Kathy Atwater

Interviewed by Alexa Lytle on March 18, 2011
In the beginning of the interview, Ms. Atwater describes the history of her home, growing up in her neighborhood, and the significance of keeping her home in the family in order to continue an ongoing legacy. To Ms. Atwater, a home is more than a place of residence; it is a memorial, it is the material representation of a legacy. Throughout the interview, Ms. Atwater discusses why she chose to remain in Chapel Hill and the change she’s witnessed over the years. She describes how gentrification of the Northside community is a disgrace to those community members whose ancestors built the University. And she also discusses the importance of communication within the community between residents and students to make everyone feel safe, like she did growing up when everyone knew their neighbors. To Ms. Atwater, life is about serving others, especially her family and those within the community and she believes that we should all engage in our community like Jesus Christ did. Key components of Ms. Atwater’s life include her family, faith, and home, and while she’s preparing herself for the change to come to the Northside community, she thinks that with community engagement, change can and needs to happen in favor of those who built it.

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Kathy Atwater


In the beginning of the interview, Ms. Atwater describes the history of her home, growing up in her neighborhood, and the significance of keeping her home in the family in order to continue an ongoing legacy. To Ms. Atwater, a home is more than a place of residence; it is a memorial, it is the material representation of a legacy. Throughout the interview, Ms. Atwater discusses why she chose to remain in Chapel Hill and the change she’s witnessed over the years. She describes how gentrification of the Northside community is a disgrace to those community members whose ancestors built the University. And she also discusses the importance of communication within the community between residents and students to make everyone feel safe, like she did growing up when everyone knew their neighbors. To Ms. Atwater, life is about serving others, especially her family and those within the community and she believes that we should all engage in our community like Jesus Christ did. Key components of Ms. Atwater’s life include her family, faith, and home, and while she’s preparing herself for the change to come to the Northside community, she thinks that with community engagement, change can and needs to happen in favor of those who built it.


Atwater, Kathy


Oral History


Marian Cheek Jackson Center


Marian Cheek Jackson Center




Open for research.


MP3 (224000 bitrate)





