"We Can Do Better" documentary film

"We Can Do Better" documentary film transcription
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Unknown Speaker (0:01)
Kingsboro is your community. You are the Americans that live there. You are the people and your commissioners and the governor shall listen to the people. There should be a democracy that is governed by the people of the people and for the people. You. It should not be a community that is governed of big business, by big business and for big business

Artelia Turner (0:38)
They want land owners raise their children there in I can't see our ancestors, letting, these people coming in and run us off the land. No, no, it's not slavery time. It was not slavery time Back in 1995. We own the land and our homes. You cannot come in here and run us away.

Speaker 3 (1:06)
Lead by the people, Kingsborough Community came together to kind of stop this. The efforts of big business and the white majority county board composed this on this comunity, this county. So it's another story of David versus Goliath.

Speaker 4 (1:24)
I came to tell you how I thought that bringing IBP to Edgecombe County was poison. Poison in every sense of the word, social, economic, and especially environmental junk.

Speaker 5 (1:37)
I want to talk as loudly as I can tonight because people are outside can't hear people in the hallway can barely hear. And I really don't think y'all have been hearing what majority the residents of Edgecombe County in eastern North Carolina had to say in the newspapers, in a telephone calls to you and response to general Speyer to get to his conspiracy when it was in the newspaper that was sent into him all of the people in this town are saying "no"

Melvin Hart (2:08)
When it was time to stand up, we stood up. We didn't consider ourselves to be activists, but there's a time for everything. And there's a time to [indiscernible] and the time to sow, there was a time to come together and stand up and that's exactly what we did.

James Wrenn (2:41)
Hello, my name is James Wrenn. I'm the Vice President of Phoenix historical society, African American history of Edgecombe County. And we're standing here in Edgecombe County, which has a long history. Before Civil War it was the largest cotton producing county in North Carolina. Over 10,000 enslaved people of African descent labored from from can see to can't see as they said, horse in the cotton to make this. So wealthy county South Side hear from our research in 1880 African Americans led by George and Rachel book and other books begin to buy land on the south side of this road here. So what we stand on here was your legacy of of the cotton plantations of Edgecombe County. By 1840 Edgecombe County had a majority black population and it's continue to have such to this time actually Edgecombe County today is the most populous black majority county in North Carolina. But in spite of that, it's it's been three years after [indiscernible] that they have political power in this county

David Batts (4:05)
My name is David Batts. My family had been in this community for over 119 years my father was born 1903 He would have been 119 Now I'm 66 years old. And we have been in this community all our life. Hog farming was important to most every family in this area because that's where they raised their meat for the winter. They raised their barbecues for special occasions so we are used to their hogs. Being around hogs was we knew that all our life and we smelt you know all the small hog pens, but that was all the norm. But when this big industry was coming that really sought to upset us.

James Wrenn (4:58)
African Americans gained the right to vote in 1868 and beginning to elect blacks to Office, first time, they got a black majority of county commission 1876. The General Assembly pass a law, county government law taken away the right of people to elect their own county commissioners. That law was overturned in 1890s. Due to Fusion movement, but then it 1900 They passed the law, take away the rights of black people to vote. So still, you'd have a black majority until 1992, they finally elect the black majority of the county commission immediate white backlash was organized to overturn that. So the election of that 1994 You had they will successfully unseat black county commissioners and put in White County Commissioners who are landowners. You had a four to one black white majority county commission over black majority County. And the first thing they did was private bring us IBP hog slaughterhouse to this Edgecombe Kingsboro Community.

Marvin Horton (6:03)
As an attorney, I usually read the legal ads in the newspaper. And I noticed in about the middle of September, as I recall, that an ad was in the paper for rezoning about 400 acres in the Kingsboro area of our County Highway 64. At its intersection with Kingsboro road, and the significance was it was being rezoned from agricultural, residential, to heavy industry. Why would they rezone 400 acres right out in the middle of pristine agricultural and residential area for heavy industry, went to the County Industrial recruiter and asked him what was the purpose of the rezoning? And he was reluctant to tell me because it had not been announced. But being rather persistent. He finally told me with great pride, that IBP was going to locate a giant slaughterhouse in the county, it was going to employ 2-3000 people. And I say, Well, how many hogs a day? Will it will it take? And they say we'll probably 20 But finally getting up to maybe 25 or 30,000 hogs a day. What do you think about that? Isn't it wonderful? I said, I think I'm going to be sick. And that was my initial gut reaction. And I've never changed my mind from that point on.

