Activists from Warren County PCB Landfill Protests to Speak at Public Exhibit Viewing

CONTACT: Jac Arnade-Colwill
(858) 245-1711

DURHAM, N.C. — The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University and the Warren County Environmental Action Team will host an event at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 14 to showcase the exhibit “We Birthed the Movement: The Warren County PCB Landfill Protests, 1978-1982.” Speakers will include two community members who played leading roles in the original protests, Dollie Burwell and Wayne Moseley, and Director of the Warren County Environmental Action Team, Rev. William Kearney. This event is free and open to the public.

Through archival photographs and materials, “We Birthed a Movement” offers a retrospective of a large, community-driven protest against N.C. Governor Jim Hunt’s 1978 decision to place a landfill for toxic waste in the small, majority Black town of Afton in Warren County. A multiracial, intergenerational coalition of citizens fought against the landfill for years, eventually committing civil disobedience in a 1982 protest, lying down in the roads to block the passage of the trucks carrying the PCB-laden soil.

Though the protests were ultimately unsuccessful at preventing the landfill, their legacy has endured. Forty years later, they are widely considered the beginning of the environmental justice movement.

“We Birthed a Movement” was originally created by staff at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library in collaboration with Warren County community members to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the protests. It is now on display at the Kenan-Keohane Gallery on the first floor of the West Duke Building on Duke University’s East Campus.

A multiracial and multigenerational crowd gathers around a gesturing minister in a parking lot
A photograph from the “We Birthed a Movement” exhibit shows Dollie Burwell (center, holding her hand against her neck) and Wayne Moseley (left, in striped polo shirt), as they gather with a crowd before a 1982 protest. Photo Credit: Jerome Friar.

In addition to viewing the exhibit, attendees of the public event on October 14 will have the opportunity to hear from two community members who played pivotal roles in the protests, Dollie Burwell and Wayne Moseley.

This event is brought to you by the Warren County Environmental Action Team, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and one of its signature programs Just Environments (a partnership with the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability).

Dollie Burwell led her community in the Warren County protests, organizing local meetings at Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church and recruiting national civil rights leaders to join the fight. She was eventually arrested and imprisoned for blocking the trucks carrying the PCB-laced soil. Later, she chaired a task force that secured over 25 million dollars from the state of North Carolina to detoxify the landfill. Widely recognized as a committed fighter for environmental justice in numerous media outlets, she was recently featured in The Washington Post’s coverage of the 40-year anniversary of the protests. She currently serves as Vice Chair on the board of directors of the Warren County Environmental Action Team, a dedicated network of organizations and individuals working together to document, celebrate, and share Warren County’s environmental justice legacy, natural resources, and diverse culture.

Wayne Moseley was one of the first Warren County citizens to be arrested during the protests. He co-directed “Warren County: Birth of a Movement,” a documentary that tells the story of the citizens of Warren County and their contributions to the movement for environmental justice. Retired in 2019 after a 47-year career in post-secondary education, he continues to advocate for social justice. He is a member of the Warren County Environmental Action Team board of directors.

Rev. William Kearney will join the two speakers in reflecting on the movement’s legacy and will moderate a conversation to follow. Rev. Kearney is Director and Board Chair of the Warren County Environmental Action Team and the organizer of the Warren County African American History Collective. He partners with UNC-Chapel Hill on several community-engaged research initiatives, in addition to advising and consulting with other universities and organizations across the state and nation. He currently serves as Associate Minister and health ministry coordinator at Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church.

The program will be followed by a light reception.

Parking on Duke University’s East Campus is free and open to the public and operates on a first-come, first-served basis. A few spots close to the building are reserved for attendees requiring greater accessibility. If you find East Campus parking full, free street parking is available along Buchanan and the adjacent side streets. Should you or someone you know require accessible parking, please reach out to Jac Arnade-Colwill at jac.arnade-colwill@duke.edu. The Kenan-Keohane Gallery is wheelchair accessible via a basement entrance on the north side of the building and the elevator to the first floor.

Event Details:
Date: Saturday, October 14, 2023
Time: The gallery will open at 3:00 p.m., the program will take place between 4–4:45 p.m., and the gallery will close at 6:00 p.m. For those who cannot attend the event, the exhibit will remain on view until mid-November. The gallery is open during normal business hours, Monday through Friday.
Location: Kenan-Keohane Gallery, on the first floor of the West Duke Building, East Campus, Duke University