Portrait of Burlington, North Carolina, during the Great Depression and the rise of religious revivalism
Lupton describes the economic situation in Burlington, North Carolina, during the Great Depression. According to Lupton, the economic crises had bred moral depravity, especially as evidenced in bootlegging and prostitution. What he describes as a grave situation, however, was turned around with the ascendant religious revivalism spawned by Preacher Swinney, a former mill worker, who set out to instill religious fervor in the community.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Carroll Lupton, April 2, 1980. Interview H-0028. 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
- MARY MURPHY:
What was the medical situation there then?
- CARROLL LUPTON:
Well, we had only General Practicioners, and we had two Ear, Nose and
Throat doctors, and a surgeon and his associate, who was a urologist.
Rest of 'em were General Practicioners. We delivered all the babies, and
took out most of the tonsils. We did just about everything.
But, I said, "Well, this is close to home, and looks like a
fellow could make a living." So I settled there. I hadn't been
there too long; I began to get a few calls over in the Piedmont Heights
section of the Burlington Mills area. And that was a pretty rough place
in those days. All the streets were dirt and mud, and the people lived
in the old, little mill houses. And they were dreary
looking. They were not painted, although they were working. The man and
his wife and two children making twelve dollars a week. He was bound to
get it: twelve, fifteen, eighteen dollars a week. But they'd never been
used to much.
Now, there were folks in there that it was dangerous for a stranger to go
in that area at night. They'd cut his automobile tires, or throw rocks
at him, or beat him up. I knew one man who was making whiskey on his
kitchen store. And I knew another one who was selling whiskey, had a
little four year old boy that would crawl up underneath the house. Which
is built very low to the ground; a grown man couldn't crawl under it,
but send a little four year old boy. And they'd hide his whiskey back in
the chimneys, and when a customer would come, he'd send his little four
year old boy in to get it. And it finally stopped, but it wasn't that
people were basically too bad, but they were just truly up against it,
economically, and they were trying to feed their families the best they
"Long about that time, Mr. Swinney-Preacher Swinney,
we'd call him-who had been working in the mills, decided he'd
become a minister. And he got a little shed, like a place where you'd
put wagons or something, beside of one of the Burlington Mills"
outbuildings. And they put some seats in there, and he started a church
there. It wasn't too long before they started the original building, and
the part in what is now the Glen Hope Church, which, you know, is one of
the finest churches in the state.
But Mr. Swinney got with those people, and he's one of the most
remarkable ministers I've ever known. I'm sure he never went to a
seminary, and by seminary standards he was not a highly educated man,
that's for sure. But he's a man, I'm sure, that really and truly had a
call for the ministry. And he got working with those
people, and some of the people who had been prostitutes, and
bootlegging, they either reformed real quickly, or moved out.
- MARY MURPHY:
Was there prostitution in that neighborhood?
- CARROLL LUPTON:
Little bit. It wasn't widely spread, and back in those days they put 'em
in jail, so it was sort of quieted down. But it was, in the early days.
And those people, they either shaped up, or got out. And I'd drive
around that place at night, and feel just as safe as if I was in my
mother's arms, `cause the people knew me, and they'd do anything in the
world for me. When their babies would get sick, they'd call, and I
always went, and I'd never ask 'em about whether they had any money. I
didn't have anything else to do, and they didn't have anybody else to
call, so we had a good set-up.
But, anyway, you ride around that place at evenings, and just about every
evening in the week, you'd hear a little home prayer meeting going on,
in people's houses. Your house tonight, and mine tomorrow night, and
somebody else's the next night. Preacher Swinney changed their whole way
of thinking about morals, and religious values, and values in life. It
wasn't too long before you began to see the grass planted out `round
those little old houses, and flowers, flower boxes; and they'd get paint
on the outside, sharpen those things up. And you see the people who,
when he started, and when I started in there, they'd walk around and
look like there was no hope. They looked like they were caught in a
trap, and never get out.
But within three or four years, it was a completely changed vicinity. The
kids were all going to school in clean clothes, and the faces washed. It
was hard to drive through the church area on Sunday or Sunday
morning, the cars parked around there so much.
Everybody was going.