Friday, May 25, 2012


BRINGING AWARENESS OF NC'S POVERTY - NCNAACP President Rev. Barber is joined by a host of clergy and social activists in announcing this month's "Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty of North Carolina" Tuesday at First Baptist Church [Cash Michaels Photo]

[Published Jan. 5, 2012]
Special to The Carolinian

             The North Carolina NAACP, NC Justice Center, and NC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity announced the first leg of the “Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in North Carolina,” a state-wide tour of rural counties and inner city neighborhoods where North Carolinians have struggled to find work, decent housing, transportation, and sufficient food for their families.

“We want to shine the light of truth on the conditions of poverty and despair in North Carolina," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of the NC NAACP. "We have faith there are leaders in our government, our media, our churches, and our schools who believe in the North Carolina Constitution's clear mandate that our ‘Government is instituted solely for the good of the whole.’ When our leaders act on that belief, a tidal wave of hope can come right behind the tornadoes of economic despair, creating a powerful new wave of economic and spiritual investment in Eastern North Carolina.”

         Rev. Barber, Prof. Gene Nichol, Director of the NC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, and Melinda Lawrence, Director of the NC Justice Center, provided details at the news conference Tuesday about the first leg of the state-wide tour, which will travel through the northeast quadrant of the state. The tour began with Listening Sessions on Thursday in a half dozen counties, where citizens had the opportunity to share their stories and experiences, and will continue with Town Hall meetings on January 19 and 20. A bus full of activists, reporters, foundation leaders, scholars, and people directly affected by poverty will participate in the Town Hall meetings.

“The truth is,” Rev. Barber said, “government and the private sector have not adequately addressed the historical and structural causes of the deep poverty in Eastern North Carolina. Long before the Great Depression or the recent Great Recession, thousands of Black, White, Latino and Native American families lived on the edge of survival. The recent economic and ecological tornadoes that swept through Eastern N.C. just made the structural poverty worse.”

Professor Nichol added: "The scourge of poverty in North Carolina is both our largest policy challenge and our greatest sin against constitutional principle. We seek to shine a light through this tour on the huge gap between our words and our deeds."

Five years ago, the North Carolina NAACP began to build a multi-racial, multi-issue alliance of progressive organizations to form the Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Assembly Coalition (HKonJ-PAC). The movement, now with over 125 member organizations, has successfully pushed its anti-racist, anti-poverty and anti-war 14-point Legislative Agenda. HKonJ culminates with an annual “People’s Assembly” on the second Saturday in February, honoring the anniversary of the NAACP’s founding. On Saturday, February 11, 2012, NAACP members and progressive North Carolinians of all ages and races will gather in Raleigh to tell our politicians: “We The People Shall Not Be Moved: Forward Together, Not One Step Back!”

The Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in North Carolina builds on the groundwork laid by 68 years of the NAACP’s existence in NC and the 5 years of movement building by the Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Assembly Coalition.

[Published January 19, 2012]
By Cash Michaels

            The first two-day leg of the “Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in North Carolina” is underway, with the first stops being Beaufort, Washington, Pasquotank counties today, and Hertford, Halifax and Edgecombe counties on Friday.
            Sponsored by the NCNAACP, the NC Justice Center and the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, the bus tour’s mission is to highlight economic and social inequalities in the state’s rural and inner city communities, and challenging public officials, business leaders and those seeking public office during this election year to address the issues of joblessness, decent housing, transportation and food for struggling families.
             “We want to shine the light of truth on the conditions of poverty and despair in North Carolina," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of the NC NAACP. 
“The truth is,” Rev. Barber said, “government and the private sector have not adequately addressed the historical and structural causes of the deep poverty in Eastern North Carolina. Long before the Great Depression or the recent Great Recession, thousands of Black, White, Latino and Native American families lived on the edge of survival. The recent economic and ecological tornadoes that swept through Eastern N.C. just made the structural poverty worse.”
Some of the cities the tour is scheduled to visit include Washington, Roper and Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City.
On Friday the tour is scheduled to stop in Winton, Scotland Neck and conclude in Rocky Mount, before returning to Raleigh.
The Truth and Hope Poverty Tour is part of the Sixth Annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street March and Rally coming Saturday, Feb. 11th in Raleigh. This year’s theme is “Forward Together, Not One Step Back,” and will focus on creating more jobs; establishing quality, diverse education in the state’s public schools; and stopping regressive attempts to rollback voting rights. 
Editor's Note - The Carolinian will be aboard the tour for special coverage. Look for our reports in next week's Thursday edition.

