International Paper created Employee Mutual Benefit Associations (EMBA) in each of its mills in 1924 as part of an employee benefit program intended to discourage workers from reorganizing labor unions in the wake of the 1921 Strike. Mill employees managed their mill EMBA to develop social and recreational activities for workers and their families. The Corinth EMBA was named the Warren Curtis chapter.
The EMBA’s initial activities were centered at the Community Hall at the corner of Pine and Heath Streets in Corinth. The building was originally constructed in 1922 to house men brought to Corinth to operate the Hudson River Mill during the 1921 Paper Strike. Called “strikebreakers” by union members, the men were forced to live within the confines of the Mill throughout 1921 and half of 1922, due to the threat of violence if they walked the streets of Corinth.
The Hudson River Mill’s new workforce moved out of the mill and into the future Community Hall in 1922 - and as the threat of violence decreased - eventually into nearby homes that had been either rented or purchased by International Paper. Although the Strike against the Company did not officially end until 1926, social and political relations in Corinth had begun to normalize by late 1924. It was then that the building that was originally intended to house strikebreakers became the Community Hall which opened formally in November 1924 with a Thanksgiving Eve ball attended by over 200 people. The rich variety of social events held at the Hall beginning in late 1924 worked to heal a community which had been fractured both socially and politically by the 1921 Paper Strike.
The Community Hall began to serve a the site for plays, dances, minstrels, church suppers, card parties, and political rallies soon after its 1924 opening. Dances were regularly held at Thanksgiving Eve, Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and the Hall served as the site for the annual Christmas party for Corinth children which was attended by nearly 600. Corinth High School used the hall for its basketball games in the late 1920s, for the Junior Prom, and for the graduation of Corinth seniors. By the end of 1924, basketball games were being held in the building as the home the International Paper Company team - the Corinth Internationals - which played teams from other local communities through the winter months.
The EMBA at the Hudson River Mill expanded its role in the Corinth community in 1942 when it began to publish the EMBA News as a means to keep former employees who were serving in the Armed Forces during World War II informed about mill and community events. The initial issues of the News consisted of only four pages and contained but one or two photographs on the front page which featured a different department in the mill every month. Articles in the News were very brief and consisted mostly of community events, EMBA activities and personal news about Corinth citizens. There were virtually no discussions of Company news or developments. The News also published letters mailed from men in active military service. This publishing idea eventually spread to the EMBAs at other International Paper Company mills.
By the 1950s the EMBA News had become an important source of news within the Corinth community. Company, employee and community activities of all kinds were covered in its pages. The number of pages in the News grew and several photographs were featured on each page. The News actually became a reflection of the growth of the EMBA itself which expanded the resources available at the Community Hall and the activities that it sponsored for IP employees, their families and Corinth citizens. The chart below documents the range of activities offered by the EMBA during the 1955-1956 season and the extent of community participation. The vast majority of EMBA sponsored activities were intended for men and boys. Girls got to use the Hall’s gym during open rolling skating, Girl Scout meetings and dances, archery and bowling. Women participated in organized bowling leagues and attended dances and some banquets. The EMBA did not offer women organized basketball or softball.
In the period 1942-1975, when George Holland served as the editor of the EMBA News, both the articles and the photographs that filled its pages reveal the expansion of EMBA activities after World War II as well as International Paper’s growing influence on Corinth’s civic life. The Company exerted a strong influence within the Corinth community through its economic presence, its active benevolence, and its public relations activities. International Paper’s provided substantial support for the EMBA through its financial support for the EMBA News, its maintenance of and upgrades to the Community Hall, the construction of a skating rink near Curtis Field which was home to the EMBA’s softball leagues, and the building of Brookhaven Golf Course. By the 1960s, the traditional contents of the EMBA News was being augmented by articles inserted by International Paper’s corporate offices to serve the Company’s greater public relations objectives.
At some point in the 1950’s the EMBA Community Hall was renamed the Community Building. By then it contained the gym, a four lane bowling alley, a cafeteria, a rifle range and a boxing area on the second floor. Besides serving as the site for all kinds of sporting events, it also hosted the annual EMBA sports banquet which celebrated the winning teams in all sponsored league sports and recognized individual achievements in golf, fishing. darts and shooting. The Community Hall was also used throughout the year of other types of banquets, and its cafeteria provided meals for the many guests who came to tour the Hudson River Mill.