – [Linny] He
promoted good health. – The services that
the mill provided affected every area
of people’s lives. – That’s a level
of involvement that in some ways
is wonderful, but it’s also a
level of control. – He controlled things because
he was the singular elder of a system of elders that
worked all the way down through the community. – [Narrator] Some say,
Mr. Cannon did this because he opposed
incorporation. It would mean a loss of
control, higher taxes, and a body of elected officials
to be held accountable by. Others say he did
it because he was a benevolent leader
of the people. Both could be true. – J.W. Cannon
and C. A. Cannon, before any manufacturing
facility was built, made certain that three
critical components were present and available
in the community. And they were
education, schools; faith, churches; hospital and other
health care facilities to make sure that people
had the basic necessities to enjoy a proper and
a healthy lifestyle. – [Narrator] Death and
destruction from the Civil War found the country
anxious to move forward. As the nation
struggled to recover, the age of the great
industrialists in steel, railroads, and other
enterprises dawned. But in the American South,
life was a daily struggle. Federal troops, reconstruction,
and carpetbaggers controlled the former
Confederate states. A greatly depressed economy made the former
aristocracy poor, and the land poor
even poorer. Farmers, the people
of the land, tried to make a living
from the hard, red clay. They grew whatever they could
scratch out of the earth, mostly cotton. – Imagine a place that
is really invested in the agrarian
lifestyle, and your land has
been completely
disrupted by war. – [Narrator] The South
had a rich history of hardworking people interested
in improving their lives. One such man was
James William Cannon. Born in 1852, James
William Cannon, known as J. W.,
had little schooling. What education
he did receive was in a two room
Session House belonging to a Presbyterian
church near the family farm. That church and school
formed his early thinking and set the foundation
for the rest of his life. At 14, restless
and willing, J.W. quit school
and discovered that he had a knack
for the merchant trade. By the age of 22, J.W. was
buying cotton from farmers and selling it to brokers
and northern textile mills. He saw his opportunity. Why ship cotton north
when it could be easily manufactured in
a southern mill at a
reduced price. – [Robert] He
recognized advantages of having the raw material and then bringing the
actual manufacturing from the Northeast
to the South, where things could be
vertically integrated and put together in the most
efficient manner possible. – [Narrator] He traveled
back and forth to New York beckoning fellow merchants
to join him in his endeavors. He raised $75,000. In 1887, Cannon
Manufacturing Company received its charter
to do business. – So, he created a rough
huck toweling product, that was rather
easy to make, and branded it
as Cannon Cloth. – [Timothy]
A Cannon Cloth was a
cloth that was sold on bolts in
general stores, and it was very
versatile. It could be used
for tablecloth. It could be cut
for handkerchiefs. It could be used
for dresses. About a year later,
about 1888, he began producing
his first towels. – So, in 1892, he built
yet another plant. And as he built these
separate plants, pretty soon, the Cannon
chain referred to 10 or 12 different
operations scattered throughout
two or three states. – [Narrator] Then he
turned his attention to the sales
process itself. – [Bill] From very
early on, Cannon Mills was organized around a
New York sales office that was called
Cannon Mills, Inc. And sold our goods to
mom and pop stores, to chain stores
to J.C. Penney’s, you name it, they were a
customer of Cannon Mills. – So by the early 1900s,
he had determined that he would go
up the railroad and build his
own mill village in a self-contained
location. – [Timothy] They actually
ended up purchase a thousand nine acres
from various farmers, and that’s where
Kannapolis came from. – The first real reference I’ve
ever found to Cannon-opolis, was spelled with a “C”. It is very clear that it was
intended from the beginning to be Cannon City,
and it was only later that it morphed
into using a “K” and adopting the idea that
it was the City of Looms. – [Narrator] But success
didn’t come easy. In 1907, economic
times were so bad that his recently constructed
building sat empty and idle. Undeterred, he saw
the advantages of the emerging innovation
of electric power. He believed in the future
of this form of energy so much that he
invested $10,000, and asked James B.
