In Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, people like to tell a story about how in the middle of the summer, it used to snow. The white flakes would swirl around and stick to your hair and your car and your lawn. It was all over the place.

This wasn’t snow, though. It was cotton, floating out of the town’s seven cotton mills. This was before air conditioning was commonplace, and the factories would open their windows to let a breeze in.

Acree Bell Lassiter, 89, who now lives just outside the town, remembers those days well. “My daddy was a sharecropper,” she explains.

Lassiter is one of the many women who found independence in mill work during the industry’s peak. She spent her nearly 60-year career at a local mill, beginning just after World War II. When she retired in the 1990s, the industry was on the decline, nationwide. It moved overseas, and the impact this had in Roanoke Rapids is still evident today: Just two of seven mills are still standing, and they have been abandoned. The town’s unemployment rate hovers around 10.5 percent, more than twice the national average, according to 2015 ACS data. Full Article