Navy Household: 321 South King Street

 The Navy household is significant for its long interaction with the textile economy of the New South. Whereas many 1920 residents of the Loray Mill village, both black and white, had only recently found work in textile production, Frank and Florence had been working in cotton mills for at least twenty years. They were from the surrounding Piedmont region of North Carolina, an area of the South that had undergone economic changes much earlier than either the Appalachian South, the home of many white mill villagers, or rural Upcountry South Carolina, where many of the village’s African American residents were born. The Navy family’s immigration to Gastonia was therefore a search for better wages in a familiar industry rather than the radical change from rural agriculture to textile production that many villagers had experienced.


The Navy household resembled many other white families in the 1920 mill village. Frank and Florence lived in their small, rented house on South King Street with their six children: Roy, Clyde, Hattie, Paul, Ethel, and James. Unlike most white men, Frank did not work at the Loray Mill. Instead, he was a house carpenter and likely helped construct many of the houses in the mill village. The Loray company might have been responsible for hiring him for his labor since it constructed village houses, but it was not his permanent employer. His sixteen-year-old son Roy, however, did work in the mill and was the only member of the Navy household to do so. In 1920, he was a doffer, meaning that Roy would have replaced full spools of spun fiber with empty spools. It was a job that was usually given to children because of their dexterity. Roy’s younger siblings did not work in the mill, and instead they attended school. The Navy family is notable for only living in Gastonia for a short time, arriving in 1919 and leaving sometime in late 1920 or early 1921.


Before 1920


Frank and Florence came from families that had long experience working in cotton mills in the North Carolina Piedmont. Frank was born on March 3, 1883, in Cleveland County, North Carolina, the third child of George and Sarah Navy. Before Frank was born, George had farmed in Burke County, North Carolina, but lure of a higher income likely caused George to take up mill work. By 1900, George oiled machinery in a cotton mill near Fallston, North Carolina, and Frank worked as a twister in the mill. Three of his siblings were also employed full time, including his ten-year-old sister Carrie who was a spooler.  In 1903, Frank married Florence Pearson. Florence was born on November 28, 1883, in Burke County, North Carolina, to Isaac and Harriet Pearson. Like Frank’s family, the Pearsons moved to Cleveland County in search of economic opportunities, and by 1900, Isaac, Florence, and Florence’s younger brother worked in a cotton mill in Shelby, North Carolina.

The early years of Frank and Florence’s marriage would be defined by movement within Piedmont North Carolina. The young couple remained in Cleveland County for several years, and welcomed their first son Roy into the world on January 4, 1904. By 1907, however, the Navy family had moved to Charlotte, where Frank worked at the Louise Cotton Mill. Only a year later, however, the family had moved back to Cleveland County, and lived in Kings Mountain, where their second son Clyde was born. Yet in 1910, they had moved once again to nearby Crowder Mountain in Gaston County, and the family lived with Frank’s mother. According to the 1910 census, Frank was a speeder hand, and Florence was a spooler in a local cotton mill. Before moving to Gastonia in 1919, the family moved back to Kings Mountain once more where Frank worked at the Pauline Cotton Mill, and Florence had four more children.

Copy of FrankNavy_321SouthKingSt_ancestry_WWIdraftcard_1918Frank Navy’s World War I era draft card


After 1920


Household members would continue to search for economic opportunities after 1920, but unlike the many African American residents who moved to the urban North, all of the Navy family remained in North Carolina. Frank, Florence, and the children did not stay in Gastonia for very long. Relocating from Gastonia back to Kings Mountain after 1920, Frank and Florence had two more children, Pearl and Donnie, but their son Paul died in a car accident in 1930 and was buried in the family cemetery plot. By 1938, however, the family once again moved to Charlotte, where Frank worked as a painter until at least 1944. Unlike his father, Roy continued to work in the mill industry. In the 1930s and 1940s, he and his wife Essie worked in silk and cotton mills throughout Piedmont North Carolina. They moved from Gastonia, to Kings Mountain, to Moore County, to Asheboro, and to Newton over the course of twelve years.

Son Roy Navy’s WWII draft card from 1941. Note his employment at Rayon Mills in Newton, NC
An ad in the Lumberton paper celebrating the 25th anniversary of Clyde's bakery

An advertisement in the Lumberton paper celebrating the 25th anniversary of Clyde Navy’s household

Roy’s brothers Clyde and James also migrated in search of work, but their trade was not textile production. Clyde became a baker and worked in Charlotte and briefly in Atlanta, Georgia, before opening a successful shop with his wife, Ruby, in Lumberton, North Carolina. Their store, the Lumberton Bakery, remained in operation from 1940 until Clyde’s death in 1969.  James worked with Clyde in Charlotte at the Carolina Baking Company before serving in the United States military in World War II. After the war, James supported his wife and children as a baker and private driver in Charlotte, a private driver in Asheville, and a textile worker in Shelby. He and his family eventually moved to Lumberton in 1961, possibly to help with Clyde’s business. Although less information is available about the female Navy children, Hattie, Ethel, and Pearl all worked in Charlotte textile mills while their family lived there in the late 1930s. None of them sought employment after their marriages, although all of their husbands did work in North Carolina textile industry in the 1950s and 1960s.