Duke to electrify this rural part of North
Carolina and his shuttered mill. – Mr. J.W. Cannon had
a number of gifts. One of his gifts was
being able to see around the corner
a little bit. He was said that he
could see 20 years ahead, as far as sales
trends and opportunities in
the cotton industry. – [Narrator] When
the economy improved, he purchased machinery,
raw cotton, and recruited white
sharecroppers to work
as a mill hands – Mill owners and
recruiters went into the mountains of North
Carolina, Virginia,
West Virginia, Tennessee, in search
of additional labor. – [Timothy] The reason
they came to the textile mill villages was
in hope of a better life. – So, one aunt or uncle
might go from the farm, and then send back
the news, and then the siblings
come with their children, until you have parents,
children, aunt, uncles, and another generation being
born at the mill village. – There weren’t enough
male workers to go around, and the first workers
who come into the mills are women
and children. – It would not have struck
any of them as unusual for a 10-year old, an 8-year
old, even a 6-year old, to be expected
to work. On the farm, as
soon as you’re able to stand on your own two feet,
you’re expected to be useful and to contribute to
the household survival. – My mother was
one of 11 children, and her father, unfortunately,
died at age 42, so she had to
quit school at
13 years old to go to work
in the mill,
hemming towels. And that’s what she did
the rest of her life until she retired. – [Joey] Some mill
owners, like Cannon, did provide important
health and social services to those mill families that
may have helped parents make that decision
about staying on the farm with
their children, or headed into the mill
village with their children. – [Narrator] J. W.’s children
also came to work at the mill, including his
youngest son, Charles. – [Clarence] From the time
that he was a young boy, Charles Cannon greatly
admired his father and his
accomplishments. – [Timothy] He actually
went to college. He went to Davidson
for a little bit, but then he
quit Davidson, came back and worked
for his father. – [Clarence] He was
absolutely dedicated from the time he was young,
to working in textiles. – [Narrator] Cannon
opened new plants and employed a strong
work force of 20,000. By 1914, it became known as
the world’s largest producer of sheets and towels. In 1917, America entered
into the Great War. All of the huck cloth
was sent to the military. – War may be a bad
thing for the
people who are
fighting it, but it can be a
good thing for
the people who
supply. – [Narrator] The
consumer was only able to acquire towels made of a
new fabric called terry cloth. Customers not only accepted
this new substitute, they preferred it, and a new line of manufacturing
exploded with the demand. – [Tom] In the Carolinas,
World War I and World War II were some of the peak times
for textile production. (whistle blows) – [Narrator] You could hear
the whistle blow for miles. You didn’t need
an alarm clock to tell it was
time to go to work. All areas of life
centered around the mill. The entire town was built
for a Cannon labor force. Three shifts worked
around the clock, and in little time,
J.W. Cannon went from small town merchant to a
giant of the textile industry. World War I ushered
in an era of change. Confidence in American
ingenuity ran high. In the 1920s, women
received the right to vote, and Prohibition became
the law of the land. The stock market boomed,
bootleggers prospered, and the Jazz age ushered
in a sense of free spirit. The South surpassed the North
in textile manufacturing, and the rapidly
expanding industry not only changed the
way Southerners worked, but the way
they lived. Instead of farming
and being outside at the call of
the seasons, they worked to the
rhythm of the weave room. – What was really
important to the vision and design
of Kannapolis, was an opportunity to
cultivate community by building
institutions that were in great proximity to the mill
town and the textile mills. – [Gary] Cotton mill village
of the South was designed to accommodate a set of
people who did not really want to work in the
factories. – [Timothy] James
William Cannon had to create this mill village
before workers ever appeared. – [Gary] So, a rental
village made both commercial and cultural sense
to people like the Cannons. – [Timothy] So
workers appeared, and already it was
front loaded. All this infrastructure
had been built for them. – I think, what you had
was, other opportunities that allow for those
community members to flourish beyond
their work. So, it was important
to be able to have a life outside
of that. – [Tom] It was a town
that was intended to create
contented labor. – So they have
all these
amenities there as long as they’re
compliant. In his first 6 mills,
I know, for sure, you had to sign
a labor contract, and part of the contract
was that you never had belonged to the
Knights of Labor, and never would
belong to it. And if you were not
willing to sign that, he didn’t hire you. – He needed, he felt,
people to work loyally, and inexpensively,
do their jobs well, and that’s what
he achieved. – [Narrator]
His mills prospered and J.W. continued to lead,
up until his health failed. – [Clarence] In 1921, Mr. J.W.
Cannon had been quite ill, and on the day
of his death, he hung onto life
until the time when all the mill whistles
generally sounded, so he died
peacefully there, surrounded by his
family and a large group of folks he had
worked with. – [Narrator]
Upon his death, traditional wisdom would
have expected leadership to pass to his
eldest son, but J.W. wasn’t one to
be bound by tradition, not when it came to
what he determined to be best for
his business. J.W. and his wife,
Mary Ella, had raised a large family
of six boys and four girls. For J.W., there
was only one worthy of the leadership
responsibility, his youngest son,
Charles Albert. – I don’t think
that was a decision that his older brothers
were very happy about. So, it led to a lot
of family strife during the ’20s
and ’30s. And, you know, I
believe that the issue was simply a choice as to who
had the skills and ability to continue the company in the
fashion that J.W. built it. – Mr. C.A. Cannon
said, “I think my father was
one of the greatest textile men ever.” And he said, “He’s
made it easy for me.” Says, “He started it all, he put it together,
and all I’ve got to do is keep the doors open.” But he went a whole lot
further than that, really. – In 1921, there were
strikes in mills in Concord, and, also, they
came to Kannapolis. – Employees were s’posed
to go to the union store which they had set
up, to get food, to run their families,
and they decided that they were not going
to spend all their money on food for
the employees, so they picked up
everything they had, includin’ all the
money, and left town. There, the Cannon mill workers
were left with nothin’. – Charles evicted
a lot of the union organizers
and sympathizers, and told the others
who were out on strike, “If you’ll turn your
back on the union, “you can come back
to work for us.” And, essentially,
he broke the back