Oral History Item Type Metadata


Alexa Lytle


Atwater, Kathy

Interview Date



Atwater residence, Chapel Hill, NC


TRANSCRIPT: KEITH EDWARDS Interviewee: Ms. Keith Edwards: Interviewer: Alexander Stevens and Christine Dragonette. Interview Date: March 4, 2011 Location: 314 McDave St. in Chapel Hill, NC KEITH EDWARDS 2 Length: 68:16 START OF INTERVIEW Keith Edwards: But, so another in here that—oh here it is—this is my picture also. This is like a black service league-- Alexander Stevens: Okay KE: This is the first one they had. And this was combined of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. These are the people who first came here to live. AS: Okay KE: Here in Chapel Hill and all. And their mothers and fathers, but they were slaves. AS: Okay KE: And so these are the people who first originated, you know, coming to the Northside area--. AS: Oh. CD: Right. KE: Built homes and everything. And so but I just wanted to show you that because this is just a book that’s out and just came out as a matter of fact they just gave me a copy of it last week. CD: Wow. That’s really cool. KE: Mhmm. CD: That’s so interesting. KE: Yup. Now there’s a house across the street, see this house, this old house they need to tear down. AS: Yeah, the, the one that the--. KE: Right, the town was supposed to tear it down sometimes it takes the town twenty years or more to do what they supposed to do. AS: Right. [Chuckle] KE: But when it comes to tearing down a house or disposing of property and it becomes the town condemn it. It only depends on how much money they have in they budget to spare to get that done. So, so far in twenty years they haven’t had the money in the budget to tear that house down even though they condemned it--. AS: Mhmm. KE: Because if they condemn it they have to tear it down. AS: Uh-huh. KE: Now if the family just decided they you know didn’t want to live there or whatever. Then they would have the responsibility of tearing it down. But if you wait long enough and people complain long enough, the town will condemn it and once that happens its out of the homeowners hands and the town would have to pay to have it demolished and moved off the property. KEITH EDWARDS 3 AS: Okay KE: Mhmm, yeah. And so that’s why it’s been sitting about twenty years. AS: Twenty—. CD: Wow. AS: That house has been condemned for twenty years? KE: Yeah. AS: Wow. KE: Mhmm. AS: But if a developer came in and wanted to--. KE: Oh, a developer came in, they’ll just knock it down and first got to buy the land. AS: Yeah. KE: And then they have to buy the land from the homeowner. AS: Yeah. KE: And once they buy the land, knock it down, throw another one up. That’s been done all over the Northside area. AS: A house just got knocked down, down the street. KE: Yeah. [Coughing] AS: Was that, was that house--. KE: Right AS: Was that house empty? KE: That house was empty. The person who lived in that house, he went into assisted living-- AS: Okay KE: --home and then he died there. AS: Okay KE: And so that was an old family home it’s just like this picture with these people I showed you, his father was one of the original people who settled, well grandfather, who settled over here and built a house. It’s been there all my life, you know. And so but when the guy died it would take too much to remodel that home because it had been sitting a long time. AS: Right. KE: And because it had been sitting a long time you go in you probably have to do, gut everything and all that and that takes a lot of money now and so it was just so--. CD: Mhmm. KE: Tax payer paying you know and just to show you a little bit because you was saying you was doing things on homes. This home was just knocked down but you see how much they purchased it for. [Pause] This is the letters that, you see on the back of it, it’s addressed to me. AS: Credential? KEITH EDWARDS 4 KE: Uh-huh. But, you see what they’re doing. You don’t have to sell signs out in your yard but they, we get that constantly where they want to buy it. CD: Mhmm. AS: Can, can I—. KE: You can have it. AS: Can I have this? KE: Yeah, you can have it. AS: ‘Cause we, we keep hearing about this sort of thing going out to people--. KE: Trust me. AS: --and I haven’t actually seen any of it yet. KE: Yeah. Well you can keep it, and even wit my name on it ‘cause it’s legit. AS: Yeah. KE: And you can show, now look, she received this. AS: Yeah, this is, this would be great for us to have this. KE: And so this will help you. AS: If you want I can just make a copy and give it back but if you don’t want it. KE: You can have that. AS: Okay. KE: ‘Cause I was going to tear it up. AS: Okay. KE: And the same man called me on the phone and offered me three hundred thousand for my home. AS: See that’s the thing, that’s not really that high of a price for that home because--. KE: Well it is, because the taxpayer is nowhere near that. AS: But, when Carolina North [pause] when Carolina North is established everything here is going to be worth way more. KE: It’s going to be, well see, everything here was sort of like seventy, eighty thousand some were six thou-- six, no I mean, sixty thousand. AS: Yeah. KE: To about eighty thousand. AS: Right. KE: I don’t think there was a home in here with a sold over that including homes, brick homes, and all that, alright. But once investors start moving in. AS: Yeah. KE: And they came in fix houses up and all that. They came in with the idea of flipping this house. AS: Yup. KEITH EDWARDS 5 KE: So what that mean they came in, they fixed up everything and they had the intention of not living in a house but they had the intention of selling for a higher rate. So what’s happening, even though the taxpayer, cause the taxpayer on this house was like one hundred and sixty nine or one hundred and seventy nine. But even though the taxpayer is there, what happens if somebody, let’s say the low-income programs that’s out here, like Empowerment or the one that Robert Downey and them have, if they wanted to buy the home for the tax payer, you going to have people like, this, AS: Right. KE: Who were offered this much money, to where you made 179 sounds good. But a realtor would come in, knows that the house, if you going to sell it, they will offer you this. And they keep these letters coming to remind you that if you do try to sell, I’m going to give you top dollar than anybody else can give you. So therefore all the programs, like Empowerment, and all that, they’re not able to get any of these homes. AS: Right. KE: Because they cannot fight that dog. AS: Right. Yeah, they can’t offer the sameKE: And this right here is one of the most ridiculous prices I’ve ever seen because you’ve had to live in this area, you’ve had to seen how these homes were sold and that’s why they were so black to black because we could get a loan for that small amount on the house. AS: Right. KE: And so now that you got investors willing to pay this much on a home that’s less than maybe ‘bout160 thousand [pause] a year. AS: Right. KE: Tax. You beat out, you