Asheville Junction: A Blog by David E. Whisnant

The American Enka Corporation Was a Dutch Company: Did It Matter, and If So, How? Part I

My initial intention for this post (one in a series on Enka) was to investigate the presence of Black workers at the Dutch-owned American Enka plant in Buncombe County’s Hominy Valley during its early years: How many had been hired? What sorts of jobs did they have? What presence did they have in the community? How were they represented in the company’s long-running Enka Voice employee magazine?

The more I thought about and investigated race and racism at the plant, the more aware I became that, however the two operated, they almost certainly had derived to some extent from Dutch history, society and culture before or during the 1920s.

So this post has come to focus upon gaining some understanding of that “something,” whatever it was, and however it operated.

I begin with a brief history of rayon (earlier, “artificial silk”), the Dutch Rayon plant that preceded American Enka, and the Netherlands’ involvement in the global slave trade, which in turn helped shape interracial social and cultural patterns on into the 1920s.

The post that follows this one will  then engage the “who was hired and what did they do?” questions.

Enka in the Morning, Ede, Holland. Rainbow through fog at upper right. Original photography by Netherlands photographer Machiel Taan; cropped by DEW. Plant built ca. 1922; photo taken 2017. Used by permission. Click for enlarged image.

What Was Rayon?

The history of the man-made fiber first called “artificial silk,” and later (1924) “rayon,” reaches back to about 1884 in Europe.1 Rayon’s history is complicated by many national and corporate actors, four distinct production processes and their underlying technologies, complexly related patents and competing corporate claims, and overlapping timelines that lie outside the scope of this post.2

European Rayon Plants

Industrial-scale rayon production in Europe began about 1920, and by 1927 European factories were the source of more than 2/3 of total world production (182,000,000 lbs. annually). Italy was the largest single producer until overtaken by Great Britain a year later.3 Much of the dramatic and rapid rise in production derived from rayon’s silk-like qualities, valued greatly for clothing — especially women’s.

Dutch Enka

Old (1922) Dutch Enka Factory Walls, Ede, the Netherlands. Photo by Robert Oo, February 28, 2020. Flickr. Click for larger image. The architecture is strikingly predictive of that employed in the western North Carolina plant a half-dozen years later.

rayon dress

Volume 1 of American Enka Corporation’s employee magazine, The Enka Voice, June 1930, p. 7.  Click for better image. Glamorous fashion photos of women arrayed in rayon appeared in every issue for decades. Example here, from January 1947.

The Dutch got involved in rayon production fairly late — and slowly. They had taken a few steps as early as 1911, but did not become a significant player until after World War I. By then, the British, French, Germans, and Italians were deeply and expansively involved. Spurred by a fast-growing international market for rayon, the expiration (hence, availability) of a few German and other patents, improvements in technology and changes in trade tariffs, production throughout Europe and into the U.S. was expanding rapidly.

The parent company to American Enka, the Dutch Enka Company (N. V. Nederlandsche Kunstzijfabriek –> NK –> ENKA) expanded production dramatically in the early ‘twenties, but most of it was destined for foreign markets (the U.S., Germany, China), because domestic consumption was low. Annual Dutch rayon exports to the U.S. rose from 577,000 to 2,100,000 pounds between 1924 and 1927. In turn, the growth of foreign markets urged the building of foreign plants.

U.S. Involvement

The first glimmer of U.S. involvement in rayon production had emerged with the founding of American Viscose Company (not the only entity eventually so named) in Boston around 1894, but significant industrial-scale production did not emerge until after 1920.4

By 1924, the largest of 4 U.S.-based rayon plants (several of them with Italian, German, Belgian or French connections) was producing 28 million pounds annually, and by 1928, the largest of 10 (The Viscose Company) was turning out more than half of the nearly 100 million pounds being produced worldwide.5 All of which argued for the formation of the American Enka Corporation in 1928.

Ascertaining the relative prominence of all of these dynamics in the choice of western North Carolina as a site lies beyond the scope of this post. But in addition to worldwide supply and demand, several identifiable cultural factors were also seriously in play.

