Oral History

David Caldwell, Jr. - On race as a factor in environmental justice (clip)

Interviewed by Darius Scott on September 23, 2014

Darius Scott (DS): By thinking about the environmental issues that have been faced by Rogers Road, how do you think race factors into those?

David Caldwell, Jr.: Well, [laughs] you are in the South! I mean, that’s… that is the South. That’s what, to me, what the South was based on, was race. That’s how it was built. I think a lot on it. I think one of the things that, when we say the South, or race, we have to look at politics. And that was one of the things that we found when we started out.

I’ll never forget I was met years ago by Mr. [Bill] Thorpe, who was a Chapel Hill alderman, or councilman. He said, “Dave, we had a bunch of politicians.” And he said, “They’ve done the same thing that I did.” And I said, “Well, what’s that?” And he said, “They looked to see how you guys vote out there. Not enough of you vote to win or lose.” And I said, “Oh, my gracious!” So, we were listening.

They were there showing their faces and getting their pictures taken. So, right after that, we started getting involved in politics as a community, working hard. We got a couple of people who thought like us in office, and they helped. And we found out that that’s where the power was, and showing what you could do. Working outside the box. And it made a big difference. So, right now, we do have people saying, “We need to talk to RENA and see how they feel about it.”

We had too many politicians that were making decisions — and this is still going on now -- we had a lot of politicians at the time making decisions from behind a desk that didn’t even know where the landfill or Rogers Road was, had never been there. And if they’re doing it for us, think what they’re doing all the other decisions they’re making for the rest of the people around Orange County, when they don’t know of that and when they’ve never been outside the office to make that. They take a report that’s on their desk and make a decision and don’t know firsthand on themselves.

And don’t say, “Well, I don’t have time to get out and see every single thing”. Well, I, at least, want one that’s going to try and get out and see something and know what it s going to do before he starts to make a decision. I’d like to know that he s gotten all of the information from both sides to say, "hey, This is right," or "This is not right." Not just, "Well, Bill saw it, or John saw it and said that this is the way we re going to do it."

So, that's the biggest thing for us is getting involved and talking to the people, the politicians, and getting involved with other professionals. That s why we started an organization called CEER, which is the Coalition to End Environmental Racism. We would go to meetings, and all they would see were Black faces. So, we created CEER as a partner, and now you go in, and we have publishers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, street workers, neighborhood people, housewives, and all these different faces and different backgrounds in there. So, they have to look at it a lot different, as potentially a powerful organization.

DS: And what work has CEER done?

DC: CEER basically, the same thing as RENA does, but it's a lot -- it's more diverse in coming out. And we do things, like we try to we re all involved in the politics, getting the people we want in there, that we know, that think like us. Pretty much that is to change that face so that they look at you. When they see Blacks, they see a place full of Black people come in, and they have preconceived notions. But when that group is combined and diverse, it changes that conception or perception.

David Caldwell, Jr. - On race as a factor in environmental justice (clip)

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Oral history interview of Caldwell, Jr., David conducted by Scott, Darius on September 23, 2014 at Chapel Hill, NC.

Citation: Southern Oral History Program, “David Caldwell, Jr. - On race as a factor in environmental justice (clip),” From the Rock Wall, accessed July 21, 2024, https://fromtherockwall.org/oral-histories/david-caldwell-jr-on-race-as-a-factor-in-environmental-justice-clip.

Rights: Open for research. The Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) welcomes non-commercial use and access that qualifies as fair use to all unrestricted interview materials in the collection. The researcher must cite and give proper credit to the SOHP. The SOHP requests that the researcher informs the SOHP as to how and where they are using the material.

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