of the union. After that, it was sort
of a collective memory in Kannapolis about this event. And I think after ’21, the
paternalism is even stronger because there’s this
memory of how management dealt with this union
and with the organizers, and they were fired,
evicted, and gone. – He moved into the
late ’20s, at a time when he was
consolidating these companies, literally creating a company
that didn’t exist before, which was called Cannon Mills, which was the combination of
all these separate companies. – Eventually, they get up, to over 24,000 employees
in several states. – And having done that, probably was one of the
reasons they were able to make it thru the
Great Depression. (old time music) – [Clarence] It was
said that he could just walk onto
the factory floor, and listen to the
sounds of the machines, and he knew exactly how
well his mill was running. – [Narrator] Young Mr. Cannon
was a great industrialist because he understood
the work and his workers. – Charles Cannon was
noted for the fact that he would dress
like everyone else, go thru the floors
of the factory, and talk with people. Slap them on the
back and see them. In an old agrarian
community, the people who were the
leaders, the elders, were known by the people
who followed them. – [Narrator] The
success of the business found a need for
more workers. Many came to the mill
from small towns, as far as 60 miles away. – There were buses that
would run 3 shifts. Bring in the first shift,
and the driver would work. – [Norris] Then went
to work prior shift, would take the bus and
the passengers back home. – The next shift would
come in in another bus. – And it was constantly
going in that fashion. – [Narrator] In 1926, you
could encircle the earth three times a year with the
towels they manufactured. They could make one mile of
towels every two minutes, or one dozen towels
a second. They designed
a trademark, the Napoleon Howitzer
accompanied by cannon balls, so no one could forget
what they were asking for. – [Clarence] Someone
invented a machine that would allow you to sew your name,
on each of your products. And he immediately
ordered some and started putting
the Cannon brand on all of their towels and
washcloths and other products. – Charles Cannon wanted the
person who bought the towel to remember who made
it when they went back to get another one. He wanted them
to come back. – Well, I think that’s one
of the basics of branding is that you have
to have a readily identifiable
piece of art, right? Your logo. – You would see it almost
every time you used it. – [Tom Hanchett]
There are the towels
with that Cannon tag. – [Tom Reichert]
Even people who
couldn’t read could identify
the Cannon logo. – [Tom Hanchett]
Cannon really
moves forward in a way that no other
towel maker could. – Cannon was a trailblazer
when it came to advertising. Essentially, many
products at that time were commodity products
where it really didn’t matter where it came from. A towel was a towel; linens
were linens, but advertisers, especially like Cannon,
thought ours are special. Ours are unique. Ours are different, and we need to let people
know that’s our brand. One of the ways that you do
that is through iconography and a pattern message that’s
very similar over time, so that when people see it
they can easily identify who the manufacturer
is, who the marketer is, and that’s very, very
important in communication. – Towels always were
a utility product. You know,
wipes things up. It’s absorbent. Now, they’re for display, and that’s a whole nother
aspect of marketing. I mean, how many of us have
towels that are for guests, that our parents would say,
“Don’t use the good towels.” So, you sell more
towels that way. – [Tom Reichert] Cannon was
very successful in their use of reflecting themes that
were going on, culturally, especially with World
War II settings, showing soldiers bathing
and using Cannon towels. – [Robert] He was the first
to use advertising in a way that involved some, I can’t
think of a better word than sex. – One of the primary reasons, especially in the early days, that you saw sex in
advertising was that you grab attention, so if
a man is gonnna see that, it’s for titillation
purposes. But if a woman’s
gonna see that, it’s for more
aspirational purposes, where they project themselves
into the ad and say, “I can be like this.” – [Narrator] On October
29, 1929, the Roaring ’20s were silenced by the thundering
crash of Wall Street. Billions of dollars
evaporated as Black Tuesday signaled the start of the
10 year Great Depression. Stocks plummeted,
banks failed, and unemployment
skyrocketed. Bread lines
became common, and the homeless clustered
in makeshift camps, called Hoovervilles. – All of the pressures on
the Southern labor force that already
existed, intensified. – There were too
many mills operating at too low a
profit margin, not able to pay
their workers or
their investors
very much. So, it’s obvious
that some kind of
sorting out was gonna be
necessary. – One out of four
North Carolinians was out of work
in the 1930s, and nobody wanted
to be a troublemaker because there was somebody
waiting to take your job, more desperate than you. – Back in the
countryside, people practiced the idea
of Joseph in the Bible. They stockpiled
stuff in good times, and they hoped to
have enough warehoused to survive the bad times. If you look carefully
at Charles Cannon during the great
depression, he practiced that
old country virtue. He kept as many of his
workers employed as he could, warehoused the products, which could last
for a long time, until he could sell
them, and by doing so, he ensured the success
of his community, kept his community
intact, and, actually, operated in a way that
was perfectly in keeping with his
Calvinist heritage. – Cannon had been very
financially conservative. Not taking on debt, paying
for things as they went along, keeping cash reserves, and that stood them really
well in the Great Depression. – [Norris] He ran the mill
at least three days a week, so that the people he
had working for him could put food on the table
during the depression. – That was the
beginning, I think, of a very close,
interpersonal
relationship between Charles
Cannon and the
citizens and workers in
Kannapolis. – [Narrator] The hardships
of the Depression were not limited to just
families and businesses. The state of North Carolina
found itself in debt, and its New York bank refused
to renew its loans, twice. In 1932, the Governor
called on several North
Carolina businessmen, to help persuade the New
York bank to renew the notes, and they were
successful. State Treasurer
Edwin Gill said, “These people were patriots. It’s a symbolic incident
of how private individuals came to the rescue of the
state in a time of adversity.” – [Norris] Max Gardner
was the governor then. He’s, eventually sent
Mr. Cannon a letter commending him for being
the one that helped save North Carolina
from going bankrupt. – [Narrator] Then
a few years later, North Carolina found itself
in the same predicament. On that second occasion,
the state treasurer traveled to New York to renew
the notes, but was refused. A chance encounter with Mr.