Ruby Horne (8:01)
I can't remember the mayor that came to him with this information that had not really leaked out there, the county, but no one knew anything about it until he came it was telling my husband about they were trying to put a slaughter pier down in a Kingsboro, and that we need to get organized. And they asked him if he would be in charge of it and be chairman of the committee. And he agreed to do

Marvin Horton (8:35)
I remember, I nominated Gleno Horne on who was an excellent spokesperson to be the chairman of the group we organized and decided to call citizens for Responsible zoning. And he came to the meeting and graciously accepted his nomination. And that's where it got started.

Gleno Horne (9:04)
Right now, if you look around, I'm seeing a lot of children here on your shoulders and whatnot, I hope that you will be able to leave the same kind of country for him that I grew up. I realized that change will come but I believe it has Edgecombe County can develop and bring good blue chip industry into his county and that we can do it and will win the way it's going to.

Melvin Hart (9:26)
I was surprised to see that we had the kind of support that showed up. It started out seeming like it was just going to be the little Kingsboro Community. It seemed larger than us. And so when all the people throughout the county showed up and some beyond the county it really registered to me that we have a real protest going on here. And that there is a possibility that we can win.

Ruby Horne (9:53)
The home owners in Kingsboro are poor people but we are good people. And we are hard working people. We work everyday, and all the homes are owned by us. We work real hard. I would like for each one of you to put yourself in our place how would you like for someone to come in your house And say, Well, I'm gonna flip this [indiscernible] in your living room. But this is what you're doing to us in the Kingsboro Community. You're coming, and you're putting IBP the slaughterhosue in our community if you have any conscious at all, today,
I feel much better than I did. When I was up talking. That day or night, whatever it was. Because at that time, I kind of had I don't want to say, but I didn't have a good feeling about the county commissioners or the county planners, because I felt like they were not being fair to the people in Kingsboro. And that they had formed their opinion that the people in Kingsboro, and also in Edgecombe Country was not capable of working at a place other than a slaugter pen. And to me, it made me in some other words, kind of upset.

Katie Whitehead (11:42)
It affects your health, you know the water, and a lot of diseases and rashes and stuff come from it. You you can just barely just stay in your house. Because really, like I said, we don't have the hog [indiscernible] but we do have the chicken pole right there off of highway extension. Certain times of the year like summertime, it smells awful.

Jill Howel (12:15)
So the waterways in North Carolina specifically the tar Pamlico river is hugely important to the area. Not only is it a source of drinking water for a whole lot of communities that are along the waterways, but people recreate on these waterways, people fish both again for recreation, but also for their livelihood, commercial fishing out on the Pamlico and Pamlico Sound is huge. So there's a wastewater, there would have been wastewater from IBP. And that wastewater would have contained high levels of fecal bacteria would have contained high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which really impacts the health of the whole ecosystem. But this wouldn't have been just an issue for that local community. Those impacts would have traveled all the way downstream. When waterways contaminated, you know, it's not just that one area, it impacts everything downstream. And there's a whole lot of downstream from the Kingsboro area from where IBP would have been.

Speaker 1 (13:12)
I started my career in this in this work as a River Keeper on the Neuse River. So I was directly on the ground boots on the ground, so to speak. I started another program on the east coast, but then came back to to work directly for Waterkeeper Alliance in North Carolina. People would say well, what's changed? Unfortunately, not enough. We have had some successes. We've had moratoriums, we've had bans on new facilities being installed. But we still got the same roughly 2400 lagoons, facilities and I don't call them farms. I call them facilities because they're not farms. We still have those same 2400, polluting the waters and polluting the communities, primarily African American, Hispanic, low income families, Native American families and communities.

Ruby Horne (14:07)
IBP did not inform us of the environment, but there was someone from out of state that came to Edgecombe County, and he met with us and he explained the houses and everything of the strong opinions that were created in our community. And IBP never told us

Melvin Hart (14:31)
nobody ever said to me, well, we want to put a Hog plant there. Maybe it would be better if you would relocate somewhere else. And we will make that possible. There are some things that I guess through eminent domain that needs to happen, but it needs to happen the right way. Not running over people not throwing people out the door. Not saying what goes somewhere. I don't care where you go. That was the attitude that is seemed like to me that they had. You're small, you're Lou, we're doing a bigger thing. And this is going on. This has ramifications of what's going on throughout the country in the world today, some things just can't coexist.

Don Cavellini (15:13)
It's pretty evident that those who seek to make profit, choose areas where they think the population will provide less resistance to whatever negative negative impacts might come of their production, whatever it might be. It could be making boats it could be raising hogs. Either way, often there are pollutants that come as a result of this production process. And they put profit before people. And our job is to put the people first and make sure that they have the tools to fight back and prevent these industries from coming into their communities. And if they are there already, to see if they can mitigate the different consequences of these industries.