                                   CHARLETTE BLACKWELL-CLARK

[Published Feb. 9, 2012]
By Cash Michaels

            Editor’s Note -For the next few weeks, The Carolinian will report on the issues surrounding persistent poverty in North Carolina. Based on research, and the Jan. 19-20 two-day Truth and Hope Poverty Tour through six counties last week, our stories will explore why there is poverty in our state, and what is, and is not being done to address it
          Our goal is not only to bring awareness of this issue to our readers and community, but also to challenge our elected officials to do something substantive about the tremendous need for economic and social equity in our state.
            Today, we focus on Beaufort County, the first of six counties on the tour.

            "I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed...that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”
                                                                 Benjamin Franklin

Last week, Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, “I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it.”
            It may be tough convincing Charlette Blackwell-Clark of Beaufort County that Romney, the president, or anyone else for that matter, even cares about the poor.
            Cares about her.
            “I need help,” she cried out to members of the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour Through North Carolina when it arrived in Beaufort County Jan. 19. Blackwell-Clark, along with other local Beaufort County residents, tearfully told her story to ministers, activists and other members of the tour at Metropolitan A.M.E.  Zion Church in Washington, the county seat of Beaufort.
“All I want is just a little, just a little happiness,” Blackwell-Clark pleaded, telling a long and troubling story of frustrating year after year of setbacks by weather catastrophes, in effective government agencies, bad luck and greed by those who prey on the poor.
            The longtime Beaufort County resident cleans housing for a living, but the meager income barely keeps her head above water, she says. Blackwell-Clark lives in an old mobile home, but she and her husband, a sanitation worker, are trying desperately to become homeowners.
            But the challenge is mighty, and while Rev. David Moore, pastor of Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion, is helping her, as he has helped so many others over the years as they struggle to improve their circumstance, the private and public resources have dried up, thanks to a merciless economy that has hit eastern North Carolina twice as hard as anywhere else in the state.
            “The needs here are great,” the pastor said.
            Story after story of the increasing number of homeless people needing shelter, able-bodied workers unable to find jobs because industry has dried up there, and county government taking 20 years to provide basic water and sewer services to poor, predominately black communities, abound in Beaufort.
In a state where, according to the 2010 US Census, an estimated 1.47 million people lived in poverty in 2009 (over 165,000 more than in the previous year), Beaufort - the self-proclaimed, “Waterfront Capital of North Carolina” because over 13 percent of its 959 square miles is water - is one of the poorest counties in eastern North Carolina, though it’s not in the top ten.
The reasons for its poverty status are historic, persistent and systematic.
According to the latest US Census figures, approximately 48,000 people lived in the eastern North Carolina county in 2010.  Whites outnumber blacks 68 to 25 percent. Over 81 percent of the county’s residents have a high school diploma, but only 19 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
            When it comes to income, officially over 17 percent of Beaufort County’s population lives below the official federal poverty level of $22,000 annual income for a family of four. The median household income is just over $40,000.
County officials say they believe the poverty numbers are far worse, especially since Beaufort has lost at least 6,000 jobs in recent years.
The legacy of slavery and segregation is part of the problem, says Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the NC Budget and Tax Center, a research arm of the nonprofit NC Justice Center in Raleigh.
Beaufort is part of the state’s historic agricultural belt, and South’s “Black Belt.” It didn’t have the cottage industries of the Piedmont or the coast to build on, and still doesn’t.
Sirota’s research shows that since slavery was essential to the region’s primary industry centuries ago, there wasn’t anything for eastern North Carolina to transition to once agriculture saw its best days, and slave labor was outlawed.
The primary workforce remained poor generationally, and the economic infrastructure of the region was weak, and remained so to this day.
“Those communities had very few opportunities for work in those populations,” Sirota says.
Tom Thompson, executive director of the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission, agrees that the historic poverty in Beaufort County has been systematic.
            “We’re in eastern North Carolina. We don’t even have an interstate highway going up and down. They’re building them so fast in Raleigh, they can’t get enough concrete to finish them,” an indignant Thompson said.
            Without a major interstate nearby, businesses and factories locate elsewhere so that they can easily and quickly, transport their raw materials and inventory in, and then quickly ship their products out.
            As a result, Thompson says, North Carolina awards JDIG  - Job Development Investment Grants, designed as  “discretionary incentives that provide sustained annual grants to new and expanding businesses” - to already thriving areas of the state.
            “Half the (JDIG) grants, the biggest grants the state gives, half,…millions of dollars, went to Mecklenburg County and that area last year. Half. “I don’t think we got one east of I-95.”
            “This is systematic,” Thompson continued. “That means the state policies don’t favor us.”
            There other economic development grants, Thompson continued, where a county or region’s level of poverty is not part of the qualifying criteria.
            “It’s not even in the formula,” Thompson says. Thus, while the Piedmont is able to attract the new technology, research centers and investments, Thompson continued, poor counties down east like Beaufort get nothing.
            Tim Crowley, spokesperson for the NC Dept. of Commerce, confirmed that Brunswick County was the only county in the past year down east to have received a JDIG grant, and that Mecklenburg had been awarded several.
            Crowley said a committee determines which counties get the economic development awards. A second, smaller program, where the governor decides where the grants go, has awarded several smaller grants to Beaufort County to help businesses expand, Crowley added.
            Still, according to officials in Beaufort, that’s nowhere near enough given the historic struggles they’ve had.
“We all need to take [this] back to Raleigh, with us, to our Legislature, to our governor, to everyone involved and say, ‘Come down [east] and look at this map, and tell us what you’re doing about it,” Tom Thompson, Beaufort’s economic developer, told Truth and Hope Poverty Tour members.
            “I can tell you right now, they’re not doing anything of a significant nature,” Thompson continued. It’s all window dressing.”
            “The state of North Carolina has not addressed poverty in eastern North Carolina.”
[Editor’s note - The Truth and Hope Poverty Tour Through North Carolina was sponsored by the NCNAACP; the NC Justice Center; the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and the NCCU Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change.
It begins its second leg March 2.]
                                         ROPER MAYOR BUNNY SANDERS