In her study of the coming of the Italian Tubize-Chatillon rayon plant in northwest Georgia about the same time as American Enka came to western North Carolina, Simpson highlights the intersection between Jim Crow culture and the advent of a “rayon gold rush” in the south in the 1920s. Jim Crowism, she argues, “had a dramatic impact on southern labor, creating rigid boundaries between white and black access to jobs.” Meanwhile, the convict lease system siphoned Black workers out of the labor pool, and “rhetoric labeling black men as rapists and brutes discouraged mill managers from hiring black workers.” Already textile-heavy South Carolina passed the Segregation Act of 1915, prohibiting white and black cotton textile operatives from working together “in the same room.”6

Seely involvement

Asheville Sunday Citizen, September 23, 1928, B5. Click to open full article.

Why a Dutch Plant in Western North Carolina?

And what might this complex have had to do with a Dutch rayon factory specifically in western North Carolina, since Jim Crow was not only a southern but a nationwide phenomenon?

Little, one might (wrongly) assume. Fred Seely (chair of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce’s negotiating committee) characterized the Dutch industrial site seekers — as the negotiating protocols no doubt at least tacitly required — as “straight forward, highly educated and skilled gentlemen.” Presumably, such gentlemen would b above Jim Crowism in all its form, interested only in pure supply, demand, and profit considerations.

Even among such gentlemen, however, it turned out that Dutch racial history and a national culture of racism were significantly in play. The operation of those two factors proved significant partly, one hastens to add, because they dovetailed neatly with a home-grown and -sustained culture of racism, stirring a perverse syncretism with regard to assessing the local labor pool.

The Dutch managers, it became clear, wanted only white workers for their new plant. Why was that the case, and how did it play out over the years? This post and two future ones will engage those (and related) questions

Mountain Sellers and Dutch Buyers: The Racial Divide

When Dutch site-seekers came to Asheville (one of 51 potential locations considered), they were looking (like most industrial site-seekers) for land, water power, raw materials and rail- and water-transportation.

They also sought, it turned out, cheap, non-union white labor, which the local Chamber of Commerce assured them was available in abundance, and could be had without “risk” of having to hire Blacks as well. The Dutch considered that a risk partly because they intended to have a “hands-on” rather than “at a distance” relationship with their new plant.

Dutch instructors

Our Dutch Instructors, Enka Voice, June 1930, p. 5. Click to expand.

Enka Voice, July 1930, p. 5, one year after the plant opened.

Dozens of top managers, skilled workers, and technical instructors would be sent to take up residence and build/manage the plant, its internal social system — and that of the surrounding labor pool area — was of interest. 7

There was to be a Dutch language school for Dutch children. Parents and children were to have periodic company-paid trips “home” to visit families, brush up on their Dutch, and maintain their cultural ties.8 Photographs of Dutch scenes, dignitaries and events appeared regularly in the Enka Voice.

It does not require genius to imagine that within all this, race would likely matter, since Blacks were considerably more than minimally present in western North Carolina, as they had been since earliest settlement in the 1790s. If Black-white interaction were to be minimized, some agreements between the Dutch and their mountains hosts would be necessary.

Dutch Group’s Labor Requirements and Asheville’s Assurances

native-born

“Asheville’s Outstanding Industrial Resource – – – Native-born American Labor.”

My extended discussion of Asheville’s and Buncombe County’s parts of the industrial recruiting story is already available in Enka Builds a Labor Force: The Magic of Native-Born Mountain Workers. Much of it has to do with concerns the Dutch site-seeking group expressed regarding Blacks in the available workforce, and the Asheville Chamber of Commerce’s minimizing and mollifying responses to them.

That post drew extensively upon a revealing brochure I had discovered several years earlier: Industry Grows and Prospers in the Asheville District, published by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce’s Industrial Bureau in early 1927, just as the Dutch/Asheville negotiations were beginning.

Key points in the brochure concerning race were:

  • The available Asheville labor pool offers “Intelligent, steady, home-loving and pure-blooded [white]” mountain workers, who are “naturally adept and intelligent.”
  • Foreign workers such as are frequently used in “the North” are to be avoided because they have “radical tendencies.”
  • Similarly, but for different reasons, in the South “the negro . . . is never radical,” but “may not be trained” sufficiently to meet the Dutch managers’ requirements. And anyway,  the Dutch were assured, the “non-native”[i.e., Black] population in the mountains was less than 1%, and Asheville’s only 15%.
  • White mountain labor was cheap, docile, reliable, and not vulnerable to “radical discontent” and the labor unrest it engendered.9