Cannon made all the difference. – [Robert] He was aware at
the time that the bankers had told North Carolina that
they would not renew the note. So, he casually approached them. – And he said, “I love the
people of North Carolina. They’re
good people. The state of
North Carolina
is a sound
state, but they’re a little
short on cash right now, and I will just buy
those notes,” and, of course, that would take
his money out of the bank. But they knew right away,
that if he did that, they were going to lose a
two million dollar account. – It was immediate
change of heart. One of those
unexplainable
things. – [Narrator] Mr.
Cannon’s loyalty to North Carolina
was unwavering. He was fond of the
saying, “North Carolina is a valley of humility between
two mountains of conceit.” The challenges of
the Great Depression exacerbated textile
workers’ frustrations. Many mill owners were wringing the most impossible
quotas from the people. – There’d been some
talk about calling a
general strike. But by August of
1934, wildcat strikes had already sprung up
in Georgia and Alabama, and on September 1,
1934, tens of thousands of southern workers began
walking out en masse. – They began demanding
union recognition, more hours of
work, and more pay. They convinced a lot
of southern textile
mill workers that the union
was on their side. – They hopped
into cars. Piled in, packing in,
in those old Chevys
and GM’s, and drove from town
to town, in what the newspapers referred
to as “Flying Squadrons.” – And these were groups
of workers from plants that were organized, that
had gone out on strike, who would go from mill
village to mill village to try to get workers in
other places to stop work, so that there was solidarity
among workers themselves. – Biggest strike
ever in
American history had trouble
catching hold in
Kannapolis and the other
Cannon Mills. – Forces at work in
Kannapolis made sure that those flying
squadrons didn’t get
to the workers. They essentially told
them, “You’re on private
property,” and the only part of
the land they could
really operate on, was driving up and
down main street. Deputized private
citizens were armed. Kannapolis employers
said it was to protect the Kannapolis mill
workers who wanted
to go to work. And indeed, it
would have protected anybody who
wanted to go, and feared violent
retribution for crossing
a picket line. But it also
inhibited anyone who would have stood
on a picket line to express their discontent
with malpractices. – [Narrator]
With the bloodshed, and the calling in of
the National Guard, the strike was
settled in 3 weeks, and workers returned
to their jobs. A major reason
Kannapolis escaped the violent turmoil of
1934 was the personality of Charles A. Cannon,
himself. He was close to his
workers and their families. Although in public
and in his presence, he was always called Mr. Cannon, in private he was affectionately
known as Uncle Charlie. Charles Cannon
understood the importance of supporting all aspects
of community life. People felt he knew
them and they knew him. He was famous
throughout the community for his open
door policy. – [Clarence] It was widely
known throughout the mill, that if you had
a problem, and nobody else could
help you with it, you could go talk
to the boss, talk to Mr. Cannon
about it, and he’d make arrangements
to talk with you. – It was very, very
telling, that his telephone number
was in the book, and that you could
call his number, and at least, by legend,
he would pick up the phone. There were not layers
that separated him from the people
that worked for him. – [Clarence] But he always
felt that his workers had a right to
come to him. He felt close to them,
and he actually enjoyed, a great deal,
talking to them. He knew their children. He knew what was going
on in their families, and he felt we’re all part
of one big extended family, and they have a
right to access. – [Narrator] The biggest
difference between Mr. Cannon, and so many other
mill town owners was he wanted everyone to
succeed and grow with him. He wanted an educated
work force and freely gave scholarships
to children of mill employees. He promoted
higher education through his
philanthropic giving, but he also provided work
for those who wanted work. – When I was 17
years old, Charles Cannon gave
a graduation speech. At the end of it, he says,
you know, this is 1937, the depression
is almost over. I think things are
going to improve, if you want a job,
you come up to the mill front desk
Monday morning, I’ll give every
one of you a job. So, I had 100
students in the class, 98 of them went
up there. I went. – Young men, who got
hired into the mill, would be given an
opportunity to advance
with their peers. They would be
challenged. For example, they
would be assigned the second or
third shifts. If they fulfilled
those responsibilities, they would be rewarded by
moving back to a plummer job. And they would
slowly, demonstrably, move up the ladder
of the factory system with limited
opportunities, but yet, advancement was possible. – The opportunity was there. Very few people came
in from the outside. I came in the
side door. – [Narrator] Mr. Cannon
had tremendous energy and a sixth sense. He could concentrate
intensely, at the moment, and when people would
enter his office he would focus
purely on them. Some thought he
didn’t sleep, or that he thought things
out while sleeping. He would come into
