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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with David Burgess, September 25, 1974. Interview E-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Work with migrant workers leads to social activism

Burgess expresses the detachment that school posed to his social justice struggles. Seeing the strife and poverty of migrant workers led him to abandon his pacifist stance.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with David Burgess, September 25, 1974. Interview E-0001. 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

DAVID BURGESS:
Well, he was very opposed to pacifism as a form of acquiescence to the Nazi threat, and he was a violent prophet against it, though we kept a very close personal relationship throughout, and until his death. In '42, I had had enough of seminary after two years. My wife and I decided we were going to take a job with agricultural migrants, and therefore we went to a place known as Whitesbog, New Jersey to work among cranberry and blueberry pickers, Italian Americans from the slums of Philadelphia, as well as poor blacks and whites of that area.
BILL FINGER:
They would just come out from Philadelphia to pick berries?
DAVID BURGESS:
Yes, for the summer.
BILL FINGER:
It wasn't part of the stream up north?
DAVID BURGESS:
No, it was sort of a summer job.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did you want to do something?
DAVID BURGESS:
Well, I think I was influenced by Harry Ward, by Jack McMichael, by a growing feeling of the irrelevance of much of my education at Union to labor struggles. After working in Whitesbog and later going to southern Florida to be among the black and white migrants there, I think I lost my pacifism when we were working among migrants in the South. I saw some of the terrible situations of Jamaicans and Bahamans who were imported from abroad, and among poor whites mostly who had come from southern Georgia. We started in New Jersey and then we wound up in Lake Pahokee, Florida, in the migrant camp.
BILL FINGER:
You were living in a migrant camp?
DAVID BURGESS:
We were living in a migrant camp. We really got acquainted with southern culture, both black . . . mostly white . . . but some black because they were separated by race in various migrant camps in the area.