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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Thomas Moore, October 18, 2000. Interview R-0142. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

White violence reverses efforts to create a successful black community

Moore describes a Durham neighborhood where African Americans had managed to establish themselves by buying homes and opening businesses. The community thrived, but one day in the late 1960s, a carload of whites threw a Molotov cocktail into a health center and restaurant. The attack marked a turning point, and the community began to decline. Moore describes similar instances of the devil at work in the black community, using white supremacists like the Ku Klux Klan and the Hell's Angels, or even city managers, as his instruments, consistently interfering with the community's success.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Thomas Moore, October 18, 2000. Interview R-0142. 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

Then I moved on Walker Street and Edgemont came up. Edgemont was a black spot on the map. Black folks and white folks lived down in here. They didn't want to do nothing about it, so we met at Mrs. Jones [unclear] . She became the director of Edgemont. She saw me and they got in contact with me. We had a church bus—a school bus we used for the church. We would go on trips around to Greensboro and Charlotte, where the black people in the community took the community and turned it into what they wanted to turn it into. They became the owners of it by getting houses. The government would buy the houses for a dollar, then turn it back into the community. The community owned the houses and sold them to people for little or nothing. We thought maybe we could come up with the same idea in Edgemont in Durham. Where we lived, wasn't nothing but a whole lot of black folks over there. This was a hosiery mill then, but it had went out of business and this lower part down there [points outside to where the furnace building used to stand] was a flea market. You could come in and get anything you want, cheap stuff. So got into it. Right across from the hosiery mill then, right over where the park is [new park located on Henderson Street], it used to be a Center there called the Edgemont Center. That's where we would meet at, have games, basketball, and play games. We would go down there on the weekends and have service, [claps] try to get the people together. We done good for a while, then across from that where these houses sit [new Habitat for Humanity houses at corner of East Main Street and Angier Ave.] was a restaurant owned by a white man. Then we had another place beside that called the Health Center where the doctors from Duke and Chapel Hill would come in the community and give us free examinations, check our teeth and blood pressure. It just worked. Everything was going good. Then all of us were sitting around on the porches one day and this car came buy, something balled up with a rag lit. They throwed it in the restaurant and into the health center. I said, "Oooohhh, my God, that thing is going to blow up." The next thing we know: BOOM! Everything's blowed up.
CHRISTOPHER WEBER:
You saw it happen.
JOHN THOMAS MOORE:
I saw it happen, but I don't know who it was. We just got so excited we didn't get no car license or nothing. All we know is that it was a bunch of white folks.
CHRISTOPHER WEBER:
When did that happen?
JOHN THOMAS MOORE:
That was probably about the last part of the sixties, and it went until '70. The community was in full bloom, doing fine. From there, it started going down. We had to tear that down and all that stuff. We moved around the corner there where the Habitat for Humanity got them houses [corner of E. Main Street and Angier Ave.], right up above the Bull City there was another man who owned a whole lot of two story houses, antique houses. We got one of them and turned it into the health center again. That done fine, because people all in the community all around would go, like if you would go to a job and you had to get an examination and didn't have the money to pay for it. They would go there and give it to you. They done it free. Then all at once that came to a close. They didn't want that. Right across from there used to be a school sitting there. The school got blown up and burnt, too. So the Devil just worked in our community. Every time we tried to bring the community to the top, then we met the government. At that time—I hate to say it—but the Ku Klux Klan was terrible then. They loved to burn down things, and we always had—what you call those guys on the motorcycle?
CHRISTOPHER WEBER:
The Hell's Angels?
JOHN THOMAS MOORE:
Yeah! They had a place right over the hill over there. They'd meet on those motorcycles and just cuss out black folk, pick at black folk, beat black folks all up and everything, break all in the houses. Anything the black folks had, they would demolish. The community was a good community. Right on the corner there we had a [unclear] drug store. They had to close that. Right on the corner there it used to be a fish mart. The other folks would run the fish mart. They stayed there, though, till they got sick and couldn't come in, these big fat ladies. Then they health got bad and they couldn't come in. They close it, and later on they tore it down. The church was still over there on Walker Street, black people moving all around. But Ms. [unclear] still worked with us, and we tried and tried and tried. All the houses was around and everything. We would go to the City Hall, like we went the other night. Hayti [Development Corporation] and Edgemont always have worked together. You know that building all the way over there? [gesturing toward Golden Belt and the intersection of S. Elm and E. Main] Hayti is trying to get the city to rezone that so they can build a store in there. It passed the other night 11 to 2 [referring to a vote at the city council]. They really don't want that. So we had talked to the Goodwill—that used to be a Colonial store. They've got a part of that store with nothing in it, and we wanted them to sell us that part. They've got a big parking lot, and we was going to put to store in there. That was fine, and all at once they decided, "Naw, we don't want to do that! We'll keep it for ourselves." Why not let somebody use it instead of letting it sit and go to waste? They go along with that probably, but they ain't going to sell that. First they said they would, then they decided they wouldn't. See, that's the trick of the Devil. So why not let somebody use it, because you can close off the part you're not using and let the store be in there and have glorious times. The senior citizens from this building and up there and around about could walk to the store and still be convenient instead of going across the highway there to Winn Dixie. What Hayti Development is trying to do is bring back up like it ought to be, and put a new store in there and maybe some other kind of business—barber shop, stuff like that. Maybe a small drug store. Yes, we [need a store]. Got some people don't want nothing that's good. We got a lot of people that are against anything that's right. [claps] So we working on that right now; it passed the other night.