Mrs. Gertrude Nunn
Gertrude Rogers Nunn is ninety years old and has always been a storyteller. She has a southern accent so smooth that she makes a song of speaking. Her audience, whatever the venue, is afraid to interrupt because that they might spoil the sentence. We are now sitting in her living room. She sits in a tan colored straight chair back that has a blue-green tartan blanket and a light blue pillow that she rest in the arch of her back. The washer-dryer hums from the kitchen and the windows are open because the smell is not too bad, and the temperature is good. She had been watching the news and asks me to turn off the TV.
Now, listen,—she says, I’ve got to tell you something. Mrs. Nunn remembers the land before the landfill struggle began. Listen. We made our own bread, from wheat flour. I remember my father would have people run whats called a wheat thrashing machine to thrash the wheat, turning it into flour. Then it’d go to Hillsboro, and it’d become flour for bread-making. And mama, she would put the flour in a big wooden bowl, she would have buttermilk, baking powder and soda and salt. I knew how to measure it all out– no spoons.
The boys milked the cows in the evening. My mom used a beautiful white cloth to strain the milk. She was clean. She’d let it sit for a couple days, then put it in the churn– a big crock churn with a dasher. And you would churn that milk until the butter came to the top…
We took baths in big metal tubs. And we did laundry, we washed outside under
a big tree. Washboard? Have you heard of that?…. My parents instilled in us to
work for something – homes, land, and everything.
That’s how Rogers Road came to be what it is. It’s Historic Rogers Road.
Gertrude Nunn is one of several contributing voices in the Center’s Oral History Collection.
These stories are not exclusively about experiences with the landfill, rather they are portraits of lives and people that have been or become a part of the Rogers Road Community. Although, the neighborhood is now very ethnically diverse, the community was predominately African American for over two centuries. For these black Americans, there was freedom in having land and being unbound to the restrictions and desires of white landlords. However, the residents of Rogers Road like African Americans all over the country lived in a nation where freedom was declared but often not practiced.
It’s almost as if Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Orange County, were systematically getting rid of the identity, the existence of anything that was black in this area. And they can say, No, no, no, all they want to, and I’m just dealing with the facts. Just what’s out there in front of you. Look at it, see what it is, analyze what you’re looking at, and make your own decision. Come up with your own opinion of it." (David Caldwell)
It is funny how we often don’t talk about race in the outright even when it is obscuring everyone’s vision. Mrs. Nunn defines racism to one eloquent sentence: some people thinking that they can go in front of other people. It is nearly three times more likely for a landfill to be sited in a predominantly minority community than a predominantly white community in the state of North Carolina.
In 1972 the Town of Chapel Hill built an unlined landfill on 80 acres of land on Eubanks Road.
Even today the struggle is not over as Minister Campbell reminds us. The struggle for equality and justice is not over. It is camouflaged. It is well hidden in a society that has the greatest resources within its midst. The people who need those resources the most are denied.
The term Environmental Racism was coined in the state of North Carolina in the early 1980s, and was used to describe the decision to place a considerable amount of toxic waste from a PCB spill along the highway in a low socioeconomic status minority community in Warren County.
David Caldwell has seen the way the landfill has changed his community in Orange County.
He watched as the landfill was expanded in the 80s, the operation was extended in the 90s, and sees waste stations that are still in use today.
Guys went into the military, went to college, got married and moved on. So now we don’t have as many of the original group still here… You don’t wanna stay where the water’s bad, you have to take your clothes uptown to wash, and that type of thing. And how do you tell your kids to stay here? You know, all of this is gonna be yours one day! You know, all of what? Brown water, you know, smelly air, people getting sick. You know, I don’t wanna live here. But there’s a few of us that left and did other things, traveled around the world, but still came back. They came back with a new vision for home.
The original (and temporary) RENA Center opened
its doors in the Summer of 2010. The new Rogers Road
Community Center opened in 2014.
Although initial oral histories conducted by the RENA Center focused on the history of landfill struggles and successes in Rogers Road, We seek to have a database of a variety community voices from various backgrounds.