David Caldwell spent much of his childhood hiking, picking fresh fruits and even swimming in the streams of his Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood.
Caldwell has lived in the neighborhood since the 1960s — and he has watched it change as he and his neighbors fought against the placement of a county landfill in their traditionally black community in 1972.
For years, Caldwell has led efforts by neighborhood residents to gain public water and sewer access from the county and to create a community center, even as the landfill undermined their quality of life.
“We couldn’t walk through the fruit trees … the berries were gone, there weren’t fishes in the pond, and the water quality is not safe,” Campbell said.
But on Feb. 21, the Orange County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to close the landfill on June 30, 2013.
“We’re really excited about the landfill closure,” said Purefoy Drive resident Emily Faison. “Caldwell’s very involved, and he has definitely brought positive change.”
In the late 1800s, Rogers Road was a predominantly black-owned family farmland that stretched from Homestead Road to Eubanks and Millhouse roads.
But Caldwell, who is the project manager for the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, said many of those families have left the area — and he attributed the change to the placement of the landfill.
“Those who afforded to move moved out because of bad water supply,” Caldwell said. “You can’t blame them for leaving when they got a chance.”
Although county officials promised that the landfill would only stay open 10 years, its closure was delayed several times.
Some neighborhood residents attribute negative effects, including a trash odor and water contamination, to the landfill.
A 2009 survey by the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health found evidence of fecal contamination and E. coli bacteria in the drinking water.
Caldwell said neighborhood residents look forward to seeing the landfill close, but are cautious when dealing with local officials.
“The burden of proof all these years has always been left to us,” Caldwell said. “But we fight, and we stay on top of it.”
Despite the neighborhood’s struggle with the landfill, Caldwell describes the neighborhood as a close-knit black community based on trust and responsibility.
He said his father, David Caldwell Sr., was Chapel Hill’s first black police officer — and he and his three brothers were also police officers.
Rev. Robert Campbell, president of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, said the Caldwell family has long been a leader in the community.
“They’ve always been active in making sure that the community is safe,” Campbell said. “David’s involvement in the community is a jewel.”
Contact the City Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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