Enough language drawn from (or inspired by) this document appears within the extensive Asheville Citizen-Times’s special September 23, 1928 “Rayon Section” to make it seem likely that Dutch and Asheville negotiators had access to and used it during their negotiationsIt was echoed also in Citizen-Times accounts of the outcome.10

Asheville Assurances vs. Black Presence in Asheville on the Eve of Enka

However reassuring the Asheville Chamber of Commerce’s calming language was intended to be to the Dutch executives, the facts themselves were at odds with such reassurance.  In 1850, according to the United States census, Buncombe county’s population of almost 13,000 included 1,825 (14.3%) free Blacks and slaves. By 1883, 25,000 people lived in the county — 21,000 whites and 4,000 (19%) Blacks.11 Decade after decade, most Blacks held low-skill jobs (bell-boy, chambermaid, domestic, housemaid, janitor, laborer, porter, tobacco stemmer, waiter, and washerwoman). The few skilled workers included barbers, blacksmiths, bricklayers, butchers,  carpenters, gardeners, a few cabinet-, harness- and shoemakers, and stone masons.12

blacks in AVL

Stereotypical Black man drinking from earthen jug, corner of Eagle and S. Main streets, near White Man’s Bar, ca. 1883-85 (note sign at upper center on wall). Pack Memorial Public Library, B365-8.

Race relations in the area were neither better nor worse than elsewhere — north or south. The 1887 city directory listed James Loughran’s White Man’s Bar just off the main square. A decade later, young Black Bob Brackett was taken from sheriff’s officers and lynched “near Asheville.”13

Soon thereafter, on the 37th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Asheville Daily Gazette and other newspapers carried an address, “Negroes Appeal to White Men,” warning that then current efforts to amend the Constitution would mean that “slavery again becomes lawful.”

But it was too late. The violent Wilmington coup of 1898 ushered in a broad anti-Black movement that by 1900 saw White Supremacy clubs founded in virtually every county, including Buncombe. The Asheville city directory for the year listed about 6300 whites and 2000 Blacks (about 25% of the total), and the Asheville Daily Citizen heralded “the high claims for white supremacy dear to the heart of every loyal Anglo Saxon within our borders.”

Nor did the next few years bring surcease. “White girls” were brought in to replace black waiters at the large Glen Rock railroad hotel, and the Citizen-Times urged that others follow suit.

Asheville Citizen-Times, July28, 1903, p. 8

Glen Rock Hotel (built 1889), Depot and Southside Streets. Pack Memorial Public Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WhiteSupremacy

Raleigh NC, 1900. Click for full 9-page text. Original at UNC-Chapel Hill Wilson Library.

Meanwhile, viciously racist White Supremacy Clubs were being organized in and around Asheville and all over the state, and Mulligan’s Colored Minstrels were on stage in Asheville’s Opera House (Blacks who wanted to see themselves caricatured were shuffled off to the 25-cent balcony seats).14

minstrels

Asheville Citizen-Times, June 13, 1906, p. 6.

During the same era, restrictive racial covenants guaranteed white buyers of houses and lots that  their investments would “be protected” as Asheville’s building boom rolled forward in the 1920s. Black ghettoes and all-Black streets multiplied. Several hundred Blacks were crowded onto Ashland Avenue and Bartlett Street that turned off it. Valley Street, Southside Avenue, Beech Street, and Clingman Avenue, as well as Burton Street in West Asheville, were virtually all-Black.

Hence the racial situation in Asheville, Buncombe County, and western North Carolina was (and long had been) strikingly different from the version of it the Chamber of Commerce presented to the Dutch industrial site seekers.

So did the Dutch actually know or suspect, what the truth was? Had bits of it been intimated or leaked to them? And to what extent and in what ways were their own historical and cultural frames invoked by whatever they learned?

Since no hint of such facts emerged in the ecstatic, multi-page September 23, 1928 Rayon Section of the Asheville Citizen-Times, one has to intuit, guess, or infer what they might have known. My guess is that they probably were aware to some degree, and chose to withhold it from public discussion.

Fortunately, it turns out that sophisticated historical studies of the race issue in the Netherlands are now available. A few aspects of what historians have learned and reported help clarify the local/Dutch cooperation and collaboration in developing an almost entirely white workforce at American Enka.

