To Make My Bread

Last updated

To Make My Bread is a novel written by Grace Lumpkin about the Loray Mill strike. It was published in 1932. Lumpkin chronicles the McClures, a family of poor Appalachian tenant farmers, during the industrialization of the south. Released in the heart of the Great Depression, the story takes the McClures to the mill town of Leesville, North Carolina, after their land was taken by a logging corporation. Soon after their optimistic arrival induced by economic conditions, they find the worst is yet to come as they endure a new, challenging life of being a part of the exploited working class under mill management. The book won the Maxim Gorky Prize for Literature that year, too.


Plot summary

The novel begins in 1900 with the McClure family, which consists of Emma, the mother, her father Granpap, and Emma's children: Basil, Kirk, Bonnie, and John. They make their living in the Appalachian Mountains as farmers and bootleggers. The family is forced to live through a harsh winter with little food. It is apparent they must work hard for what they need. They are also poor, and must take credit at the general store to buy food.

As the family continues to barely subsist, the "outside" seems to be creeping closer to the isolated families of the Appalachian region. One day, a peddler from the outside comes to visits the McClures. He tells the family about a new mill in town where they are hiring many people. Granpap quickly dismisses him because he does not like the outsider.

The family struggles to make a living and challenging personal relationships often get in the way. Kirk is revealed to be a drunk and very poor at managing money. Kirk becomes involved with Minnie, and she is revealed to be pregnant, although it is unclear who the father is. Granpap is arrested for bootlegging and is sentenced to two years in jail. Basil decides to leave the family to gain an education.

Kirk is killed, and it appears that Sam McEachern is the one who shot him. Basil returns later asking for money for books at his school, and with the death of Kirk and Granpap in jail, money is very tight. Granpap decides that his family would move to Leesville to work in the mill to make more money.

When the families arrive at Leesville, they believe that working in the mill will provide them with more opportunities. Frank, Ora and Emma begin their jobs at the mill. In the fall, John and Bonnie start school. However, not long after that, Emma becomes ill and Bonnie and John are forced to begin working and leave school.

John begins a friendship with John Stevens, a veteran mill worker and union supporter. As Bonnie and John grow up, Bonnie marries Jim Calhoun. Emma's condition continues to worsen, and she dies. Later, Jim has and accident that precludes him from working, and he abandons his family. Granpap becomes ill and soon dies.

Working at the mill is hard on families. One day one of Bonnie's kids contracts pneumonia while she is at work and dies. Mary Allen, an African American worker, is sympathetic and sends her daughter to care for Bonnie's children.

John and Bonnie continue to work in the mill but they are unhappy with their situation. Workers' wages are cut and the number of positions reduced. As John has learned many things about unions he decides to unionize the workers and starts a strike. The workers picket outside the factory and are often jailed and beaten.

Bonnie is also involved in the unionization of workers. Because of her relationship with Mary Allen, Bonnie helps to make the union integrated so African Americans do not scab. John and the other union leaders decide to hold a rally. During the rally Bonnie is shot and killed. In the aftermath, John Stevens tells John, "This is just the beginning."



Inspired by her own experience in Gastonia, North Carolina, during the textile strike, Lumpkin's writing style in the radical literary tradition is explored in several political themes encompassing the exhausting pursuit of unionization. The McClure family represents the struggle between the familial and the communal as they move to the mill town to make a better life for themselves. In doing so, they go from an agrarian lifestyle to urban where everyone in the family must pull their weight to barely make a living. The exploitation of mill workers challenges the formerly matriarchal, agrarian family structure of the McClures as they endure a starving winter, an arrest and murder, All the while, mothers and children are employed in long hours of harsh working conditions.

Lumpkin's central theme conveyed through the quest for unionized life is the plight of working-class women during the Great Depression. Emma and Bonnie take on roles of motherhood and workers who struggled severely in dividing their duties. There is no joy in having children at this time, and reproductive obligations leave the mothers with no choice but to solely provide, as their productive capacities place them in a limited socioeconomic role.

