Eleanor Scott Bell, 79, was born and raised in Lumberton, the capital of Robeson County in North Carolina.
One of her earliest memories is of picking tobacco to supplement the family income. They were a family of nine with a large extended family — part of the Lumbee Tribe of NC, "People of the Dark Water."
“My daddy was in construction. He did brickwork, but he let us work with the local farmers. I started when I was probably 9 years old standing up on a cinder block handing tobacco to my momma,” she said.
Her first full-time job, once she turned 18, was at a local linen supply company. She began working for Temptation Hosiery Mills in Lumberton — maker of L’eggs pantyhose and other Hanes products — after it opened in 1974. Her sister Carolyn worked at the large Converse factory in Lumberton, which had opened in a former B.F. Goodrich tire manufacturing facility in 1972 to make Chuck Taylor All-Star shoes and other sneaker styles.
In 1970, Eleanor Scott married Travis Bell, also a member of the Lumbee community. In 1977, the couple moved out of their single trailer in a Lumberton mobile home park and bought land and a double-wide further north in St. Pauls — a “Small Town with a Big Heart” located closer to the Fort Bragg U.S. Army base where Travis worked as a barber.
St. Pauls and Lumberton were part of the late 19th/early 20th-century textile boom that created mill communities across the Piedmont region of the state. The communities’ prosperity really took off in the 1940s when a big textile corporation purchased several area cotton mills. By 1953, North Carolina was a manufacturing powerhouse, leading the nation in hosiery production.
Textiles (including hosiery, clothing, and footwear) were woven into the fabric of many lives in the region. But beginning in the mid-1980s and through the 1990s production shifted to Latin America, China, and Southeast Asia — leaving thousands of workers, including in the Lumberton area, jobless. As noted in the Our State magazine article “Heart & Soles,” “if you grew up in the Piedmont in the half-century prior to the mid-’90s, chances are good that someone in your family — your grandfather or grandmother, your mom or dad, your aunts or uncles, your siblings or cousins — worked in a hosiery mill. These days it’s common to find mentions of Temptation Hosiery (bought by the Sara Lee Corporation, then closed in 1994), Kaiser Roth Mills, Converse (which closed their Lumberton plant in 2001), and other prominent factories of that era in The Robesonian newspaper obituary pages.
In 1980, at the age of 37, Eleanor Bell was forced to resign from Temptation for medical reasons. She had developed rheumatoid arthritis in her legs at around age 35 and stayed active — working and attending church on a regular basis — for as long as she could. But after undergoing surgery on her legs, her ankles then hips started “giving out.” She began using a walker, and one day fell and broke her knees. In 1999, she started using a wheelchair off and on to get around and in 2007, at age 64, became a full-time wheelchair user. Her church procured her a bed with a remote control that helps lift her up and out of the bed into her electric wheelchair each morning, which has allowed her to stay active.