the office inspired with new ideas
every day. Kannapolis was
also known for the quality of
its mill housing. – The textile mill village
was well maintained. Your house was painted
on a regular schedule whether it needed it
or not. – I had central
heat, a garage, a
fenced back yard, I had water,
electricity,
$50 a month. – Mill houses were not
limited to just workers. Teachers and
service workers
often had mill
houses. – And the houses
were well cared
for. – If they had a washer
to go out in a faucet, they call Cannon Mills, and somebody would come
down and put a washer in it, or whatever else
they needed. – [Dan] Nobody kept
their mill houses up like Cannon Mills did. – [Narrator] The late
1930s were wrought with social and
political chaos in both Europe
and Asia. Americans watched in
alarm as Hitler’s forces invaded Poland, marking the
beginning of World War II, the most destructive
conflict in human history. Then, on
December 7, 1941, the dawn attack on Pearl Harbor
brought war to the homeland and American
industry responded. Cannon’s wise
stockpiling of inventory during the Depression
proved to be a huge benefit. The war brought
an immediate and desperate need
for cotton products. – [Tom Hanchett] I
think 1943 was one of the highest production
years, ever, in American
textile history, right in the middle
of World War II. Most everything was
cloth, one way or another. – [Narrator] In
addition to uniforms, Cannon manufactured towels that
said, “To Hell with Hitler.” – Everyone felt the
effects of that war. So, it was not unusual for
southern textile workers to feel it was
their patriotic
duty to go to
work. – Cannon Mills had
5,300 of their workers went into the military. So, these are 5,300 male jobs
that are now open to women. – [Joey] And so, in the
west coast shipyards, you had Rosie
the Riveter. In the southern Piedmont,
you had Wilma the Weaver, proudly standing behind her
loom for her men and boys fighting the good
fight across the ocean. – But when the
war was over, and the veterans
started coming home, Charles Albert
Cannon made a
commitment that we’ll try to
reintegrate all
those workers back. Matter of fact, he created a
veterans personnel department. That job was to
reintegrate those men back. They actually built
some new housing in Kannapolis called
the GI houses. – [Tom Hanchett] A
whole neighborhood of very small houses,
20 by 24 feet. – And told the guys
to go in there, and see if they
would like to live in one of those houses
‘cuz they were very small, less than 500 square feet. And, boy, they liked ’em
like nobody’s business. – It was one of the things that
endeared him to the workers. – [Narrator] But every
veteran didn’t return, and the Cannon family
experienced personal loss as the cost of war. – [Bill] Charles Cannon,
Jr., enlisted in the Army Air Corps and
immediately was shipped to the Hump; Burma,
China, India area. – Charles, who was an aviator,
was lost, never found, flying the India-Burma theater. Now, every time
the doorbell rang, he and Ruth were hoping
that that would be, first, some news that
he had been found alive, but at least
some closure. It never happened. It was something that weighed
very heavily on their mind, and I’m sure
influenced how
he responded, particularly
to returning
veterans, to make sure that
they had housing, they had the ability to
reintegrate into normal life, and have a job so that they
could support their family. – So many American families
identified that way with one another
across lines of class. What we do know though
is that it did not extend across the lines
of race. There were no labor
shortages strong enough to move African-American
men or women out of the only roles they
could have in the mills, which were the most
menial, low skilled or unskilled
low wage jobs. – [Narrator] A
national heightening of awareness and
growing unease concerning work
place standards continued to develop
in the 1940s, thanks in large part to
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who was an advocate for the
poor and disenfranchised. All mill towns were
often painted with
the same broad brush. – So, she stopped in
Kannapolis, and, of course, she was welcomed with
open arms by Mr. Cannon. – And he took her
to the YMCA. That’s where they
had lunch. Didn’t have it at
a fancy restaurant, which I’m sure
they had good food. That’s the way
it happened. – And, of course, they allowed
her access to any worker she wanted to talk
to or anyone else. And she was,
literally,
flabbergasted. She left open mouthed,
and in her column, which she wrote
for the newspapers, she said, “This is
quite a revelation.” – [Eleanor Roosevelt Voiceover]
Mr. Cannon told me that most of the work is
done on a piecework basis, and outside of a few people
in the day laborer class, the average earning power
of a woman is $22 a week. In view of all this, which seems to meet
high union standards, I was surprised to find that
the mill was not unionized, but Mr. Cannon said
they had always had remarkably good
labor relations. – [Narrator] The village
the First Lady saw was in a large part
the result of the philanthropic
priorities that Mr. Cannon believed essential for
a healthy community. This included encouraging and
supporting young students. – He created a full scholarship
for medical school for me. He named it after his son,
who was killed in the war. It was called Charles A.
