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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Diane English, May 19, 2006. Interview U-0183. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Fear of northern racial riots outweighed higher paying jobs

Although the North had better job prospects and pay, the racial riots created an atmosphere of fear, which English sought to avoid.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Diane English, May 19, 2006. Interview U-0183. 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

DIANE ENGLISH:
How they wish they could have a better job. Everybody wanted another job. Everybody wanted to leave and go up north. I'm like what's up there, duh. I did have a lot of friend that moved up to New York and Washington, DC. They say for more money, more pay, better pay.
SARAH THUESEN:
Did you ever consider doing that?
DIANE ENGLISH:
I did. I went to DC and stayed for eight years.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh. When was that during—?
DIANE ENGLISH:
This was between the '70s and the '80s. My parents, my mother, we all relocated to DC. We stayed. I used to come home. I was younger then. This was before because I used to come home to pick up my sister, my baby sister and brother and take them by bus. This would go on during the summer. I would come back and forth and take them home and then come back and forth on the bus until we got lost one time. Then we didn't get to get bus anymore. We got left off the bus. We were out trying to get something to eat. The bus left us. We got stranded.
SARAH THUESEN:
Where were you?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Danville, Virginia.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh no.
DIANE ENGLISH:
I never will forget that raggedy place, Danville. That's where it was really you could see all this prejudice stuff in the bus station. It was awful. Danville, Virginia. It scared me.
SARAH THUESEN:
Pretty scary.
DIANE ENGLISH:
Yeah, it was. It was just me and my brother and sister. It was awful. We found ourselves running around and hiding in the bathrooms and stuff to keep from being around people. They were real—some violent people back then, real violent people.
SARAH THUESEN:
Did you find that in DC it was easier to make a living?
DIANE ENGLISH:
No, it wasn't easier. I think the lifestyle was better.
SARAH THUESEN:
How so?
DIANE ENGLISH:
The atmosphere. People were more at ease with what their lives was about. That's were I really came in contact with some of the actual—. They set everything on fire. They were rioting really bad up there. They burned down a whole street. I mean a whole street went up in flames. Our street that we were living on. They burned; I think it was Fourteenth Street in Washington, DC. This was in the '60s I believe. '69, '70s. No, it was after. It had to be around in the '80s. I can't remember. We had went back for a summer to pick up—. My parents was moving back down here. I had went up to get the smaller kids to bring on the bus so that they could bring their furniture. While I was here, that was when they burnt down the whole street. Everything went up in flames. By the time we got back here it was just smoke. The whole thing was just smoldering. I think they had a huge riot that went on in Washington in that particular year. I can't remember the year. It was huge. Everything was basically burning. Washington, DC was on fire is what they used to say.
SARAH THUESEN:
What did you think about that at that time?
DIANE ENGLISH:
It was real scary because they were throwing smoke bombs everywhere. You really couldn't—. The streets lights were shot out or put out. It wasn't safe at all.
SARAH THUESEN:
Did you have a sense of why? Was it mainly young people who were rioting?
DIANE ENGLISH:
It was everybody. It was everybody. You really couldn't tell because the kids was doing it. The parents was doing it. Anybody. It was just like you'd be walking along and all of a sudden somebody would come along with this bottle with a piece of something in it and just light it and throw it through a window and everything just goes up in flames. It was just like it was an ordinary thing. The police up there, I felt real sorry for them. I know they were tired. It was so many people. They couldn't keep up with everybody. It wasn't enough of them or the people who live there.
SARAH THUESEN:
Was the violence up there part of the reason you moved back to Charlotte?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Yeah, my parents during that time, they had been living up there off and on. During that time, they said it was best that we came home. It wasn't safe. Our whole street was burning. My aunt lived up there thirty some years. We lived in northeast. That's where your violence went down was in northwest, the northeast. My aunts lived in northwest, north south. It wasn't that bad in those areas. I used to live not far from the White House. We could walk to the White House, to the Zoo, the big zoo, all of it on Columbia Circle, right near the White House. In fact, we could stand out on the street and look down on the White House. It was real pretty. It just wasn't safe. It wasn't safe at all.