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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carroll Lupton, April 2, 1980. Interview H-0028. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

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

What was the medical situation there then?
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 could. "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.
Was there prostitution in that neighborhood?
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.