Cannon, Jr., Scholarship, and it was good
for 4 years. There were no strings attached,
and he said, “When you’re through med school,
you don’t necessarily have to come back
here to practice. You can go wherever
you want to go.” I said, “I’m coming to Concord and Kannapolis to practice.” – [Narrator] In 1943, Mr.
Cannon took a major step to make certain the
things he was doing to build better communities
would be supported well beyond
his lifetime. He established the
Cannon Foundation with the goal of
making an impact in health care,
higher education, faith, human services,
and community. Although, he had been
promoting worthy endeavors throughout his
life, the Foundation provided the means to
carry on his vision. – Cannon Foundation
was used to build Cabarrus Memorial Hospital. – And then established
a charitable trust to provide money to
keep the hospital going. Wanted a nursing school so he’d have nurses
in the hospital. – Taken as a
whole, his his charitable
interests, today, exceed the size
of the sales of the company at the
time of his death. – [Robert] Never was
mired in the past, he was always aware
of the present, but looking to
the future. – [Narrator] Mr. Cannon
demonstrated interests and influence far beyond
his Kannapolis office. He served as a trustee
for both the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. He served on the
board at New York Life with former US Presidents
Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. He never missed
those meetings. It gave him an
association with some of the leading captains of
industry in the world. The United States
emerged from World War II as the preeminent military
and economic power in the world. The American attitude
of “can-do” prevailed. The postwar years saw
an explosion of births as the Baby Boom generation
arrived on the scene, bringing with them a
cultural revolution in music and fashion. Suburbs sprang up
like mushrooms. – Folks have never
forgotten the fact that the first building in
Kannapolis was the mill, and the second one was
the YMCA adjacent to it. – [Timothy] Which
is reputed to be the largest one in
the country. – [Joe] They had a
game room. – They had 2
gymnasiums in it. – I learned to play
basketball there. – [Joe] You could shoot pool. – [Timothy] Had a bowling alley. – [Kenny] Had a swimming pool. – [Norris] Sandwiches. – [Linny] They had all
kinds of clubs up there. – [Norris] Peanut butter
crackers and cold drinks. – And we had our
piano recitals
there. – Even had a
barbershop down there. – [Kenny] Mr. Cannon used to
get his hair cut over there. – You’d come in up
the steps, and go thru the big
doors and turn left, and you’re into this beautiful,
well-appointed library with massive
wooden doors, and you could do your reading
and your homework there, and we often did. – And you could join
for a dollar a year. – It was just
the heart of our
community. – But it was
just a neat, wonderful
place for kids
to grow up. (peppy music) – [Narrator] But the
prosperity of the 1950s and 60s wasn’t universal. Racial discrimination and the
power of the Jim Crow laws went on national display. – The textile
mill industry grew in tandem with the
system of segregation. – [Clarence] The more
skilled jobs, of course, such as the machine fixers,
the loom fixers, and so on, those jobs were
highly coveted. They were almost all
held by white employees, and they were, by far,
the highest paying jobs. – [Bob] Somehow this notion
that only white people had either the
capacity or the right to participate in this kind
of modern textile industry. – There were many
African-American workers who worked in the
maintenance areas, the outside crew, and who
worked in the opening room, where the cotton bales
were first opened. – White workers had
the opportunity to
see themselves as somewhat better
than the black women who worked in their
particular houses. – [Joey] If it hadn’t been
for African-Americans, low wage
domestic labor, the white women who
worked in the mills, and there were nearly
40, 50% by the 1960s, could not have fed
their families, could not have watched and
cared for the children, couldn’t have put clean
clothes on their backs. – It was very, very
much segregated, so many things that
you take for granted, we weren’t even
exposed to. Such as the library,
going to the library, public parks,
swimming pools, and things that
really matter to make a good
round life, was not even available
for us, anyway. – [Narrator] The
Civil Rights movement galvanized into action a
new generation of leaders, black and white. – Cannon Mills became
one of the poster
kids for change. It was a big mill. It was a successful mill. It was, in many ways,
a progressive mill in terms of housing
and paying it’s workers in an adequate
sort of way. And, so, could
the inequalities, the racist polices that
pervaded the south, could they change
at Cannon Mills, then that would be a very good
thing for this new America was coming in to be. – [Narrator] In
1962, Corine Cannon was one of the first
African-American women to be hired to run
textile machinery. – You know if you
want to really
