Author Topic: The steel mill -- a local history Part 1  (Read 488 times)

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Tom Rubillo

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The steel mill -- a local history Part 1
« on: March 25, 2022, 01:47:49 PM »
                                                                                                                               Introduction:  Hard times.

     Georgetown nearly died early in the 20th century.  Its largest employer, Atlantic Coast Lumber Company, had was destroyed by a catastrophic fire.  Economic collapse and the resulting Great Depression ensured that could not rise from the ashes.  The local economy was in shambles.  Residents scrambled to scrape out a hardscrabble existence while wealthy outsiders took advantage of the suffering to gobble up vast stretches of area forests and beach fronts at bargain prices.  For everyone else there was almost no paying jobs and very little hope.   To paraphrase words of a popular song of the era, "the rich got rich and the poor got poorer."  Only the rich had fun.   

     Faced with this harsh economic reality, folks greeted an announcement by International Paper Company that it planned to take advantage of the area's abundant forests and build a paper mill on the banks of the Sampit River just outside of the city limits of Georgetown's county seat.  Local people were so please that no one seriously complained when a brothel opened just south of town to accommodate construction works recruited from elsewhere to build the mill.  Some rationalized that its presence near town would help preserve the virtue of local white ladies.  As it turned out, this establishment did little to preserve the virtue of local young, middle aged or old white men. It also had, over time, a very corrupting effect on the local body politic, but that is a story for another time.

     Once construction of the mill was complete, local men scrambled for jobs there.  The logging industry was revitalized.  Prosperity returned, for some at least.

                                                                                                                    Economics in black and white

     The foregoing events occurred during the era of Jim Crow.  Strict racial segregation existed, enforced by very harsh laws and a rigid social order.  When it came to employment of any kind, the easier and better paying jobs were reserved for whites.  Blacks did the heavy lifting for low pay.  The paper mill was no exception.  Company perks, the like golf course and swimming pool on South Island Road, were reserved exclusively for "whites only."  So was the infamous brothel named the "sunset Lodge" which remained open for business for decades after construction of mill was completed.

                                                                                                                           Costs and benefits

     Almost immediately after the mill went into operation, small snow-like paper particles, soot and a rancid order poured out of its smokestacks.  Few complained.  "It smells like money to me" was the mantra heard all around Georgetown during the decades that followed.  Although those air quality problems are much less severe these days, the mantra is still recited among when when smoke stack scrubbers are not working.  International Paper Company had, after all, saved Georgetown from becoming an abandoned, forgotten backwater like some of its neighbors.  People were (and are) grateful for that.  The company still offers some of the best paying and most reliable jobs in Georgetown.  Everyone understands that eventual and possibly inevitable closure would be an economic disaster of major proportions to this community.  A reader's anger or angst caused by this suggestion will only emphasize its truth.

                                                                                                                            Changing times

     The local economy stabilized over the next several decades, thanks in large part to the presence of the paper mill.  The Port of Georgetown was revitalized and grew.  There were more jobs to go around, albeit with a continuing preference being given to white workers for the better paying ones.  Times may have changed, but they remained hard for the under educated, under trained and under skilled.  A racially segregated and unequally funded school system helped ensure that blacks would continue to do the heavy lifting.

     But times were changing, thanks in very large part of the heroic efforts of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  Peaceful demonstrations by blacks and violent responses by whites in authority ultimately led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It banned, among other things, discrimination in employment based upon race and, ironically thanks to the efforts of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond to kill the bill with a "poison pill," discrimination based on sex.  Thurmond apparently though that the lily-white, all-male U.S. Senate would never accept the notion of equality of women.  He was wrong.  Women vote.  Politics is a numbers game.  Politicians (or at least most of them) can count.  When, a year later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed by President Johnson, those who counted grew even more.   

Amazing2Me2

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Re: The steel mill -- a local history Part 1
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2022, 11:31:56 AM »
Why did tourism not save Georgetown back then?

Tom Rubillo

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Re: The steel mill -- a local history Part 1
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2022, 11:04:45 AM »
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