can’t buy. AS: And, and that’s, I mean, this is their tactic too, they say don’t wait for interest rates to rise and scare off easier investors, that’s not going to happen. KE: No, it’s not going to happen because, see, they may offer this, right, well, they bought the house for that and they knocked it down. AS: Yeah KE: And they building on it now. AS: Yeah. KE: I just pass by and I say where in the heck did the house go? AS: And—. KE: I say who in the world is going to pay two hundred and fortyseven thousand dollars for a house if they going to knock it down. AS: And that’s right next to five hundred--. KE: But that’s what they did. AS: Church Street, which is a hundred and two year old house, right? I forget who it is that lives there? KEITH EDWARDS 6 KE: Let me see, which, I’m trying to think of theAS: It’d be to the right of this house on that same side probably. KE: Okay, you’re talking about the big two-story house? Yeah, that’s Ms. Raleigh’s house. AS: Yeah, that’s over a hundred years old. KE: Yeah, but if this house went for 247, her house would go for three something, this house next door to me went for three twenty. AS: Yeah. KE: It was only 179 when it was sold. But what happened, investor came in and they bought it for a- she bought it for her daughter. They moved in, they fixed it up some, then they got tired of messing with it. And then they sold it to a guy for 320 thousand dollars and they turned it into a fraternity house. AS: Did they add on to it? KE: Nuh-uh. AS: Okay. KE: All they did was went inside and it had three bedrooms upstairs that made five bedrooms and--. AS: Really? KE: Two and a half baths, then downstairs they, they had two bedrooms downstairs and they just fixed those up… AS: What’s the address? Because that’s a violation of the conservation--. KE: Well this one right here is a violation because it’s, what is it--. AS: You can’t have more than four unrelated people in the house. KE: Well see the thing is you got four on the lease. But it’s more than that that live over there but then you got to prove it. Because the way they do it, they let them spend the night every night, that’s how they kind of get by. But they still in violation because the guys told me it was a fraternity that was living there and they had made the home into a fraternity house. The landlord do anything that they asked him to do because he told me that the parents was rich. And so what he did he went in the backyard and you can see it back there also you see the Daily Tarheel newspaper stand back there. But what they did is set them up a patio where they can have cookouts and things like that. Then they went and put them up a basketball goal. Now the problem with the basketball goal you got to bounce that ball and if you have people who have to go to work AS: Yeah. KE: You know the next day and all and you out bouncing the ball at one, three o’clock in the morning. And had numerous complaints called in on them over there for loud music, beer can beer bottle throwed out all in the front yard. Now your trash bin is supposed to be round the KEITH EDWARDS 7 back of your house. It’s not supposed to be out front where the public can view it. Their trashcans when you go out they’re sitting here in the front of the house. Those trashcans only get moved bout every three months when somebody- not three months but three weeks if somebody don’t get on them. I had to constantly get on them. It’s getting ready to get warm. You already got squirrels running round over there. You’re going to have all kind of everything but I said I wasn’t going to put up with it. And beer cans beer bottles I had to get on them about recycle. Because they have so many parties. I mean, you could fill up a trunk of a car, I mean not a car but a truck, for all the bags they have with beer cans, beer bottles. And those that don’t go in there they just leave it out in the yard. In several occasions the, I called the town to get them to send them a letter next door reminding them on the days when they had to take the trash out and recycling, can’t get the town to do anything. So what happen instead of getting on the people over here. They sent the guys on the trash truck, they had to actually go in the yard to get the trash ‘cause the guys were too lazy to get it to the curb. The only way that the town supposed to pick up your trash is if you’re handicapped, you’re a senior citizen who said that they were unable to haul that thing to the front. Those are the only two reasons. AS: Right. KE: But here it was three weeks and they just finally sent it out this week. AS: What’s the, what’s the address here, the 316 or--. KE: No, this is 312. AS: Right there, 312, right. KE: Uh-huh, 312. But I’ve talked to them about it over and over and over it’s just that maybe they just too young, they can’t comprehend, or they just be too intoxicated to get to it. I don’t know. I don’t know. But, but anyway, it’s kind of hard to live in something that you knew once was a neighborhood but now it’s not. You just, it’s just somewhere for you to survive until your time is up. AS: Yeah. KE: And that’s how seniors look at it because there’s no other way. Their thing is they’re going to be pushed right out of here before that even happen. See with all this building up all around us and all, handwritings on the wall, you got to go. You can’t pay the taxes. No, impossible. And the town is not going to help you pay the taxes to keep you here to have diversity up on, on this end of the town. You’re going to be pushed clean out of the downtown area, no way you can stay here with, every time a home like this get sold for this amount of money this is what the tax assessor go by, how much the homes in this area is selling for. That’s how they come up with how much you supposed to pay for taxes. AS: And that’s how your taxes go through the roof. KEITH EDWARDS 8 KE: They go through the roof and so therefore if it go through the roof you can’t be here. So that’s what we face. But, so that’s, now, [chuckles] but I can tell you about how it was in the other house that we lived in and, when it was a community here. AS: Just one, one second, just for the recording, I want to say that this is Alexander Stevens and I’m with--. Christine Dragonette: Christine Dragonette. AS: Christine Dragonette, and we’re interviewing Miss Keith Edwards KE: Yes. AS: At her home 314 McDave St. in Chapel Hill, NC. It’s March 4, 2011. KE: Okay. [Chuckles] AS: You want to tell me about, tell me about the house when you were growing up. KE: Well, the house we grew up in, it is similar to the house next door. We had a living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms downstairs, one bath. And upstairs we had one bedroom and then it was a hallway. But there were two extra bedrooms upstairs but it was unfinished. And my parents didn’t have enough money to where they could redo those bedrooms where the children could have slept in it. And so what you had was 11 kids in that house, and a mother, father and a grandmother