Lumpkin's progressive voice is explored most through Bonnie, who represents solidarity against mill management, while inspiring others through nobility and perseverance. When Bonnie joins the strike, she exposes the importance of the woman's role and takes a radical step towards her goal of unifying the working class, regardless of ethnic background or race, as demonstrated by her organization of African American workers. Bonnie's efforts cemented her legacy after her tragic death. Her attempts to blend class separation and to expose the working woman emulates Lumpkin's political themes, portrayed throughout the defeating journey of the McClure's search for security.


The book won the Maxim Gorky Prize for Literature from Moscow in 1932:

Art, in Grace Lumpkin's case, took the form of a novel on which she had been working for some time, and which eventually appeared as To Make My Bread. It was awarded Moscow's Maxim Gorki prize for literature, was turned into a play and, some years later, had a successful run at the Civic Repertory's old theater on 14th Street. [1]

See also

Related Research Articles

Bonnie and Clyde American bank robbers

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow were an American criminal couple who traveled the Central United States with their gang during the Great Depression, known for their bank robberies, although they preferred to rob small stores or rural gas stations. Their exploits captured the attention of the American press and its readership during what is occasionally referred to as the "public enemy era" between 1931 and 1934. They are believed to have murdered at least nine police officers and four civilians. They were killed in May 1934 during an ambush by police near Gibsland, Louisiana.

<i>Norma Rae</i> 1979 film by Martin Ritt

Norma Rae is a 1979 American drama film directed by Martin Ritt from a screenplay written by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. Based on the true story of Crystal Lee Sutton, which was told in the 1975 book Crystal Lee, a Woman of Inheritance by reporter Henry P. Leifermann of The New York Times, it stars Sally Field in the titular role. Beau Bridges, Ron Leibman, Pat Hingle, Barbara Baxley, and Gail Strickland are featured in supporting roles. The film follows Norma Rae Webster, a factory worker with little formal education in North Carolina who becomes involved in trade union activities at the textile factory where she works after her and her co-workers' health is compromised due to poor working conditions.

Homestead strike 1892 labor strike

The Homestead strike, also known as the Homestead steel strike, Homestead massacre, or Battle of Homestead was an industrial lockout and strike which began on July 1, 1892, culminating in a battle between strikers and private security agents on July 6, 1892. The battle was a pivotal event in U.S. labor history. The dispute occurred at the Homestead Steel Works in the Pittsburgh area town of Homestead, Pennsylvania, between the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers and the Carnegie Steel Company. The final result was a major defeat for the union of strikers and a setback for their efforts to unionize steelworkers.

Mother Jones Irish-born American labor and community organizer

Mary G. Harris Jones, known as Mother Jones from 1897 onwards, was an Irish-born American schoolteacher and dressmaker who became a prominent union organizer, community organizer, and activist. She helped coordinate major strikes and co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World.

Bill Haywood Labor organizer

William Dudley "Big Bill" Haywood was a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and a member of the executive committee of the Socialist Party of America. During the first two decades of the 20th century, Haywood was involved in several important labor battles, including the Colorado Labor Wars, the Lawrence Textile Strike, and other textile strikes in Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Grace Lumpkin was an American writer of proletarian literature, focusing most of her works on the Depression era and the rise and fall of favor surrounding communism in the United States. Most important of four books was her first, To Make My Bread (1932), which won the Gorky Prize in 1933.

<i>The Coming of Bill</i> 1919 novel by P.G. Wodehouse

The Coming of Bill is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse. It was published as Their Mutual Child in the United States on 5 August 1919 by Boni & Liveright, New York, and as The Coming of Bill in the United Kingdom on 1 July 1920 by Herbert Jenkins Ltd, London. The story first appeared in Munsey's Magazine (US) in May 1914 under the title The White Hope.

The U.S. Steel recognition strike of 1901 was an attempt by the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers to reverse its declining fortunes and organize large numbers of new members. The strike failed.

Steel strike of 1919 1919-20 nationwide steelworkers strike in the United States

The steel strike of 1919 was an attempt by the weakened Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers (AA) to organize the United States steel industry in the wake of World War I. The strike began on September 22, 1919, and collapsed on January 8, 1920.