Jill Howel (16:09)
It's really easy for a project like that to come up in a place and to think that the actions of individuals or a small community will never be able to impact the outcome against a large corporation. And we see time and time again. And our organization is founded on this idea that engagement by people in their local communities actually can and does make a difference.

Marvin Horton (16:36)
One of the things and this happened later on in the process, and I believe this was the key thing that tipped the scales in favor of opposing getting the county commissioners to change your mind. And that was they had overwritten every effort. We had made up that point. They had voted for the rezoning. We had brought a lawsuit, the Kingsboro Community Citizens Association brought a suit trying to delay action, because they were owners of property within so many feet of the new plant. But the lady that I was in contact with, told me that they may say they want 3 million gallons of water a day with this plan. But they really want and will need 6 million gallons. Well, we had already determined when they were talking 3 million gallons of water a day, I gotten in touch with a two expert hydro geologist from East Carolina University. And they testified, signed affidavits and testified at these public hearings. That times 3000 gallons would exceed the flow of the Tar River two or three times a year when the water level got low. So I could just imagine that I projected what it would be like at 3000 3 million gallons of water a day coming into this plant being mixed with all of the fluid that would be added by all of the unmentionables that come through a hog operation. That would be a byproduct of waste. And they had several 1000 gallons of water into the water that would in turn be put back in the Tar River.

David Batts (18:46)
I attended most all the meetings here at Antioch church. And I can't [indiscernible] Tarboro, because I was out on the road trucking. But the most remember when means here, when The lawyer told us say this is a very significant thing that happened to y'all if y'all don't stand up. This is important. This is not for y'all to sleep on. So we need to galvanize and gather community, for us to get together, stand behind it and support it. Because if y'all don't support it, it can fade away. And you're gonna be stuck with a hog operation.

Marvin Horton (18:55)
Well, they said for one thing, they spent a lot of time and they spent time communicating with our neighbors to get people to come to the meetings and public hearings and or to raise the anti IBP signs to put bumper stickers on cars to help make the signs but mainly it was showing up at the public hearings and being enthusiastic. I mean, I could provide a lot of information. But there were so many people that provided the enthusiasm and the animation

Ryke Longest (19:58)
Well when the citizens for Responsible zoning discovered that there was an application in play to rezone part of Kingsboro in order to facilitate this brand new massive slaughterhouse. What they showed were two fundamental, important lessons for all communities. One is it's critically important to have some zoning in place, everywhere. And this is one of the things that was missing in North Carolina. And these were areas where black and brown communities indigenous communities have been living for generations, and the county commissioner infrastructure, white dominated infrastructure left that unzoned area in place. But what we see in Kingsboro is this great example of residents coming together recognizing the value of zoning as a tool for controlling land use in a way that protects residents of the community.

Melvin Hart (20:58)
I mentioned attorney Marvin Horton, I didn't know him before that time. But it was just interesting to see him come out here and sit in this church as a white man and help us organize for his own interest. He really didn't come for our interest anymore than his own interest. And I think that's something that we ought to remember that this was something that was going to hit him personally. And he was willing to come out here. I remember he. It seems strange to him, though, the way that he moved and acted, but he talked to us. And he calmed down. I mean, to be a lawyer. He had to really come down and talk to us. But he did and he found out I believe, and I'm talking for him, that we were just ordinary people. And he sort of made us understand what we were looking at. And he stuck with us and we stood with him.

Marvin Horton (22:07)
Life is no. Our jobs are bore. Others actions. Just make us sore. No one leads. No one follows. All we do is sit and howl. If all we do is vegetate pretty soon is way too late. To take a stand to be a man to save our land. Now's the time for us to rise. Take the blindfold from our eyes, stretch our brains and realize now's the time to energize and yesterday I added this in the words of Sharon stand alone naked [indiscernible] to proclaim and never yield I believe I believe. I just lost year in July. join our hands gather around cherish your friends we have found generate a positive sound. Celebrate our Common Ground. If we do we're sure to find happiness and peace of mind. True wealth will flow into our hands. Whereas scram to other lands. With search rewards if we activate why do we ever hesitate to make a start to have a heart to do our part. Remember Kingsboro 1995,1996.

Ryke Longest (24:18)
I believe that very clear that this was an environmental activist group for environmental justice, whether they knew it or not. I would also say that there were people who were working on environmental consequences of this, that we're not thinking about environmental justice, and we're still working as allies. But I also think it's really important to recognize now looking back on it, that environmental justice requires us now to be thinking about what are the systemic problems that gave rise to this? Why is it that Edgecombe County was thought to be a suitable place for more or less a sacrifice zone? And that's where I think the important lesson that we have in the past is that many of the heroes who stood up for this, including all of the activists who were associated with Kingsboro fight, were blazing a trail. They didn't necessarily know what to call it. But they were doing it.