As the “country of origin,” the Netherlands had been involved in the slave trade (even longer and more deeply than had the U.S. Were some of the shaping features and cultural patterns that history bequeathed still operative there (as here) in the 1920s? And if so, to what extent did they figure in the western North Carolina project?

These questions (and related ones) beg for answers.

“Straight Forward, Highly Educated and Skilled Gentlemen”: Dutch Involvement in the Slave Trade

Stowage of the British slave ship “Brookes” under the Regulated Slave Trade Act of 1788. Original at Library of Congress https://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a34658/. Click to enlarge.

During the past months, working on a recently completed National Park Service study on the Carl Sandburg site at Flat Rock NC (Black Lives and Whitened Stories: From the Lowcountry to the Mountains), brought me into closer awareness of the extensive new scholarship on the global slave trade.15

A deep irony of the Dutch industrial site hunters’ focus upon the white labor supply in western North Carolina was that historically, the Netherlands had itself been long and deeply involved in that trade — even longer and more deeply than had the United States.16

slaves transported

Table from the extensive and superbly documented entry “Atlantic Slave Trade” in Wikipedia. Data selected from the 36K-item global database islavevoyages.com. This database is very large. Navigating and utilizing it effectively will be easier if you begin with the Trans-Atlantic Methodology introduction, and also the Intra-American one. You may then create your own spreadsheet with parameters you choose. Initially, you will open to slave voyages involving Netherlands-flagged ships (for which I have pre-specified the parameters).

Salient features of that involvement were that between 1596 and 1829, the Netherlands traded nearly 600,000 enslaved people within the Atlantic system (only about 1/10 as many as Portugal, but more than 1 1/2 times as many as the U.S.), both to Brazil and to the Spanish colonies, much of it through the Dutch West India Company.

Especially interesting here is that those slaves were bound for the Hudson River settlement of New Amsterdam (New Netherland). The Dutch slave ship Gideon brought 290 enslaved people in mid-1664. The Slave Voyages database shows this voyage as no. 11414, captained by Sijmon Cornelisz Gilde. A total of 421 slaves (about 224 men and 197 women) had boarded in Loango (on the west coast of Africa) on November 11, 1663, but only 348 survived to reach the first disembarkation point (Curaçao), and 57 more perished before disembarkation at New York on July 8, 1664, for a total mid-passage transit time of about 8 months.

A document that emphasizes the internal slave trade that also developed is this ledger sheet from about 80 years later:

slavery in NY ledger

Ledger entry for purchase of slaves by New York and Rhode Island residents, 1748. New York Times, May 5, 2015.

There can be no question, then, about the depth, magnitude and length of Dutch involvement in the global slave trade. Nor, in fact, about the domestic impact of that involvement in the traders’ home country which follows — always and everywhere. The question that then presents itself is how that domestic situation impacted the “at home” growth and development of the Dutch founders and managers, and what emerged from it when they embarked upon building and operating a new plant in western North Carolina.

Reticence and Denial: From Dutch Slave-Trading to Enka’s Entrepreneurial Moment

With regard to the issue of race, it seems appropriate to ask:

  • Where (socially and culturally) were they coming from when they came to the United States?
  • What about Dutch racial demography?
  • How was race positioned and defined within their worldview?
  • What were Dutch citizens’ accustomed social and cultural experiences with Blacks in the 1920s and 1930s?
  • What was the hiring policy (if any) in Dutch-owned European plants with regard to race?
  • And were such factors translated in western North Carolina, and how did they operate?

Specific data on some aspects of these questions are scarce, but useful observations on others are possible and helpful.

A recent volume of essays illuminates many periods and aspects of Dutch slave-trading and its long-term national impacts.17

The “Dutch racism puzzle,” Essed and Hoving caution, is an “intensely contested” complex — burdened by ignorance and denial, and a consequent “tendency to reject colonial [i.e., slave-trading] history as [ir]relevant,” which makes it difficult to gain insight into the extent of Dutch racism. The whole complex, they argue, is overlaid with “a sense of self-satisfaction and smugness about ignoring the issue” and the country’s “long history of physical racist violence” (10-13).

