David Caldwell, Jr.
A Chapel Hill native, David Caldwell is the Project Director and Community Organizer for the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association located in northern Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As part of his position, he collaborates with UNC in research and works with PORCH and summer enrichment programs to help revitalize the Rogers Road Community.
David Caldwell, Jr. - On Youth Involvement in the Rogers-Eubanks Landfill Removal (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On Rogers Road's Roots and History (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On the landfill problems (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On successful strategies sourcing local support to solve community issues (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On the fifty-year landfill struggle (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On the book on the Rogers-Eubanks Landfill (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On growing up in the Rogers community (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On who suffers because of landfills (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On the Fight for Clean Water (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On Recruiting Experts' Help to Prove the Existence of the Landfill Problems (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - Advice to the current generation (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On visitors from China touring the Rogers-Eubanks community (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On his career and community
“You made a mistake, but learn from it. Matter of fact, if you learn from it, it’s not a mistake."
- David Caldwell, Jr.
David Caldwell Jr. gives an overview of his life in Chapel Hill and his experiences in the US Army and his other occupations. He begins by talking about his family and what his community looked like growing up, as well as describing other different families in the community. Mr. Caldwell shares stories about what children did in the community when he was younger and recalls times spent working and having fun. He also tells stories of his experiences in the army and his other occupations, including security services. Mr. Caldwell discusses how he tries to give back to his community and provides ideas about ways to improve community involvement.
David Caldwell, Jr. - On his education, sports experience, and family's involvement in law enforcement and the military
"That's what I try to instill, doing what’s right when no one is looking."
- David Caldwell, Jr.
David Caldwell is a native of Chapel Hill and long time community organizer and activist in the Rogers Road community. Mr. Caldwell brought materials to be scanned during the interview, and large portions of the interview related to those materials, which included photographs, maps, and newspaper clippings among other materials. The materials covered a range of topics which were discussed throughout the interview. The interview begins with Caldwell explaining the historical items he brought, their origins, and his vision for the usage of the materials. Throughout the interview he discusses his family’s involvement in law enforcement and in military service. Caldwell tells several stories related to the Invasion of Grenada, racial demographics and dynamics of the military, and the treatment of Black veterans. At various points during the interview Caldwell discusses his education growing up in Chapel Hill. He recalls the importance of education, as well as the sports he played while in middle and high school. Caldwell recalls his civics teacher, Joyce Clayton, who began a Black history class at Chapel Hill High School and remembers her as an inspiration. Throughout the interview, Caldwell describes the materials he has related to the history of Orange county and discusses the history of poor houses within the county. Towards the end of the interview, Caldwell tells the story of him and his friends playing pick-up basketball against some UNC football and basketball players while they were in high school. The interview confluences with Caldwell discussing the racial dynamics of playing sports in Chapel Hill including discussing the football game played between Chapel Hill High School and Lincoln High School before integration, his lack of access to courts to play on, and police involvement in pick up games with UNC players.
David Caldwell, Jr. - On the integration of Lincoln High School, family, and civil rights
David Caldwell, Jr. - On his parents, civil rights, and law enforcement
David Caldwell, Jr. - On the Civil Rights Movement and his family
David Caldwell - On the difficulties between the local government and Rogers-Eubank community concerning the landfill
David Caldwell is a retired sheriff's officer who recounts the changes of the Rogers Road-Eubank neighborhood in Orange County, N.C. over four decades as they relate to the introduction of a landfill and increased housing density. Caldwell has been active in social justice work in his community as a leader of both the Rogers-Eubank Neighborhood Association (RENA) and the Coalition to End Environmental Racism (RENA-CEER). Caldwell discusses ongoing difficult interaction with the local government as the Rogers-Eubank community has voiced concern and organized against the effects of the landfill. He recounts Rogers Roads being a green and lush area during his youth and how it became less so with the landfill and housing development. RENA-CEER is a leader amongst community organizations combating environmental racism.
