Activists Reflect on Exhibit Commemorating their Historic Environmental Justice Protest
Widely considered to be the beginning of the environmental justice movement, the Warren County PCB Protests in 1982 brought together citizens young and old, Black and white, to demonstrate against the state of North Carolina’s plan to dump cancer-causing chemicals near their homes.
Two key participants, Dollie Burwell and Wayne Moseley, are featured in several photographs in the ongoing exhibit “We Birthed a Movement: The Warren County PCB Protests, 1978-1982.” In one photo by Jerome Friar showing a group of protestors, Burwell holds her hand against her chest, appearing deep in thought, as Moseley stands nearby, carrying an American flag.
On October 15, Burwell and Moseley visited the Kenan-Keohane Gallery to view the exhibit and hold a discussion with members of the community about the historic protests. They were joined by Rev. William Kearney, Director of the Warren County Environmental Action Team, and Stephen Fletcher, a photographic archivist at UNC-Chapel and a co-curator of the exhibit. Tyler Davis reported on the conversation in the Henderson Daily Dispatch.
Burwell and Moseley reflected on their role in the historic protests, which culminated in direct action when hundreds of protesters laid down in the road to block incoming dump trucks carrying PCB-laden soil.
Burwell recalled how she began organizing after finding out about the planned landfill for toxic waste in her community. “Although we were not trying to start a movement, not trying to work a movement,” she said, “the movement found us.”
Moseley recounted how after his arrest, he and other protestors were taken to Warren County Jail, which had neither the space nor food for all of them. After they were turned out into the exercise yard, a group of supporters brought them fried chicken. Since the guards wouldn’t let them bring it inside, Moseley said, they ended up throwing it over the fence to the protestors. “It was a meal never to be forgotten,” he said.
Rev. Kearney said that he founded the Warren County Environmental Action Team to preserve the legacy of the protests for younger and future generations. He used the concept of “Sankofa,” or looking to the past, to describe the importance of history in the present day.
Read Tyler Davis’s coverage of the event, “Duke displays exhibit on PCB Protests,” in the Henderson Daily Dispatch here. While it is behind a paywall, the story can also be accessed via Newsbank here.