For our purposes, a brief précis of the book’s main insights (20-24) provides sufficient perspective:

  • misrepresentation and whitewashing of national history by cultural elites and scholars
  • “Dutch white innocence,” “white supremacy,” “and a shared feeling of ‘being good'”
  • “successful manufacturing of a positive national self-image” and “repetition of positive self-representation”
  • “insistence on Dutch innocence . . . and Inconsistency in racist discourse that can be explained [through] disavowal”
  • “prevailing ignorance and indifference about the feelings of ethnic groups”

Consequently, Essed and Hoving argue (21), the Netherlands “has not yet” — 250 years, that is to say, after its slave-trading ended, “been able to fully address its colonial past, including its participation in the slave trade and slavery . . . .” It thus seems safe to posit that such lags, still present in 2014 when Essed and Hoving wrote, would also have been present at the formation of American Enka — 85 years earlier.18

Fortunately, a recent museum exhibit mounted by the Dutch national museum amounted to an end run around the long-defended web of national denial.

The Dutch National Rijksmuseum Tells Stories of Slavery

On June 5, 2021, about a century and a half after the Dutch slave trade ended, the national Rijksmuseum, after 4 years of intensive work (beginning, that would be, about two years after Essed and Hoving’s book appeared), opened a large exhibit on Dutch involvement in the global slave trade. The museum considered opening the topic to public view and discussion for the first time to be so fundamental to its mission that the section of the museum that had always been called The Golden Age (17th century, when Dutch involvement in global slave trading began to flourish) was renamed Slavery.

In early April, before the exhibit actually opened, the Boston Globe reported that planning and producing the exhibit was drawing some public rebuke (one notable who didn’t like it was the Prime Minister), but it went forward, nevertheless.  Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Harvard Art Museums, and its Department of History of Art and Architecture began to collaborate on a four-part online conference.19

Plantation Dance Dirorama Detail (1830), NG-2005-24; Rijksmuseum via Harvard Art Museums

An extended review of the Rijksmuseum exhibit in the New York Times in June emphasized pivotal details and themes:

  • The Dutch East and West India Companies (1602, 1621) “established with private and state capital and governed by Dutch state officials and, later, royalty” were important early and long-term actors in “more than two centuries of Dutch participation in the global trade of enslaved people.”
  • “From the 17th century through the 19th century, the Dutch enslaved more than a million people, according to the museum’s historians, buying them at trading posts the companies ran” in Africa, Asia, and South America: Brazil, the Gold Coast (now Ghana), [present day] Indonesia, Suriname.and the Caribbean.20
  • After slavery was forbidden in the Netherlands, it remained legal in Dutch colonies.

Over the long haul, two important mechanisms muted the impacts of this intense and prolonged involvement: the definition and role of the museum itself, and the generation and management of public discourse:

  • Established in 1800, almost two centuries after Dutch slave trading had commenced, the Times noted, “the Rijksmuseum [dates from] . . . an era when museums were built to convey a nationalistic narrative . . . to underscore that they were well within their rights to do what they were doing, that it had brought wealth and prosperity.”
  • Dutch involvement was not taught, or widely known, at home, although it continued until 1863, decades after others had banned it.  “[L]essons about slavery, [were] usually about the United States and the cotton plantations in the South.”21

The most searching reaction to the exhibit was by BBC writer Cathy Pound, who argued that “slavery permeated every level of [Dutch] society, both in the colonies and on home soil, and left a legacy that still ripples through the country today.” The museum’s curator of history emphasized that it is (at long last) “important to tell our visitors that it’s not only history that took place far away in the colonies, it’s really our national history and involves us all.”22

Pound sought out and quoted colonial historian Alex Van Stipriaan about the conceptual errors of the “Golden Age” perspective and its destructive long-term impacts. For decades, Van Stipriaan told Pound,

the Dutch have convinced themselves that “we can’t be racist because we’re tolerant… it’s just a joke, it’s our tradition . . . historical narrow-mindedness  . . .  [a version of history from] standing on a ship, looking down, literally, on the colonised countries and colonised people, no word whatsoever from the people who were colonised.”

Museums too have had an undue impact on . . . our mental heritage.  All these collections are representative of a very Eurocentric, very biased view of history, a history of white ‘superiority’ and black ‘inferiority’.23

Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) protest. Recent but undated (probably 2013 or later) photo by SBS Australia radio/tv. Search here for  numerous Zwarte Piet items: https://www.sbs.com.au/search?query=Zwarte%20Piet&p=1.