but we were all able to pack into the house [chuckles]. And, and so, whatever space was available, that’s where you made a bedroom. Instead of us having a dining room, we, my parents slept in that dining room they had a bed in that dining room, a full sized bed. And on the- Right across from my parent’s bed was a small couch, that’s where my youngest brother slept. And, one, another bedroom on the ground floor, my grandmother slept in that room with two other of my siblings. And then we had the bathroom. And then we had another bedroom and it was two, let’s say four more sisters slept in that room. Okay, and then upstairs, it was a little after you come up the landing it was a little space, little hallway, we had a bed there. And then we had bunk beds in the only other room that was upstairs. And all the boys slept upstairs and all the girls slept down and mother, father--. AS: How many boys? KE: And grandmother, Four. AS: Four. So six? KE: Seven girls and four boys. And so, you know, so we, basically what the girls did, we split up in two rooms. And shared it with our grandmother, one room with our grandmother and one with the rest of us that was left and it was not unusual for the parents to have a bed maybe KEITH EDWARDS 9 in the living room or wherever they could put it and all the kids took up the other rooms. It was not that unusual in other homes. AS: And where exactly was this? KE: This was right here. AS: On this spot? KE: Well right here on this spot is where we had the other house with all the other rooms in it. AS: Okay, so this is the same location just a different house KE: Same location but a different house what happened, in 1970, I don’t know if it was ’73. I’m not sure of the exact date but the town of Chapel Hill received a grant from Housing and Development and this was called the New Housing Development Area. The town was given some grants to go out and improve the condition, improve the living conditions of minorities in Chapel Hill. And they chose certain areas to do that with and this was pinpointed. North side was pinpointed as part of the area that was going to get this redevelopment. The homeowners were given a choice of having a new house or have the other one remodeled. My mom thought since everyone was grown, she done had about two who were still on the age she figured she didn’t need a big house and so therefore she opted to have a new house, rather than to fix the old house up. Because what they would have done with the original house that was here was open up those two bedrooms upstairs and what I mean by remodeling your house they would have did that from inside out. You know new furnish, new floors, windows, roofs, you know the whole nine yards. And so she had an option of getting that or the brand new house but she opted for the brand new house. Because she said, long as I live I will never, ever own a new house and this is one opportunity that has been giving to me so I’m going to take it. And so she opted for the new house. So many houses on the street, that’s what happened. And so, buyers often, they have that new house, it had more bedrooms in it you know this one had four bedrooms. But to tell you the truth we were happier in the home that had less room because that house represented a time when we really had a community. This house represents that our time is about up, you know, over here. It’s not a home that you grew up with where you got the best memories and also, the other home helped mold and shape you for who you are today because you didn’t have that much. And when it rains sometimes you had to run and you had to get buckets or something, or pot, or something and put it down right over that little leak that came down through the roof. And then my father could get up there and patch up the roof. You didn’t call roofing people, carpenters and electricians and all that stuff. Your parents figured that out. Mostly, most the time it was your father. They figured that stuff out themselves because they could not afford to pay somebody else to come in. So it was not unusual to see your parents, your KEITH EDWARDS 10 father, or brother, somebody, up on the roof putting stuff down to keep the leak out. But and then, sometimes-- see when they have storms now, sometimes they don’t turn the lights out, I mean the utility lights outside, street lights, and all. But back when I was coming up they turn them off all the time so you were kind of like in the dark sometimes and so you had to have a lamp, we used to have those oil lamps, so you can see by sometimes, because, especially during the spring and the summer, we had some terrible storms. And if you wanted to see anything that is just one way that you saw. But, This is a house. The other house [pause] that we lived in, it was not a house, it was a home because it’s what’s inside of the house that makes it a home. And so that was a home because we didn’t have much and but you had enough to get by- to survive. And living with a little or nothing it gave you the other things though that you needed in life. It didn’t give you the material things but it gave you the other things to sustain you to where- if life was to reverse and you had to start over again you know how to survive that and live on nothing cause you already been there. And you never know what’s going to happen to you in life when you may have to start all over again. But having coming from that if I had to start all over again, I, I know. I know how. But within that home, there was love. That’s what’s missing now. There was love. There was discipline. There was respect. And that’s what made it a home. But, as I said, today, you can have the biggest, beautiful house or the smallest house but if it don’t have the elements to make it a home, it’s just not a home. It’s just a house. Just, you know, bricks or whatever, wood, or whatever, put together. And so that was one of the most important things back in my day coming up, living in those homes and visiting other people’s homes and all. Is that you felt that everywhere you went. And I have gone into some homes where the porch was falling down, where it rained in the house, where they had buckets everywhere, when the wind came in, it was so cold in the house. But you know we didn’t care, we just went in, and sat, enjoyed our friends, enjoyed their parents and all. We didn’t look at the condition of the house because that was not what you went there for. You went for what was in that house and what the people in that house represented and they represented a sense of community, a sense of belonging, a sense of kinship. And so, to wrap up [chuckle] what the houses in this area meant to those who were born here or moved here and they lived in some of these old houses, that’s what it meant. And the whole neighborhood itself, and I discovered the key to this neighborhood and I also discovered why my parents, when they went to work they didn’t hesitate, they didn’t really have happy faces on their faces when they left for work but when they came