hear news, they say go to the
barbershop or to the
beauty parlor. And I was at the
beauty parlor, and one of my good friends said
that she had heard somewhere that Cannon Mills was going
to start hiring black women. I said I gotta call
that said for me and you to come to Cannon Mill in
the morning prepared to work. – [Joey] I would say
that it was the African-American men
and women on the ground, in the mills, who insisted
on equal opportunity to all jobs
in the mills, who really forced
the change in the Southern textile
industry demographic. – I don’t think there’s
any argument to come up. Transition from
segregation to integration was very smooth in
Cabarrus County. – [Narrator] During
the 1950s and 60s, America was coming to
terms with how to create a nation of equals enjoying
the rights of everyone to live, work and
play together. For many, the mill community
was an idyllic environment. Mr. Cannon continued to work
well into his seventies. On his business
trips to New York, he liked to reconnect
with his hometown folks at the Cannon
Sales office. – At the end of
the day, if you
were in New York, he would try to find
out who was up there
from Kannapolis. Then he would gather
those group of people, and he’d say,
‘Let’s go to dinner, “and we’re going
to the theater.” He loved Hello, Dolly. And we would have seats probably
on the first or second row, and I would swear that
Ethel Merman, who was Dolly, would wink at him when she
saw him in the audience. And I call that wink, very
plutonic, friendly, human. – [Tom Hanchett] By all
accounts, Charles Cannon cared about Kannapolis, and cared about the
people in Kannapolis. One mill worker was quoted
as saying, “He was our daddy. “He was our Santy Claus.” And there are down sides to
that kind of paternalism, but the upside was, I
think, a genuinely caring, knowing of each other. – When I represented Kannapolis
as Miss Kannapolis in 1961, and I would go
and speak to
people about it, they would say
“Oh, one person
owns that whole
town, right?” And that, they didn’t seem to
think that was a good thing, but growing up, I never
thought about that. It was my hometown
and I was proud of it. It never dawned on
me that it wasn’t a town like any other
small town in the South. – [Narrator] But as
the world grew smaller, there was an
increasing criticism of paternalistic
communities. – The paternalism
began to take on more negative
connotations, and it became,
as the factories
got larger, and the business became
more complicated, it’s seen as a way
of controlling and as opposed to a way of
taking care of them. – They begin seeing this
paternalism sometimes it’s not, “You’re taking
care of us,” but it’s sort of like,
it’s a power issue. It’s like, you’re
saying like you’re
the parent, and we’re the
children. We don’t know how to
take care of ourselves. You got to tell us
how to live. Where’s the
autonomy here? – Paternalism is a
feature of his leadership, in some really
important ways, but not in the
demeaning ways that we often
define paternalism. I mean, he imagined
Kannapolis as being his city, and that isn’t
just about
paternalism. That is
about pride. – [Narrator] Regardless of what the outside world thought
about paternalism, Mr. Cannon was known
as a man of principle and high moral
character, values he carried forth
in his company’s policies. – He had a firm
rule that no
supervisor is going to take
advantage of any
female employee, and he told me, he
said, “If you ever find any employee messing around
with one of the women, you fire ’em
right on the spot.” – Character,
integrity, honesty, and being far more interested
in others than yourself, were the way he lived. – [Narrator] His competitive
spirit was matched by his high level of
knowledge of so many things. Art, history,
technical details, trusts, cotton, equipment. He knew enough about each thing in order to manage the
people working with it. – Mr. Cannon was surrounded
by people he truly trusted, and they trusted him. – He didn’t just want
people around him who said yes to
everything that he said. He wanted to hear
your viewpoint, and he didn’t mind hearing
you disagree with him, but if you disagreed with him
you had to be able to give him reasons why you were right
and his way was wrong. – One day I had a
message from my boss to deliver to
Mr. Cannon, and I walked up
to his office. I didn’t normally walk in. He saw me, he says, “Joe,
don’t be mealymouth. You have an opinion. What is your opinion
about what this project is? I want to know
what you think.” – [Narrator] Mr.
Cannon was a planner, astutely alert to
market changes. – [Clarence] He saw something
different than many of us see. And that’s something
you can’t teach. Part of it is, applying
himself everyday to the job of how can
I improve this mill. and how can I improve
this community. – [Narrator] Mr. Charles
A. Cannon was once quoted: “Of all the factors
affecting cotton, the two principal ones
are weather and politics. Of the two, the weather
is more predictable.” – So the way he handled
the cotton department, which is about supply,
price and quality, was to create the L.T.