Outside the museums, Van Stipriaan argued, one sees the “annual Saint Nicholas Day parades, where white men and women appear in blackface make up as Zwarte Piet (Black Peter).” In recent years, these events have been the focus of anti-racist protests.24

Meanwhile, Van Stipriaan himself is working on a National Dutch Trans-Atlantic Slavery Museum, which he believes will be “a landmark in the Netherlands,” although it is unlikely to be open before 2030.

Implications of the Larger Frame for American Enka

Hence the connection between Dutch industrial site seekers in western North Carolina in the late 1920s and the Dutch slave trade in the early 17th century is neither conjectural nor a question. It is a certainty — a link from Asheville, Hominy valley and the French Broad River to New Amsterdam on the Hudson, to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, to Surinam and other Dutch slaving sources and ports.

The operation of that link becomes sharper when one realizes that most senior Dutch executives and managers sent to American Enka in 1929 would have been born before 1900. Chairman of the Dutch parent company AKU and President of American Enka Corporation Dr. F. H. Fentener Van Vlissingen was born in 1882, and Technical Vice President and Chief Engineer A. J. L. Moritz (the top executive at the local plant) a year later.

By the time they became top executives at American Enka (1927-1928), these men would therefore have experienced nearly 40 years of social, political, and cultural formation in Holland. And they were by no means the only representatives of that generation who occupied top positions in the company.25

But the complexities of that corporate network and its future configurations lie beyond the limits of this post. Mainland Holland was invaded and occupied by the Nazis in the blitzkrieg of May 10-14, 1940, which damaged some Dutch Enka factories. The primary activity of American Enka’s western North Carolina plant during World War II was producing rayon tire cord for the U.S. military. Articles on, and photos of, its 500+ employees in the armed forces during the war appeared in virtually every issue of the Enka Voice.))

Given the connections with such a racialized social and cultural situation in the Netherlands, then, how did it actually work out for mountain Blacks (rather than the preferred mountain whites) when American Enka built its western North Carolina plant and started hiring workers? That is the focus of my next post.

 

REFERENCES

Moïs H. Avram, The Rayon Industry (1927; 2d ed., New York, 1929), http://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89078555158; Khalid Elhassan, “10 Famous Companies That Collaborated With Nazi Germany.” HistoryCollection.Com (blog), July 16, 2018, https://historycollection.com/10-famous-companies-collaborated-nazi-germany; Enka Voice, vols. 12-17 (1941-1946); Philomela Essed and Isabel Hoving, eds., Dutch Racism (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014); Nina Siegal, “Telling Stories of Slavery, One Person at a Time,” New York Times, June 2021; Lydia B. Simpson, “All Roads Lead: From Ancient Silk Road to Multinational Synthetic Fibers Industry in a Southern Appalachian Town” (PhD. diss., Middle Tennessee State University, 2017), http://search.proquest.com/pqdtglobal/docview/2009405312/abstract/F80F1A6910834641PQ/8.