Artelia Turner (25:12)
I was born and raised in Kingsboro. And I heard about what was going on about the slaughter pen and in the community, and I commend all of those who participated in the protests, and what they had to say about it. And just getting out talking to the people, because I knew one day, I want it to come back to my community where I was raised. And I'm just so thankful I commend them over and over again, because today, I would be smelling the hog pen, if I you know, because it's right across the woods from where I live now.

Katie Whitehead (25:52)
And if those people, those warriors had stood together, and spoke, so forceful, anything could happen. So I'm proud of it. They left a legacy.

Melvin Hart (26:09)
So one of the byproducts of standing together like that was, we found out that we're not alone. And that we have a common cause. And that we are capable of caring about each other. That was one of the things that cemented it. It was you could feel that people cared about each other, which we might have suspected, but we didn't really know. We saw each other before that, I think is being distant. We didn't know and what you don't know you can be afraid of. But that moved that barrier out of the way. And we were singing together and, and praying together and hoping together.

Ruby Horne (26:50)
It feels good to be back in this building, where we began our demonstration of protest, whatever you want to call it. It was a close knit community and most of everybody that was in this attended the church was relatives. And everybody knew each other.

Melvin Hart (27:14)
Well, in any official capacity, I guess it's been 20 years that I was here, but I've been in the odd peek through the door. But just to come in here, but I grew up coming into this church, stand in a yard next door and listen to the sermons. They didn't want to come inside the church.

Ruby Horne (27:35)
I am going to read the letter that my husband wrote to the people in the community concerning the IBP slaughter plant that was going to be builtin Kingsboro dear friends, my sympathy and compassion goes out to families who have lost loved ones, but those who suffer death. There is no one else one [indiscernible]

Ryke Longest (28:06)
We may not have had the name for it. But I believe environmental justice has a richer history. And I certainly believe that this particular group and this particular fight is a keystone moment in that history.

Unknown Speaker (28:20)
My request, my plea would be young people, do your homework, get educated on why this issue is so huge. Why it's huge from the standpoint of environmental justice. But why it's important from the standpoint of the environment. Also why it is that each one of us has a responsibility for this. Stand up and let your voices be heard.

Ruby Horne (28:47)
Now, our community is faced with a threat that requires action. Now. It would be too late for sympathy and regret later. Our county commissioners they determine to allow a giant slaughterhouse to be built at Kingsboro. It was all to analyze, but we have the same certainty as death. But we will be living to regret.

Gleno Horne (29:22)
Honor history ought to be in our history books and taught to our children as nearly as possible, according to the way that it happened. And nobody has anything to lose by the by knowing the truth.

Ruby Horne (29:37)
Not only a slaughter of 15 to 20,000 hogs a day, but they will have a sewage plant as big as Tarboros their own electricity power plant and an incinerator to burn that waste and the methane gas you're given off by their sewage plant wounds. Another real concern is that Harper farms will increase in the area Duplin county had 800 square miles in it and 800 Hog farms. Now is the time to fight this clear and present danger if we hold back our protest now we'll be holding our nose later we can do bear sincerely Gleno Horne chairperson?

Melvin Hart (31:25)
First of all I'd like to remember those who are with us, or that and that well that night, and the names of those who have since gone on to glory. And I'm no longer with us. But as I looked at the list of people, I can't believe that all of them are gone. Because it seems like just yesterday that this was taking place. Anyway, we would like to honor Annabelle Bullock, very active in all of the protesting and parade that was here that night. So Robert Sharp better known to my family's as Nate Sharp. In [indiscernible], Gleno Horn as was mentioned earlier, he was sort of spearheaded this gathering. Mr. Colin Powell, was very instrumental in getting this group together and bringing them together in this church. And his wife, [Stars] Powell. James Hinton's here, [indiscernible] Brazell senior, Leo Smith. Howard Booth was wasn't my uncle. Leo Smith, Jamie sharp, I believe the wife of Nate Sharp. Marvin sharp, Sharon Hinton, Milton Batts and Esteem Batts. And of course, a key figure here that night still living is Marvin Horton, attorney Marvin Horton, he's still with us. Thank God

[End of Transcription]

"We Can Do Better" documentary film
“We can do Better,” is a film documenting a 1995 win over environmental racism in Kingsboro, North Carolina. This film is a collaboration between The Phoenix Historical Society: African American History of Edgecombe County, producer Frederick Murphy with A1 Day1 Productions and History Before Us, and the Academic Library Services Special Collections division. The documentary was supported by grant funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (IMLS grant number LS-252476-OLS-22) - 17 January 2023 - 2023
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East Carolina Manuscript Collection
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