This project briefly reflects on how Rogers Road came to be, how its story matters, and how it was used by the local government to place an ill-conceived landfill nearby. The road, which had been a joining and positive feature of the surrounding historically African American community, was seized and appropriated to the effect of generating some turmoil. Despite all this, the Rogers Road populace remains considerably united with residents collectively remembering its colorful past.
Rogers Road maintains a central place in the memory of families gathered around it. For decades, they have grown and lived around the road just outside Chapel Hill’s bustling education and college sports-focused center. Perhaps, few communities in the city can collectively recount as rich a history as the residents of Rogers Road.
Now in her nineties, Gertrude Nunn tells the story of growing up in the area where her family had a truck farm. She is also able to recite the founding of Rogers Road as such: “And they came from Durham County—my daddy and his brother, Sam Rogers—rode a wagon, and they came to where Rogers Road is today. And so, therefore, it’s named Rogers Road, because that’s how it got started.” Listen to Gertrude Nunn below.
The history of Rogers Road has not been all good nor progressive. By the account of residents, the community has suffered major setbacks. They narrate a strand of the road’s story that has become well-known in Chapel Hill and in the statewide environmental justice network—one relating to the landfill.
When the neighborhood was chosen to accommodate the landfill, the city of Chapel Hill made a number of promises: paving Rogers Road, city water and sewer connectivity, and the construction of a recreation center. Recollecting a pivotal moment of the landfill placement, the road’s paving, community leader and retired law enforcement official David Caldwell says: “Our elders felt, ‘Well, maybe we did make the right decision in letting them come.’ Because we could see, ‘Hey, they are keeping their word.’ But after that, that was about it. [Laughs] That was the last of it.” Alongside steady unfulfilled promises and harmful effects of the landfill, decades of grassroots activism and organizing occurred. Listen to David Caldwell below.
Despite its struggles, Rogers Road is still close-knit. In 2013, forty-one years after the landfill’s placement, it was finally closed. Between the time it opened and then, residents came together via sincere senses of shared belonging and pride though under ongoing grave circumstances. The landfill’s impacts, including the jeopardized heritage of residents, were severe and perhaps will outlive the waste site itself. David Caldwell relayed that “[m]ost of the kids have left, because the history of the landfill and the promises made and not fulfilled.”
In a well overdue attempt to ameliorate the experiences of Rogers Road citizens, the Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County governments have provided sewer hookup options and funded a community/recreation center that had been promised decades ago. That center opened in November 2014. This past summer, it hosted a summer camp that was well-attended by dozens of neighborhood kids each day it was open showing that despite a trying past, the future of Rogers Road remains united.