Notes
  1. The following brief précis is drawn (unless otherwise indicated) from Avram’s timely The Rayon Industry (1927, 1929).[]
  2. A more detailed account is available in Simpson’s chapter, “The Rise of Artificial Silk and the Modern Rayon Industry,” in her PhD dissertation on the Italian Tubize-Chatillon plant in Rome GA (1929), “All Roads Lead: From Ancient Silk Road to Multinational Synthetic Fibers Industry in a Southern Appalachian Town” (2017).[]
  3. Avram, Rayon Industry, p. 63.[]
  4. The original American Viscose Company plant in Marcus Hook PA appears to have produced rayon from 1910 to 1977. A good retrospective website with photos may be found here.[]
  5. Avram, Rayon Industry, Table 5, p. 53.[]
  6. Simpson, “All Roads Lead,” pp. 60-61[]
  7. A substantial amount of the material here is drawn from the elaborate Rayon Section of the Asheville Citizen-Times for September 23, 1928, which announced the arrival of the plant.[]
  8. A later post will focus on the dynamics and politics of Dutch/American cultural exchange and interaction within and outside the plant.[]
  9. Notwithstanding these assurances, Enka workers would begin to organize within 3 months after the plant opened. And the strikes Dutch managers feared were in fact already in evidence in surrounding counties and states: Gastonia’s Loray Mill (1929), Marion NC (1929), Elizabethton TN (1929), and later the General Textile Strike of 1934.[]
  10. See “The Best and Most Prosperous City”: American Enka and the Imagined Transformation of Asheville.[]
  11. Asheville city directory, 1883-1884, pp. 46-58, 104[]
  12. Waters, Beneath the Veneer, pp. 77-93, adds (for the 1890s) doctors, funeral directors, a lone pharmacist and a few tailors.[]
  13. Baltimore Sun, August 12, 1897.[]
  14. Four 25-cent tickets for a Black family of four in 1906 would have cost $30.19 adjusted to 2021 prices.[]
  15. The study, available online is Black Lives and Whitened Stories: From the Low Country to the Mountains.[]
  16. For a few of the detailed examinations and analyses, see Enslaved: Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade, within which a search for “Netherlands” returns 2198 items; Voyage of the Echo: The Trials of an Illegal Trans-Atlantic Slave Ship; The Transatlantic Slave Trade; The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade, a brief but intensive account; Wikipedia’s History of Dutch Slavery, and similar sources. For full data on every Dutch slave voyage (and those of other countries), see sortable Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade – Database in the Slave Voyages website.[]
  17. Philomela Essed and Isabel Hoving (eds.), Dutch Racism (2014). Unfortunately the volume pays little attention to the 1920s and 1930s, when American Enka was planned, founded and opened. Subsequent references in parentheses within the text. Essays in this book are in English, but many items in its bibliographies and notes are in Dutch or German. I have no competence in the former and little in the latter. The book also focuses almost entirely on the years after 1960, and most often on the 1990s and thereafter.[]
  18. Soon after I finished this post, still feeling a bit uncertain about whether the national, international and global dynamics of and connections to the global slave trade I have endeavored to describe and deploy here are justified, I happened across a recent New Yorker article that lays out the same elements within British history–including, especially pertinently, with regard to national failure/refusal to acknowledge and approach critically the history of slave trading within British colonialsm.  See Sam Knight, “Britain’s Idyllic Country Houses Reveal a Darker History,” The New Yorker, August 16, 2021, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/08/23/britains-idyllic-country-houses-reveal-a-darker-history, accessed Sept. 9, 2021. Knight argues that “the subjects [of slavery and empire] usually occupy [separate] places in the public imagination—a splitting that has helped to preserve a thick vein of imperial nostalgia in Britain. A poll last year found that thirty-two per cent of British adults are proud of the Empire; among the other European countries surveyed, only the Dutch recorded a higher percentage.” Just as Essed and Hoving, as well as other Dutch scholars have been (and still are) arguing.[]
  19. Presumably transcripts of the conference are available online, but they would run beyond the bounds of this present, more limited discussion.[]
  20. A substantial scholarly literature on this topic had in fact been growing for decades. See for example Johannes Postma, Dutch Participation in the African Slave Trade: Slaving on the Guinea Coast, 1675-1795 (1970); Willie F. Page, The Dutch Triangle: The Netherlands and the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1621-1664 (1997); P. C. Emmer ,The Dutch Slave Trade, 1500-1850 (2006); Kwame Nimako Willemsen,The Dutch Atlantic: Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation (2011), Victor Enthoven, Slavery in Dutch America and the West Indies (2016) and others.[]
  21. For the New York Times review, see Nina Siegal, “Telling Stories of Slavery, One Person at a Time”(2021).[]
  22. BBC, Cathy Pound, “How the Dutch Are Facing up to Their Colonial Past,” June 2, 2021. Subsequent quotations from this source.[]
  23. I wanted to include an appropriate image from the Getty Museum in this post, but the price is prohibitive: $200 and up for single use of a single image.[]
  24. In the Dutch Racism volume, see Rebeca P. Brienen, “Types and Stereotypes: Zwarte Piet and His Early Modern Sources,” pp. 179-200; and Joy L. Smith, “The dutch Carnivalesque: Blackface, Play and Zwarte Piet,” (pp. 219-238.[]
  25. Another lintriguing link to and context for the operation of racist attitudes and policies in the 1930s reaches beyond Dutch Enka to a larger network of German (Siemens, BASF, IG Farben) and U. S. (IBM, Ford Motor) companies that later collaborated with and supplied Nazi aggression and extermination efforts, and set up and operated slave labor factories inside the camps. IG Farben produced and supplied the insecticide Zyklon-B, used in the sealed chambers in Nazi extermination camps. See Khalid Elhassan, “10 Famous Companies That Collaborated With Nazi Germany,” HistoryCollection.com (blog), July 16, 2018.[]