David Caldwell, Jr. - Going to town (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr.: Because when we moved out here, I was in the third grade, so it was the 60s, and there was not a lot of houses. There was not a lot of things going on that you could do, so we spent a lot of our time in the woods. There were maybe thirteen kids out here at the time on the entire road. To go to town, as they say, was a thrill. It was a great opportunity for us to get up to see so many people and all the cars, and I even remember being a young guy, seeing horses and wagons being drawn down Franklin Street. DS: Um-hmm. DC: So, that type of thing. So, it was always a thrill. Then you had the black part of town, you know, Merritt Mill Road, gosh, Graham Street, Johnson Street all these areas was reallyRoberson Street. I mean, it was you had black movies, black businesses, stores, movies, hairdressers, barbers all these businesses were in here. I mean, it was booming! And you had your own. I think in the 50s, Chapel Hill was probably about fifty percent black, fifty-four percent black in the 50s. And now, it s somewhere between nine and thirteen percent.
David Caldwell, Jr. - On the Rogers Road neighborhood (clip)
Darius Scott (DS): What brought you guys from Merritt Mill to Rogers Road when you were in the third grade?
David Caldwell, Jr. (DC): Oh! Like most of the people out here, we had the opportunity to buy a home.
DC: There was only about thirteen houses out here when we moved out here, and now there ' gotten close to a thousand. But most of the people out here, when you ask why they moved out here, it was that opportunity to own something.
DC: And we had our chance, and my parents jumped on it.
DS: And how would you describe the geography of Rogers Road, or the neighborhood here, compared to, say, the rest of Chapel Hill? How is it situated within Orange County?
DC: Yeah, it s strange now, but when we started, it s always looked [05:44 - inaudible], like it was put in a place that nobody wanted. And the people got in it, and they made it prosper. So, even today, now everything goes on with our neighborhood. It has stood. The area is growing so much. The only problem we have is it s all growing around us, and we re not really being able to be a part of it down through the years, as much a part as we should have been.
DS: You mean the development?
DC: The development, yeah.
DS: Okay. And what about the people here, the demographics?
DC: Right now, we probably have one of the most diverse communities, maybe in this state, I know in the county. We have the original families that were here. There s a few still here that didn't leave or couldn't afford to leave. Most of the kids have left, because the history of the landfill and the promises made and not fulfilled. And how do you tell your kid -- people have heard me say this a thousand times -- how do you tell your kid, Stick around. One day all of this is going to be yours? And they say, What? Polluted water. Busted septic tanks. Vultures. Vermin running around, coming from the landfill. Smells. Can't go outside. So, a lot of the kids, when they got the chance to go, whether through the military or school and education, they got out of here. But recently, we 'e had a some of the families have started to come back, which is great. I think out of all those, we already have two or three families that have moved back that the elders stayed, and the young people came back.
David Caldwell, Jr. - On the initial promises about the landfill (clip)
Darius Scott (DS): Okay. And you mentioned the landfill a bit a moment ago. Could you describe the moments leading up to the landfill coming to Rogers Road?
David Caldwell, Jr. (DC): Oh, gosh! We had, basically, it was, like I said, we were a little country neighborhood. They came into my father s backyard and the local governments. They were trying to the present landfill was becoming, reaching capacity. And they said, Look, if you guys let us put it out here, we re going to bring water, sewer, amenities, sidewalks, streetlights, all these things, once it s filled. And then, we re going to cover it up and make you a recreation center and put in rec and park facilities. Well, it was filled in the early 80s. It reached capacity. And instead of closing it down, they expanded it and didn’t fulfill any of the promises. We asked the government officials at that time, Why not? Here s the promises. They said, We didn’t make those promises. The guys before us made them. And we ’re not obligated to fulfill them. But that day, we were cleaning the yard up, and I remember my father telling my brothers and I, after everyone left, saying, “You know, sons, we made history today.” And we were like, “What?” He says, “Well, first, they came to us, being the government. And second, they put it in writing. And we have the documents that we were lucky enough to find the documents where they did sign it on what they were going to do.” So, all we knew was, Hey, man, we’re getting…we didn’t have to walk five miles to Roberson Street to play basketball. All we knew was, We’re going to have a recreation center out here. We’re going to have basketball courts like they have. It still hasn t happened. [Laughs] Not yet! It’s just around the corner, though. But that was the main thing on that issue right there. It was that they made the promises, they refused to do them, and now it’s slowly but surely, and one at a time, they’re gradually being fulfilled.