back they were so happy and after going some things I went through with the University of KEITH EDWARDS 11 North Carolina I wondered how in the world did my parents make it going to work being submissive taking whatever dished out to them. And they left it at work, and see we can’t do that now we just bring everything with us all day all night but anyway, when I was in the seventh grade I had just left North Side Elementary School, the all black elementary school. I was sent to Chapel Hill Junior High School, which was on West Franklin St. When I went there it was like going into a new world because I believe one culture going into another culture. This culture I was going in to, was a culture where I knew from birth time I popped out the womb, I was going to have trouble and I had to respond a different way whenever I approached someone other than my own race. So having known that Chapel Hill Junior High was the last I wanted to go because it was all white school but anyway I went anyway and I was spread on, kicked on, called on all day long. How was I supposed to learn in that atmosphere? But see I learned in that atmosphere because remember the home that I told you about, that home prepared you for adversity once you left this area. And that’s how my parents made it because you see and when, when I said I discovered the key. When I got out of school sometimes I just want to run home because I had just banged up all day. But the closer I got to my neighborhood, my community, a lot of the stress a lot of about everything, sometimes I would leave school in tears but as I got closer to my house the tears started drying up and that’s when I discovered the key, the key to the black community. And the realities of real life because you were in a cocoon safe, but when you went out you had to deal with reality this is a world you have to put up with until you get back to your parameter, your neighborhood. When I was coming home, lot of anxiety when I was going home, tell my parents this. As I got close to my neighborhood I got right there in the intersection of Church St. and Lyndsey St. the anxiety, a whole lot of that stuff ended and when I was coming down Dave St. it stopped. Because I found the key. The key was, when I go out there in the morning go to school my parents went to work. When they left they locked the door to neighborhood nobody was coming in. They locked the door. And when they came back they unlocked the door because reality was not going to follow them back in that neighborhood. The only people they saw was people in the same circumstances that they had. They lived among people of their own race. They didn’t’ have to put on airs. They didn’t have to be someone who they were not in order to survive. All that left. No more pretend. Nothing, they can just be themselves. And they were happy, I was happy. So I used that. [Phone rings] I used the key and I kept it in my mind all day long I’m going to be going home soon. –That, that, I can get that later. – And, it was just there and I knew I was going to be going home later. So do whatever you want to do because I’m going KEITH EDWARDS 12 home. And even as I walked down McDave St. and I actually put my foot in this yard, everything was gone. I was home. Happy child. [Phone rings] KE: And so when people ask you about your home, home life and all, you have to look at that picture right there that help you survive in a society that sometimes didn’t want you in it. But if you had a place to escape that society sometimes you could survive. Now I don’t know how it would have been if we never had the black community I don’t know I can’t tell you but I do know the black community within itself helped everyone in it to survive, to continue to go on and not give up. Now up here on Church Street if I go on top of the hill and take a right turn up on the left is the white community. Now, that community never ever not once, not one time ever caused any problems for the blacks that lived right across the street from them or lived in the area. In that area we all lived in harmony and that was also a shock because you see I was born and raised in Carrboro until I was ten years old. Carrboro, the whites in Carrboro, they had a different frame of mind. These were some people who sometimes would be jealous of what some of the blacks had, some of the material things or houses or whatever that they had because many of the whites who lived in Carrboro at that time, they didn’t have no more than I had. And so there was a envy sometimes, you know, about that because these people had, I don’t know if it was a complex or what, but because they were white people considered them at a lower class, even lower than blacks because they didn’t have what other whites had and so they looked down upon these like they were white trash but we never looked at them like they were white trash. We looked at them as they didn’t have no more than we had so you can’t talk, you know. But those were just the attitudes back then but when I moved over here in this area and that close to whites, because in Carrboro you just avoided them, you know you going to have a confrontation or whatever, just avoid it. You know, and if they were approaching you on the sidewalk you get off the sidewalk even if you had to dodge cars, even get hit by a car, you just, to keep confrontation down, to keep from having a confrontation with one of them, you just did it. But over here, when we moved, McDave Street and up on Church Street, none of that existed, none of it. We went up in the neighborhood to trick-or-treat, we went up, some of us girls went up, and we got jobs babysitting. They treat you the same. It’s almost like they were in your parameter. And so you found somewhere where you could go outside of your parameter but it was also in the back of your mind that these are white people they might turn on me anytime but they never did. All they did was just extend. They didn’t have time for all that racial stuff and all like that. So from ten years on that’s how I grew up over here in the blacks and whites got a long. But you had more liberal thinking people in KEITH EDWARDS 13 Chapel Hill in the sixties and that’s why there’s so much harmony. So, but any way, that helped contribute to your home life. But school life was just a different matter. But the home itself was the basis of your survival and the number one thing: peace of mind. See, ‘cause you can’t live your whole life just stressed out and that’s kind of how we lived when we lived in Carrboro ‘cause you did not know whenever one of us was going to be attacked or dragged off or something was going to happen to us. Parents feared that when we lived there and now I lived there from 1950 to 1960. So I was right at the height of a whole lot of stuff going on. And right across the street from the house we lived in there was a store, sort of like a little, not a grocery store, like a 7-11 store. And sometimes the Klu Klux Klans met over there, and all blacks had to be in when they