6 thoughts on “The American Enka Corporation Was a Dutch Company: Did It Matter, and If So, How? Part I

  1. Sherry P Hill

    So well researched and written, filling in info blanks I didn’t even know I had! I knew little about slavery in other parts of the world and even less about Dutch racism. Having been a child in the 1940’s growing up in Asheville, I was well protected from the reality of racism in Western NC or other Southern states. It was only the experience of living in Alabama two times that I became more educated about the economic impact of racism. I certainly was not aware of the racism inherent in the Dutch and USA economic confluences in my Southeastern region of experience. So it is with appreciation and interest that I have pursued this blog with additional avenues to read later. Thanks, David! Good job!

  2. David Whisnant Post author

    Thanks, Sherry. I can always count on you to make pertinent and helpful comments. There is, of course, so much more to the story/stories in this post than there is time or space to pursue. My hope is generally to inventory, describe, and link the parts so that they are at least identifiable, and that they are narratively linked and explored enough to engage readers. You are in fact (whether you knew or not) what I think of as a desired modal reader: smart, self-aware, with some relevant experience, comprehending of what goes on in the post, and thoughtful /articulate enough to let me know what worked for you. This connects really well with the reasons I started doing it in the first place, and energizes me to keep at it. Another one on Blacks at Enka (the few that got hired!) is in the works, and should be out before too long.

    Actually, there is one other thing you might do for me: share out the posts (on whatever platforms you are on), and feel free to make them Public. It is very difficult to get them out reliably and satisfactorily. FB’s algorithms are, I suspect, ruling them out sometimes, so that they never even appear there, even if I post them. I put them on Twitter, too, but again, results seem spotty and difficult to monitor/correct. But sharing out by others could help to function as a workaround for some of this.

    Thanks!–

    David

  3. Sherry P Hill

    Well, David, I seem to have lost a reply comment when interrupted. Was saying that I had shared the blog, as usual, with five native Asheville persons. Will try on FB. Applaud the extent of research and linkage you have already done. This reader needs to alot more time to follow them all. Go, David! Whoever thought that in our 80s, we would be so involved with our hometown and reconnecting with old friends!

  4. David Whisnant Post author

    Thanks, Sherry, for your continued interest and for sharing it out in whatever way(s) you have been or intend to. On one’s 80s: yes, it is a bit surprising, but then again, many years ago my older daughter Beverly gave me a desk plaque that said “I’m Still Learning.” She was right: I was then, and still am, as clearly you are, too.

  5. Brian Jordan

    Dear Mr. Whisnant,
    Thank you so much for your fascinating piece. I grew up in Hendersonville and soaked up the seemingly prevalent myth that the southern Smokies were substantively different than the rest of the South in terms of racial attitudes and race relations. As an adult, I have disabused myself of that notion. The more I learn about the history of my hometown and the surrounding region, and the more I look back on my years growing up, the more I see how damaging that myth was—and continues to be. Thank you for further opening my eyes. “I’m still learning.”

  6. David Whisnant Post author

    Hello, Brian: Thank you for your thoughtful response, and for giving me some sense of how you connected with the post — or, as it appears, maybe both the one I just posted this evening and the one before. Or even all (now) 4 of the Enka ones I have done so far. This one (posted just a few minutes ago) is about the 34th in the entire Asheville Junction series) was one of the most difficult to write. It took me much longer to get it ready to go than I thought it would.

    As you no doubt surmised, I grew up in the Enka Village, but graduated from Lee Edwards HS in Asheville. I never spent a lot of time in Hendersonville, but I did march in the LEHS Band in the Apple Festival there a number of times. You are right, of course, that growing up not knowing some crucial facts about our own part of the world robs us in key ways, and slows down our growing and understanding. Most of what I have ever learned, I learned long after I really needed to know it.

    You didn’t say where you live now. Still in WNC? I would be glad to hear from you any time; thoughtful comments are always welcome (critical ones, too, for that matter!).

    Sincerely,

    David Whisnant, Ph.D.
    University of North Carolina (retired)

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