David Caldwell, Jr. - On the landfill's environmental impact (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. (DC): This was a dirt road, red, dusty, clay. All of this was cornfields, like I said, and a few houses, things, mostly a farming community. And when they did it, the road was so bad that it was tearing up the city s trucks, so they had to pave it sooner than they wanted to. So, that was the next biggest thing for us, at that time, in the 70s, was we had a paved road out here, which meant that people did not have to I mean, it was bad. It was tearing up cars right and left. So, that was a great and our elders felt, Well, maybe we did make the right decision in letting them come. Because we could see, Hey, they are keeping their word. But after that, that was about it. [Laughs] That was the last of it.
Darius Scott (DS): And, I guess, thinking about the environmental issues that have come up as a result of the landfill being there, could you describe how the neighborhood was prior to the presence of any landfill and waste sites? Were there any environmental issues then?
DC: No! No, we went for us, as kids, twelve, thirteen years old, like I said, we would walk the woods and we would hang out. We would meet at six o clock in the morning during the summer and we d walk the woods until six o clock at night, seeing all types of animals, and streams, and swimming, and all these things. I mean, it was a great life. It was really good. But, as the population grew and the landfill grew, you got more traffic. Of course, like I said, the air got bad. The water was bad. We had to take our clothes uptown. You couldn't wash white clothes, because they all came out muddy red, things of that nature. So, and there was a gradual thing for years we did, taking clothes uptown to wash them, and doing those type deals. Or you didn't buy white clothes or light-colored clothes.
David Caldwell, Jr. - On activism (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. (DC): We brought up the fact that they were not keeping the promises that were made. We would go to meetings to voice our protest and, I mean, we were met with disgust and disdain and, “Why are you guys back here again?” [Sound of train passing, whistle blowing] We were bringing signs and bottles of water to show this is what our water looks like. And, I mean, we were actually told one time that by one of the board members, that, My kids can’t drink this, but yours can because they’re used to it. And we were really blown away by that.
So, when we started to develop tactics, we got involved with different groups and bringing in other people, UNC being one, epidemiology, and the health department, and things. They came in and taught us, okay, how to N.C. State and Duke were involved how to take water samples, how to label them, how to read the results, how to do a power point, how to do these presentations when you went before the governments, what the next stages were, how to analyze the air. I mean, we had million-dollar equipment that we were able to get out and do it. And this was all with no money. I mean, we would work out ways of getting a grant to do we could only test the water for certain things, so we could only test for what we could afford. So, we ended up leaving a lot of things off. But we ended up getting published. We ended up writing a book. We ve been published in several articles, our research.
So, we've learned a lot and, as a result, we've traveled around the state and the country teaching other communities how to organize and how to do and telling our story. And for so long, we thought we were by ourselves. We got involved with the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. And I'll never forget my first summit I went to. There were so many people that were so much worse off than we were, that the government was not helping, and didn't know what to do. And they would come in and say, Well, what about this? And we were able to say, Look, let me save you a couple of years. We already did that, and this is the way you need to do it.
They would say, Well, these guys, well, RENA or the Rogers Road, they're experts! And we would say, No, we're not experts. We've been in it long enough where we've made all the mistakes, so we know what will work and what won't work. Now, if that makes us an expert, we'll be an expert. We just consider ourselves as knowing our situation, knowing it very well, and trying to help others in it.
