History of Garon Knitting Mills - Paul Robeson Visit

The history of Garon Knitting Mills was written by Sherman Garon, a son of Israel Garon, in May 2007. This page provides more information about a visit of the famous African American baritone, Paul Robeson, to Duluth and to the Knitting Mill in 1946.

The following story of the Robeson visit was written by Sherman Garon in September 2012.

I was there. It apparently was the November 1946 visit.

This was shortly after WW II . I was at the U of Minn, but would come back to Duluth often.

The Garon Knitting Mills had been unionized in the mid 30’s, but after a few years the union had dissolved. With the end of the war, there were many new employees, and some felt they should form a union.

They went on strike as my father had not been happy with the actions of the previous union leader so would not recognize the new attempt to start a union.

With the strike, the factory was not operating very strongly. The strikers were outside of the building that day, and I was in the building with my father and others, I believe that included your father and Lawrence.

Paul Robeson [in town for a performance] came over to encourage the strikers who were outside of the building

As you may recall, the front entrance to the building was quite large, with a door and then a hallway with small group of steps going up to the main entrance. That hallway space had terrific acoustics.

As you know, my father loved to sing. On his understanding that Paul Robeson was a famous singer, my father invited Paul into the building, into that hallway. They were on the steps together. They both began singing together. I am sure one of the songs was my father’s favorite GOD BLESS AMERICA. With the acoustics their singing was fantastic. It gave everyone a good feeling.

An aside. In the unionizing in the mid 30’s, a very good worker, a Belgian woman, was one of the main people who pushed to have that union. She lived only a few blocks from the factory. Some years later after the union was gone, while washing clothes at her home, her arm was caught in her clothes wringer and she was unable to work for several weeks. My father continued her wages until she was able to come back to work.

When the attempt to unionize was made in 1946, she was one of those who opposed the effort. There was no union.

Many years later, I called in an efficiency company, the May Company from Chicago, who sent people to tell us how to be more efficient. They studied the factory for three days and came up with their results. The first words they said were “You are running a country club for your employees.” We did not change the situation. Many of the employees started when they were young and were still with us when they were drawing Social Security.

The employees loved my father and they all called him Grandpa Garon. You may recall that each Christmas, there was a party for the employees, with them receiving various products or candy or wine, When he was near 90, they got together and had a large picture of him which was hung up in the factory.

The story above was written in response to an inquiry from Brad Snelling, a librarian at the College of Scholastica in Duluth, about the visit of Paul Robeson. He wrote:
I am working on a research project about recitals that the African American baritone, Paul Robeson, gave in Duluth. I am writing to ask if you might know anything about an appearance that Robeson made at the Garon Knitting Mill during one of these visits.

There is a passage in the book The Ore Docks: A Working People's History Of Duluth by Richard Hudelson and Carl Ross which mentions that, a day after one of his Duluth recitals, Robeson went to a strike line at the Garon Knitting Mills and sang labor songs to the women who were striking. The paragraph from the book is shown below.

Note: This page is also in the private area of the website.

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Page created in Sep 2012