Barringer Cotton Company in Memphis, Tennessee,
heart of cotton country. L.T. Barringer became
one of the greatest personal friends
of Charles Cannon, period. I think they talked
on the phone daily. Kannapolis had the ability
to store a year and a half’s supply of cotton,
which is unheard of. – [Narrator] Mr. Cannon
wasn’t afraid to take a leadership role for
the textile industry. – There’s something
called two price cotton. – Cotton was sold to
foreign countries, the mill was paid
a higher price. – [Buddy] So, bottom
line was, Cannon Mills was paying about
30% more for cotton than these competitors
overseas were paying. – That cotton is ending
up in the mills of Japan or wherever, it’s being
turned into cloth, it’s coming back to
the United States, cheaper than you can make
it in the United States. – So, the textile industry
took it upon themselves to sort of appoint
him the unofficial ambassador to
Washington, to try to get this
situation changed. – Cannon was a master at
playing with Washington. Cannon was pals with
President Kennedy. They wrote each
other notes. – [Clarence] He did manage to
get the situation rectified, to get a bill introduced. – [Tom Hanchett] Kennedy
didn’t sign the bill. He was assassinated
before he could, but Lyndon Johnson
did sign the Agricultural
Adjustment Act of 1964, and gave one of the
pens to Charles Cannon. – [Narrator] The political
winds were blowing against his business and he
realized a struggle lay ahead. – They didn’t sell
old equipment. It got destroyed. – We’d go out
and take
sledgehammers and break up
the old looms, so they wouldn’t end up going
to some foreign country. – Charles Cannon’s
paternalism caught the attention
of Ralph Nader, who was the corporate
whistle blower of the 1960s. And in 1970, he
released nationally, Red, White and Blue
for Uncle Charlie. It was part of a
general questioning, in the 1960s, of whether
father knows best. – Do you think that the
measure of Mr. Cannon’s control has been exaggerated? – Unionization has not been
able to get into Cannon Mills because he is good
to his people, and people enjoy
workin’ there. – I think the
responsibility of
a dominant company in a town, which
employs most of the
workers in the town, inescapably, it’s going
to have to exercise a kind of beneficial
paternalism, in terms of taking
some of it’s profits, some of the great wealth that
it draws out of the town, and putting it back in,
in terms of facilities, both cultural,
educational, recreational, public health
and the like. – Our company,
Cannon Mills Company, was criticized in
some of the leading financial magazines
of the day, for being too paternalistic. They said we weren’t
payin’ enough attention to the bottom line
to make a profit, to do good on the
stock market. That we were using too
much of our operating money to provide schools, and
housing, and health care, so we were somewhat
criticized for that, but that was
Mr. Cannon’s wish. – [Narrator] But criticism of
his paternalistic practices, global competition, and
unfavorable government policies weren’t Mr. Cannon’s
only concerns. The passing years brought a
new set of personal challenges. – [Robert] Unfortunately,
my grandmother had a stroke, and I never will forget, he
hardly ever left her side. – [Narrator] Six years after
the death of Ruth Cannon, Charles Cannon suffered a
mild stroke in his office. – He refused to
let them take him
out on a gurney, and they pushed
him to the door in
his desk chair. – We picked him up at the
back door of the office and drove out through the
mill yard at shift change, and he wanted to stop
and talk to everybody and everybody wanted
to talk to him. – [Narrator] Later that night, in the very same hospital he
built for his beloved town, Charles Cannon died
of a massive stroke. – He died with
his boots on. He died doing
what he loved. He loved his work, and he worked
because it was who he was. and he felt like
he was making life and everything better for
people by staying engaged. – [Narrator] The era of Charles
A. Cannon came to an end, but like his unincorporated
town without any city limits, Mr. Cannon’s impact was
not limited by his death. He had made sure that
the values he believed in would be there for the
people he believed in, keeping the philanthropic
work of his lifetime going forward as embodied
in the Charles A. Cannon Charitable Trusts and
The Cannon Foundation. How is Charles A. Cannon
viewed through the lens of historical context? Free enterprise
with a conscience? Paternalistic benefactor? Today, the town of Kannapolis
is an incorporated city with elected officials and the
full range of city services. The mill is gone, a victim
of the foreign manufacturing Charles Cannon foresaw. In its place has
risen a $1.5 billion scientific and economic
revitalization project that’s emerging as an
internationally recognized research hub leading in
groundbreaking discoveries in nutrition, disease
prevention and agriculture. – Charles Cannon has been
such an essential part of helping the South
cultivate a compelling story. He provided a seed that we
continue to see flourish today. – [Bob] There’s
something very unusual about the kind of
dedication and the vision that a man like this had
to build this entire town, and to build the
kind of environment where people could work,
and live, and go to school, and go to church, and die,
all in a few square miles. – People like Charles Cannon
are hard to find today, and I think that we
will find over time, he will be seen for
all the complexity that he brought to
a very difficult
time of transition. – I do think Charles
Cannon understood that an educated,
healthy work force was in the best
interest of his company, and I think he thought it
was in the best interest of his region, and his
state and his country. And in the examples we
see across the globe, of the absence of any
investment in the human capital behind the textile and
apparel industries, places like Bangladesh,
I think we would love to see a Charles Cannon there
taking care of his workers, building hospitals,
investing in schools, attending to the social
services of the community for whatever the
reason is behind it. – [Narrator] When Charles A.
Cannon died in April. 1971, he had achieved many personal
honors during his lifetime. But one of his proudest
accomplishments was creating at least
one new job for each day in his 50 years of leadership. Today, The Charles Cannon
Charitable Interests support those pillars of society
that he himself cherished: health care, higher
education, human services, and local communities. These values are the
legacy he leaves. A legacy that will
continue to touch thousands of his
fellow citizens, and the families of his
employees for
generations to come. – He gave to
twenty or thirty
thousand people, a sense that they
were all part of
one family. – Everybody was
somebody when they were
around Charles
Cannon. – I think my
grandfather
would probably want to be
remembered as
a builder, as a man of
his word, and someone who
left the world a
better place. – Absolute power
in the wrong
persons hands is a terrible
thing, but it can be a
good thing, like in Mr.
Cannon’s hands, it
was a great thing. (mellow music)