David Caldwell, Jr. - On RENA (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. (DC): Right now I m the project director and the community organizer. And what I do is special projects that come up, I pretty much organize and get them going and get the community organized into participating. We do a Backpack Back-to-School Bash, where we give our goal is always five hundred backpacks every year to underprivileged kids. At our center, the new center that will be opening, but at our old center we were feeding fifty families twice a month on food we co-partnered with PORCH. We had English and Spanish classes.
We had a summer enrichment camp, where the first year we had fifteen kids. The second year we had twenty-five. This year we had to do it at the church, and we had room for twenty- five, but ended up taking forty. And we pride ourselves on the fact that they come in we have a teacher in our education program, a retired teacher of thirty-plus years, who comes in and helps administer placement tests and that type deal, like the school system does. And our first two years, every one of our kids came in below where they should be. At the end of the six weeks, when they took the test again, every one of them improved. Some went did catch up to where they should be. Not all surpassed, but we had a hundred percent improvement rate, which we were very proud of.
We got the parents involved, which is a big thing. We had the students from UNC that came in. We had a soccer team. And all these things will be coming back in the next few weeks once our new building is done and we move into it, so we re really looking forward to that.
Other than that, and traveling around and talking to other communities and things about what they re doing and how it s going, contracting out UNC has a Health, Motion and Disease Prevention Program that I’ve worked with, and we travel around with community experts around the country. They partner with Vanderbilt, I think, doing that thing, getting back involved with them. I m on the board of directors for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, where we do the same thing, bringing in, helping people organize, those type deals. So, there’s no time down. We do a tutoring program. Right now, we have capacity, again, like I said, for twenty-five kids. The new building will have a capacity for about seventy-five.
Darius Scott (DS): Oh, wow. And when was this organization established?
DC: RENA was established in the 74, 75. We’ve been around for about that long.
DS: Okay. And was it in response at all to the landfill?
DC: No, it was a need. We saw a need that our kids needed help. It s like our Back-to- School Bash. Our first Bash was the kids got we gave out eight brown paper bags. It had a pack of notebook paper, a pencil, an ink pen, and an eraser.
DC: And that was to get them started. Now, they get backpacks, computers, tablets, composition books, notebook paper, rulers, pencil holders, any stuff to get them started. So, they feel like, Okay, well, I’ve got the playing field is a little bit level now. I ve got the equipment. Now, it s all on me to make it work. So, that s how much we’ve grown, from eight to five hundred. Last year, we did five hundred and sixty. So, this year, we did about four hundred forty, somewhere in that neighborhood. So, it s a good thing. The kids and the parents appreciate it.
David Caldwell, Jr. - On race as a factor in environmental justice (clip)
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 his career, community, and the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood
David Caldwell, Jr. - On the history of the Rogers Road community (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. (DC): For Rogers Road we were looking at a mitigation committee that we are working with. One thing they did agree is that, yeah, we’ve got sidewalks and streetlights, but its twenty years down the road. So do you really feel like you’ve done what you were supposed to do, even in a timely manner? We set up a group, a board that is going to look at everything, and look at mainly the remaining sewer, people that don’t have it, our recreation facilities, and community center, something that is a little more modern. Not that this is not a beautiful place; it’s the history of it.
Blanche Brown (BB): Yeah, how long ago was this house built?
DC: Yeah, it was built in the 40s. We’ve been here since 2011. So not long at all.
BB: So is it a part of the original housing?
DC: Well this is the Rogers home. When you come in at the top of the road, on the hill is Hogan Lloyd Rogers house. It was built in the 1840s. Yes, So St. Paul’s has the property and we are trying to save the house. So through some communication and our passion, St. Paul’s is going to give us the house. And one of the things we’ve been talking about is moving the house and we’ve gotten with Habitat, where if they can put everything together than they’re going to give us a lot to put the house on. But we got to get the money to refurbish it and get it ready and move our computer lab put a library in it and stuff.