had their meetings and all. And I’m just a small child and I just saw all this. You know not to venture out and we didn’t play in the yard. But that was my childhood growing up. But coming over here, all that disappeared. And these whites who lived up on Church Street taught me to trust and that was not easy in that time and day to trust. And because of their attitudes and all, these are well-educated people and stuff like that, doctors and some professors and all that, lived up there, you know, Church Street and that whole area beyond. Because you can still see the barrier up there as you walk up Church Street before all the students moved in on the right hand side, all of those were blacks. So one side, we had them, one side you had us, we all got along. And so you see walking home, I didn’t have any fear of anyone in that community, you know, saying terrible things or whatever because I was so close to my own home. But, as I got older, I would say teenager and all, there was nothing there. My parameter expanded from right around here in the black community as I would say coming down Church Street, coming this way, not only was one side of the street in my parameter then, the other side was in their own so it led me all the way up to the red light through Rosemary St. and Church St., that intersection. But as I was growing up as a kid coming out of Carrboro and then going into Chapel Hill Junior High my parameter stopped as I passed the last black home on the right but as you can see I progressed and moved up and so did the other blacks in the area ‘cause there was no threat, none. And, but like I said the key, it was to our survival and peace of mind, but we don’t have that now because when I come home now, well, when I come to this house now, I feel like I want to cry every time I go outside the door because that peace of mind is gone. The sense of survival is gone because you feel helpless because you know you can’t fight the dollar so if my taxes get so high to where I can’t pay them, I know I have to leave. And it’s a terrible way to live or to live out the, you know, the last days of your life worried about if you’re going to be able to live in this community where you put so much in it and got so much out of it. KEITH EDWARDS 14 And so its just awful to live that way, you go outside no one’s speaking, no one wave to you, and you speak to some of them they don’t even speak back, don’t even they’re looking right at you and turn their head. You’re not used to that. And instead of moving in and trying to conform to the community that’s already here, they bring their own. And could care less whether you like it or not. And then when you call the police on them, sometime you find your trash can turned over or something vandalized in your yard, you don’t know who did it, all you can do is call the police and tell them it happened. And so it’s not a happy place, it’s just a place where you reside because it’s here. But as far as it being a community, that’s gone. Because you yourself can walk up this neighborhood and you won’t have people speak to you either. And that don’t make a community where people can’t even afford each other the courtesy of addressing one another, ‘hello, how are you doing,’ that hurts no one. In fact, it makes the situation better, but you don’t get it. So you see, even though you all approach white students coming back and forth, if you get one or two to speak to you, you’re lucky. So imagine how it feels when we go out and we don’t get any. Even though you extend the courtesy because that’s how you were raised and that’s what you do in a community and they don’t give it back to you, that’s a hurting feeling. But that’s what we are faced with, that’s how we live. Terrible way to live but you know, we survivors, so we’ll be here until we are financially run out of here. And it’s going to happen, we cannot stop the dollar, it’s going to happen. So I’m hoping it is later than sooner but with the way that the town has decided you know which way they’re going to go in building up this town and what they want this town to look like. They don’t have a plan for minorities. The only plans they have is some of these affordable apartments or whatever, condos, whatever, that they get when all of this new building is going to happen in the new future in Chapel Hill. They only set aside so many what, apartments or whatever, in this new development or this new building, for affordable housing. AS: Fifteen percent. KE: Right, but those are going at what, $200,000. AS: In Greenbridge it’s 100,000 for basically a closet [chuckles]. KE: Right, right. But whose going to give you in this town the money to buy that closet when, and I want you to look this up you might be able to find it online or you can go to the Chapel Hill Herald or Durham Herald, maybe they can look it up. But, this is just to show you something, I think this happened probably 1995 or ‘94. Some people had accused the banks around here of not granting loans to minorities. So the newspaper, the media themselves, sent in a white couple, they were making either 30 or $35,000 a year. They sent in a black couple making $80,000. The white couple, with bad credit, got the loan. The black couple, turned away. This KEITH EDWARDS 15 was an experiment that the newspaper themselves did, and the biggest culprit that was doing this to minorities was Bank of America. So Bank of America being find out and doing what they were doing they decided that they were going to donate $500,000 to the Hanes Sonya Art Center to make up for that. I was like, excuse me, you’re giving it to the University of North Carolina. You are not giving it to the Hanes Art Center, Sonya art Center down there, you’re giving it to the University of North Carolina. What you should have did with that $500,000 dollars is right the wrongs that you did. Go back over those applicants that you denied and you could have given them the loans to get them those houses. Because at the time that this was happening these homes were not going for 200 and 300 thousand dollars, these homes were still going for 60, 70, 80 thousand. So they gave the money to the Art Center, did nothing for the people who they discriminated against. So you see if it’s hard for us even get a loan (chuckles) to buy a house how are you going to live in all this stuff they supposing they going to build and going to have some affordable housing in there, where they going to get the loan? Is empowerment going to get them a loan to go in there? Do they have the funds to do that? So it’s a double edge sword because you say you want affordable housing, you going to provide affordable housing and all this new stuff but then you don’t have nobody who really, truly can afford it. [Clapping sound] So anyway, that’s my old house, [laughs] that’s my story, all of it wrapped into one. And it was important for you to understand how it was back in the day compared to my feelings back in the day, living in the house, that sometime it rained in, sometimes the