Title: Oral History Interview with Diane English, May 19, 2006. Interview U-0183.
Interviewer: Thuesen, Sarah
Interviewee: English, Diane
Abstract: This is the first in a two-part series examining the community activism of Diane English. English begins the interview by recalling her early childhood in rural Union County, North Carolina, which she says was isolated from white racism. When English was a young child, her family moved to urban Charlotte, where she was confronted by the realities of racial segregation. She describes the impact of the civil rights movement in Charlotte, and argues that white racism persisted in newly desegregated schools. Discrimination, coupled with her need to contribute financially to her family's household, led English to drop out from Second Ward High School. After a brief stint in Washington, D.C., where she witnessed urban rioting, she left that city for her own safety and returned to Charlotte. English describes her job as a pipe fitter for Duke Power's Catawba Nuclear Plant, an occupation in which women made up approximately ten percent of the workforce. Although she enjoyed the work, the long commute and the cost of childcare posed a difficult challenge. She left her employment with Duke Power and took a position with the Charlotte Area Transit System. The job paid less, but was located closer to her home, which made it easier for the single mother to care for her two daughters. English was soon able to afford a house, and purchased one that was known as the drug haven in her Belmont neighborhood. She describes the tensions between the city, the drug dealers, and the police and explains why she remained in the neighborhood despite the violence of the neighborhood. In 1999, she organized a Neighborhood Crime Watch and appealed for assistance to the Charlotte City Council. The spread of neighborhood gentrification was yet another challenge she and her neighbors faced; she describes how she organized Belmont residents to cooperate with city officials to design a plan to protect the interests of homeowners in the community. However, the city chose to endorse the federal Hope VI initiative, which English argues will ultimately displace local homeowners.