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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Dorothy Royster Burwell, May 29, 1996. Interview Q-0011. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A dam displaces a community

Burwell describes the disruptive effects of the construction of a dam in her area. It made travel between Virginia and North Carolina difficult and took from black families land they had worked on for years. It was "like cutting off part of your life," Burwell thinks.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Dorothy Royster Burwell, May 29, 1996. Interview Q-0011. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

EDDIE McCOY:
Okay, so what you are telling me is that, when they brought the water in here, that made everybody lives in Sudan and in Virginia had to come into North Carolina to go home?
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Uh huh, that's true.
EDDIE McCOY:
But before then, you didn't have to do it?
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
You didn't have to do it, that's right.
EDDIE McCOY:
So now, that what made everything here complicated?
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Complicated. Right.
EDDIE McCOY:
You cut off your ties, and half of your church members, your family went to Virginia, one half came this way?
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
This way, right. And from this way, it was just a wagon road.
EDDIE McCOY:
What is, you know, what I talk to people about, and what people don't understand and young people, I always talk to older people about, where did black people get so much sacrifice and strength from? That was hardship on people.
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
It was.
EDDIE McCOY:
They worked all their life for that little piece of land.
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Uh huh.
EDDIE McCOY:
And here comes somebody tell them they got to go.
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Well, and too, you know they had a, what's a situation that happened even before this water came. Because, the Indians owned a lot of land up in the area of Virginia and Carolina, and the white man came and ran them away, 'cause it's Indian, it's Indian graves uh, back, back down toward our hill down in that area.
EDDIE McCOY:
They still down there now?
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
I don't know, probably they took 'em up, I'll bet they took 'em up, you know.
EDDIE McCOY:
Okay, so the Indian was over in the Buffalo Junction area?
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Yes, and around in Clarksville, and I, I count up like probably Sudan, they had Indians there, I just tell people I was raised in a little Indian Village. [Laughter] You know.
EDDIE McCOY:
Okay, so when you, when your kids was going to school, you really thought that the word Sudan was 'cause they called Indians Sudan?
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Well I used to tell them that because it was such an odd name, you know, and I couldn't figure it out, I only, you know, ran across something about Sudan Virginia, Sudan over in Africa when I went to high school, you know, because elementary school didn't have—
EDDIE McCOY:
And you just brushed it aside?
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Yea, Uh huh, just brushed it aside.
EDDIE McCOY:
Okay.
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Oh, take it from Africa, I'm not too familiar with that.
EDDIE McCOY:
Okay, now here come Eddie McCoy.
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Yeah.
EDDIE McCOY:
I'm back here.
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Back here picking up that Africa sound again.
EDDIE McCOY:
We going to get Sudan straight this time..
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Okay, okay, okay. Hopefully.
EDDIE McCOY:
Hope we get them straight this time. We going to work on it.
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
Yea.
EDDIE McCOY:
So, you know, I talk to people. Do you think white people really know how hard black people had when you own a little piece of land that was yours, and then somebody give you some money and you can't read and write, and you got to move with four or five children, it's impossible for you to buy another piece of land.
DOROTHY ROYSTER BURWELL:
That's true, and you know, in, to me, a lot of them old peoples, they were, they didn't live long after— 'cause when you work hard and accumulate something, and then somebody come along and take it, it's just like cutting off part of your life. You know?