house would talk to you when the wind blows and it was coming in through the windows and all that and you could just hear the wind just whistle when it came in and you would put plastic up in the windows on the inside of the window and outside the window trying to keep that wind out because a lot of the old homes did not have insulation. And so therefore, when the wind blew it was cold, it was coming in. And so, the only thing you had at that time was a big wood stove and you only had one, and that had to heat up you’re entire house. But I’ll tell you, I’ll give anything to go right back and live in that house and in that time than this time I’m in now because I thought, I really truly thought that life could only get better, not worse. But better because we would be moving on to new ideas, new homes, new everything. And I just figured that as much as we fought in the sixties and all, that things would be better. But instead of being better, 2011 is worse. Because you also, when you live in area like this, and this is happening all over the United States, when you see all the hard work that you’ve done ever since the sixties, it’s been reversed. It’s all being reversed, and a lot of rights and things that you earned and died for, whatever, people died for, it’s been reversed I don’t think what people realize is when you’re reversing a whole lot of things, this time, it’s KEITH EDWARDS 16 not only you reversing it on minorities, but you’re reversing it on the working class, middle class whites. They’re in the mix now. And because they’re in the mix now, it is like having a big explosion. Those protests you see going around with the unions and all that, those people fought like a dog to get those unions and you take all of that away then the states and government do have all the control, every bit of the control. And people, they’re just not going to go for that. And so, what you have now is you got minorities and whites who eventually, if you watch the news long enough, you’re going to see where they’re going to have to combine because what’s hurting the whites now has always been hurting the blacks and so now they’re in a group. And I also feel, sooner or later, so much is happening in communities like this, I blame the University for all of it. The reason I blame the University for it, is because the University had land all over Chapel Hill, they could have built dorms and things off that campus on their own land, they shouldn’t have never allowed students to live in the community not unless they were seniors. Everybody else had to remain on campus or if these apartment buildings all around town, they could take students, but not come in an area like this. This is what you call a residential area with homes. And if the town had had that clause in their foreseen something, you wouldn’t have had all this mess. AS: Uh-uh. KE: Because it’s real sad to know that just about every house on this street is students. And we got at risk kids, what do at risk kids see over here, they see drinking, pot smoking, they see everything they don’t need to see. And so how can you keep them from entering those kind of activities when you seen the students do it every day. And every weekend you can barely get through the neighborhood because they have their parties and things all out in the street, broken bottles in the street, you got to church down here, people have to go down there and clean up because students come by and throw broken beer bottles up against the church door. Throw beer cans and everything there. AS: In Chapel Street? KE: Right on Chapel Street, you got the same neighbors go out every Sunday morning real early and they’ll clean up all that mess before they have church services. And the guy who cleans up at the church he comes through just about every afternoon to make sure there no beer can and all down there. But this is how we live. You know, but we’ve always had respect for each other in the community, looked out for each other, did for each other, we were so close knit. Now you can’t have a community because you have people in it who don’t want no parts of it. They just want to live here, party, have a good time, go to school. They don’t want to hear nothing about all this community stuff. CD: No. KEITH EDWARDS 17 KE: But I hope something I’ve said has helped you all out. But, it was important to me to get out the part about how we feel now because not only I feel this way, we all feel this way. And so, I give myself, I try to stay here, try to put five more years in here, if the Lord willing, if I can, if they don’t tax me out ‘cause they’re getting ready to do the taxes again and I think after five years I won’t be able to live here. AS: Because of taxes? KE: Yup, because of taxes and because it’s not a community. And why keep staying here because we only have maybe about four more Seniors on this street and when they die we know where those homes going to go. And so it’s not that much to look up to. Oh, wait. Can you open that door right there behind you, that’s my cousin right there, hey Cecil. Cecil: All this sunlight. How are you all doing? AS: How are you? Cecil: Good. KE: This is my cousin Cecil. Is she--. Cecil: Yeah, she’s coming. CD: Hi. KE: This is my cousin right there. And that’s my sister right there. AS: Hi. KE: But I just wanted you to know the feelings of it. Now he used to live in this area too but he moved to Carrboro. But his childhood is like my childhood and everybody else’s in the community and so you know it’s just like living on a cloud. And sometimes I would like to, when I turn on this street, to be able to throw my hand up, wave here and wave there. The seniors don’t come out because they’re afraid, and most of them are real sick and so--. [Door opens] AS: Hi, how are you? KE: Hey baby, come on in, I’ll be with you in just a minute. Voice: Okay. KE: And so you have nobody to hello this, hello that, stop talk, see how you doing, or whatever, you know, you don’t have that. AS: You said they’re afraid? KE: Mhmm. AS: What do you think they are afraid of? KE: Seniors used to seeing people they are familiar with. And if its people coming through the neighborhood that they don’t know, and plus we have the homeless shelter close by, some of the people do come through and all but it’s not that. It’s just that their way of life is over. And the life that they knew, where they could come and sit on the porch and your neighbor would look out for you, and they felt secure sitting on the porch because they felt nobody would bother them or do anything to KEITH EDWARDS 18 them, they don’t have that security anymore so they can’t come sit out, not unless one of their relatives there to sit with them. Before they would go out themselves but now they can’t do it so they stay locked up in the house all day. And two, people that pass by they been senior citizens, they’re used to respect, they’re used to people “Hello Mrs. So and So” and they sit out and no one is speaking to you or whatever, why go out, why get the energy