Loray Mill strike

The Loray Mill strike of 1929 in Gastonia, North Carolina, was one of the most notable strikes in the labor history of the United States. Though largely unsuccessful in attaining its goals of better working conditions and wages, the strike was considered very successful in a lasting way; it caused an immense controversy which gave the labor movement momentum, propelling the movement in its national development.

Colorado Labor Wars Series of labor strikes in Colorado which were violently put down by employers (1903-04)

The Colorado labor wars were a series of labor strikes in 1903 and 1904 in the U.S. state of Colorado, by gold and silver miners and mill workers represented by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM). Opposing the WFM were associations of mine owners and businessmen at each location, supported by the Colorado state government. The strikes were notable and controversial for the accompanying violence, and the imposition of martial law by the Colorado National Guard in order to put down the strikes.

<i>A Woman of Substance</i> (TV series) 1984 British-American television TV series

A Woman of Substance is a British-American three-part television drama serial, produced in 1984. It is based on the 1979 novel of the same novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford.

This is a timeline of labour issues and events in Canada.

<i>You Belong to Me</i> (1941 film) 1941 film by Wesley Ruggles

You Belong to Me is a 1941 American romantic comedy film produced and directed by Wesley Ruggles and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. Based on a story by Dalton Trumbo, and written by Claude Binyon, the film is about a wealthy man who meets and falls in love with a beautiful doctor while on a ski trip. After a courtship complicated by his hypochondria, she agrees to marry him on the condition that she continue to practice medicine. His jealousy at the thought of her seeing male patients, however, soon threatens their marriage. The film was released in the United Kingdom as Good Morning, Doctor, and was remade as Emergency Wedding in 1950.

The Grabow riot or Grabow massacre was a violent confrontation that took place between private police hired by management and labor factions in the timber industry near Grabow (Graybow), Louisiana, on July 7, 1912. The clash left three union workers and a company security employee dead, including union leader Asbury Decatur ("Kate") Hall, and an estimated fifty wounded. It was a crucial event in attempts to organize locals and unionize sawmill workers in Louisiana and east Texas in a series of events known as the Louisiana-Texas Lumber War of 1911-1912.

The Copper Country strike of 1913–1914 was a major strike affecting all copper mines in the Copper Country of Michigan. The strike, organized by the Western Federation of Miners, was the first unionized strike within the Copper Country. It was called to achieve goals of shorter work days, higher wages, union recognition, and to maintain family mining groups. The strike lasted just over nine months, including the Italian Hall disaster on Christmas Eve, and ended with the union being effectively driven out of the Keweenaw Peninsula. While unsuccessful, the strike is considered a turning point in the history of the Copper Country.

Dorothy Markey, known by the pen name Myra Page, was a 20th-century American communist writer, journalist, union activist, and teacher.

Emma Kinema American labor organizer and co-founder of Game Workers Unite

Emma Kinema is an American labor organizer and co-founder of Game Workers Unite. In addition to her full-time job as a quality assurance tester, Kinema volunteered as a games industry organizer in 2018 and 2019. She was hired by the Communications Workers of America union in 2020 to organize video game and tech workers as part of the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees, the first American initiative of its kind in those sectors.

<i>Grand-Daddy Day Care</i> 2019 American comedy film

Grand-Daddy Day Care is a 2019 American direct-to-video comedy film by Universal 1440 and Revolution Studios, and is the third and final installment in the Daddy Day Care film series.

The Louisiana and Texas Lumber War of 1911–1912 was a series of worker strikes that fought for better conditions in sawmills in the Piney Woods of west Louisiana and East Texas. These sawmills underwent attempts to unionize that were opposed by lumber companies and owners. The union workers were known as the Brotherhood of Timber Workers (BTW), a branch of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union (LWIU), which was affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The Brotherhood tried to recruit mill workers by giving speeches and conducting meetings at various mills. Although they had limited success in Louisiana, the LWIU became very successful from 1917 to 1924.


  1. Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. p. 266. LCCN   52005149.