BB: Wow, that would be amazing
DC: And it’s not just that. We’ve traced the history of the house of the Hogans through July fourth, 1855. The slaves were gathered outside because Mr. Hogan was sick and everybody was going uptown to celebrate July Fourth and everyone was walking around, and they all were afraid because they knew what would happen if he died. They all would become property, so if you had kids or whatever, chances are you might not ever see them again. Well, he passed that afternoon. The grave right up here when you’re going out was where he was buried. It did happen, they were separated, they did find the will and he had made some stipulations around it. He had 3 house slaves—one named Harriet. Ms. Nun is one of the oldest residents of Rogers Road, just turned 90, she lives right off of Eubanks and she remembers her father talking about Harriet, but nothing specific. People worked to put a thing online later on with information. And we had a lady, Deidra Campbell, from Atlanta, Georgia contact us and say that Harriet was her great-great-great grandmother so she came up here a couple of Tuesdays ago and she toured the house and the neighborhood. She is coming back to help us in our fight.
BB: That’s amazing!
DC: And that’s what we don’t want to lose. And prior to that Sam Rogers lived right up there, and he had like 80 acres right here. When the depression came in the banks around here would not let the black farmers refinance. So they foreclosed on them and took the land and sold it to the white farmers. As a result of that, Mr. Sam Rogers lost his land and was given three acres right here, right and on this three acres he built that log cabin over there right across the parking lot, and that is where three families were raised. Three generations. The last generation, he and his wife they built this house. Some of the floors and planks are 200 years old, taken from the old house and everything. So his son, his sons, Jimmy and James, he is actually our landlord. So this neighborhood, I mean, it has so much history. It goes so far back with people and their contributions. It goes as far back as the Civil War. The Civil War, not the Revolutionary War, and people in World War I, Grenada, Vietnam, that are still fighting today. We made our contributions. My brother and I, my father, put in way over 100 years in law enforcement and close to 40 years in the military, so we made our contribution. How much more could a family do, and that’s not counting my uncles who’ve put in their time in other ways?
DC: So to do that and then be treated the way we--guys went to Vietnam and came back and couldn’t go to store, or not being able to go into a certain area. You kind of got an idea of how they were being treated. Racism is a big thing and as soon as we close our eyes or turn our backs it’s going to overwhelm us again. That’s why I think with these young people we have now--how old are these children of our future, it’s been around a long time, and we’ve got to start listening to it, we’ve got to save it and bring them back. I will let them know what they can do, let them know their possibilities. I guess just simple things we try to do. We try to set kids up and take them to different campuses. Not just Carolina, State, and Duke, but you’ve got Central, Shaw, St. Augustine’s, Fayetteville State, all these HBC's and when you go to a HBC it's totally different.
David Caldwell - On the history of environmental racism in the Rogers Road community
“That’s one reason we’re trying so hard to document everything. Because if you lose your identity, you lose your community…You lose your community, whether it’s from development or people buying it, you lose your identity also. So either way, if you lose either one, you’ve lost completely.”
- David Caldwell
During this interview David Caldwell led a walking tour of the landfill and community of Rogers Road in Orange County, North Carolina. A long-term resident of the historically Black community, David is the Project Director and Community Organizer at Rogers Road. He shows the landfill, the woods in which the streams are contaminated by runoff from the red dirt (caused by the landfill), a historical cemetery, an enslaver's home, and the residential communities. David has rich knowledge and experience with the history of Rogers Road. He speaks on the loss of community, the loss of natural beauty, and of environmental racism.
David Caldwell, Jr. - On methane and the landfill (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On Greene Tract Development (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On landfill employees (clip)
David Caldwell, Jr. - On growing up on Rogers Road (clip)
"We’re writing our own history, thank you!"
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