to go out and sit on the porch, so they don’t. The stay stuck up in the house all day, all night, afraid. And when they hear all the noise at night, firecrackers going off, basketball bouncing around and all, it scares them. And for some of them, they’re just ready to go. They’re ready to be done with this world and maybe it’s a better one where they’re going. I’ve had them tell me. Yeah, so I don’t know. But I’ll just, whatever day God give me, I’ll just try to get through it. But every time I open my door and go outside, I don’t feel anything. Nothing. I don’t feel a sense of ownership, I don’t feel a sense of being at home, I don’t feel anything I felt when I was growing up as a kid. I feel absolutely nothing. So when people say the Northside community and all that, they need to change that name from community, just to Northside area, that would be good enough, not community because it’s not a community. Nope. Every street is like this one. All you got to do is just ride around and look at it. It will shock you to how many houses have been sold. And the town didn’t even make an effort to buy any of the homes whereas in the seventies they were buying homes and putting people in them. So, they have not done enough, they could have done enough, their answer to this is put up another project. That’s not an answer because they haven’t even put up anymore of them. It’s been years since they put up another one but they got all this town land. To me, if you have town land and you have people like Empowerment and Robert Group, let them have some of that land and put some homes on it, or Habitat, because you’re not doing anything. The only thing the town is doing is concentrating on this urban idea of living in Chapel Hill that’s where their mindset is. Bringing in all them dollars. Minorities can’t bring in dollars, they bring peanuts. So their mind is on dollars right now and so after awhile the only way this town is going to be diversified is through the students and workers that not able to live here, workers especially. So, that’s it guys. [Laughter] KE: Not a rosy picture but, you know, we’re survivors and we’ll do what we can for as long as we can. But the one thing I do appreciate is people like the both of you, because it’s people like you all who give people like me, a minority, and I’m sixty years old, it gives me hope that it might be too late for me, but there might be some hope for my grandchildren because it do take, you know, it’s true, it do take whites, to get other whites to see what is wrong and those whites who do fight, and KEITH EDWARDS 19 push and believe what they’re doing is right to help another fellow man and woman, they’re ridiculed, they’re called names, whatever, but theses are the type of people who have fought for minorities from the beginning of time, from when first slaves first stepped on the land, it’s always been whites that have helped because we never ever been able to do it by ourselves, not even Martin Luther King could do it all by himself. It’s always been whites right out there marching, walking beside you, doing this. I known this for a fact because when we marched in Chapel Hill civil rights, they were marching with us. When we went to integrate the schools, we had whites in the community, like Ms. Adams, and I don’t know if you remember her, Charlotte Adams, if you remember that name but anyway. She was somebody, she was a white woman here in Chapel Hill, but Charlotte Adams was determined that the black kids were going to learn cause we had a lack of background when we went into the schools, you know the white schools, because we got all the books from the white kids after they didn’t want them, we didn’t get any new books, they got all the new books, we got old books. They would tear the pages out, deface the books cause they knew they were coming to us but Charlotte Adams and some other white women they set up study hall, we all went to study hall, helped us study. They were determined we was going to make it. If we needed clothes, they’d go and find it, even if they had to take the clothes off their back. So you see, don’t ever think that blacks got as far as they got, especially around here, by themselves cause they didn’t. Some may want you to think it, but they didn’t get there by themselves. There’s always been whites there helping, and wiling to die. You got Allen McShirley, I don’t know if, well, you should know him-- AS: I know him. KE: Allen McShirley, he came along, I was his first client. And when he came along the only thing he had ever done with his law degree, he did a closing on a house and made 250 dollars. And I put a case in his hand from the University- well me versus the University of North Carolina, that case lasted eight years and it was over $500 a year. But they fought me eight years just for that $500 a year. But Allen McShirley took that case and then he saw a lot of injustice just everywhere. And he’s been doing those type of cases or take all kinds of cases when you feel wronged or whatever, he’s been doing that ever since about 1988. So that man gives his life, his wife gave her life for the same thing, he’s giving his life because the black community didn’t have Allen McShirley then we wouldn’t even have a lawyer because a black lawyer wouldn’t even step forward. And remember AL is the legal address, he is the lawyer for the NAACP for North Carolina, he ain’t getting’ any help from black lawyers. So you see what I’m saying, we are connected, we need each other and if we didn’t have people like you all, like Al and all, I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t know. But I wanted you all to know that because it’s important. KEITH EDWARDS 20 What you’re doing is making a difference, a big difference. So I guess that’s it guys. AS: Well thank you for that. I think you’re right and I think that a lot of white people that grew up with privilege can kind of say ‘well you know, I’m not racist and this doesn’t really involve me so’ and that’s easy for people to do… KE: Right, when these kids they may feel the same way but I much rather have a poor white live around me any day because I know where they’re coming from, you can strike up a conversation with them, you can make a community with them. But, I don’t know, this is not a community, you know, this is just a place where you live. Yup, a place where you live. Anything else you want to ask me? AS: Actually, I have a lot, I have a lot of questions but we can meet another time if that would be better. KE: That’ll be fine. What’s you’re schedule like? Now, next week, I got to go back to the doctor at 2:30. So you all can check your schedule and all and call me if you can meet Tuesday, Wednesday or that Friday. END OF INTERVIEW Transcribed by Samantha Hurley, November 15, 2011





Marian Cheek Jackson Center, “Kathy Atwater,” Marian Cheek Jackson Center Oral History Trust, accessed September 25, 2020, https://archives.jacksoncenter.info/HOH/HOH_0107.

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