                                       DORENDA GATLING 

[Published Feb. 16, 2012]
By Cash Michaels

            Editor’s Note -For the next few weeks, The Carolinian will report on the issues surrounding persistent poverty in North Carolina. Based on research, and the Jan. 19-20 two-day Truth and Hope Poverty Tour through six counties, our stories will explore why there is poverty in our state, and what is, and is not being done to address it.
          Our goal is not only to bring about awareness of this issue to our readers and community, but also to challenge our elected officials to do something substantive about the tremendous need for economic and social equity in our state.
            Today, we focus on Washington County, the second of six counties on the tour.

            [ROPER] Dorenda Gatling really doesn’t have a choice.
            As the town clerk of Roper, it’s her responsibility to make sure that all residents pay their local taxes and utility bills. Failure to do so puts even further strain on an already impossible budget situation that threatens the small town’s ability to deliver vital water, sewer and police protection services to the rest of its population.
            People are struggling there, as elsewhere, trying to find what work they can, to feed their families. Even a local church pastor speaks of the strain of being unemployed, yet having to stay stoic to give strength to others who suffer the same.
            But it hurts the town clerk deeply, Gatling says, when she has to turn off an elderly citizen’s water because her payments have not been timely.
            “Many who live in our community are elderly, and live on fixed incomes,” Gatling told members of the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour last month when it rolled into town. “They live in homes with plumbing that needs to be upgraded. Most times there are leaks because of the plumbing, and their water bills increase.”
            “But there is little that I can do.”
            As newly-released report this week confirms what the Roper town clerk told the NCNAACP and other social action groups weeks ago - the elderly in North Carolina are increasingly unable to afford to live in this state.
            With housing and healthcare accounting for more than half of an average person’s annual income, more and more elderly people are finding it difficult to survive in North Carolina just on their meager savings, if any, and Social Security, a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Wider Opportunities for Woman and the Gerontology Institute at University of Massachusetts Boston says.
            So imagine what it’s like for the elderly of a poor northeastern North Carolina town with a per capita income in 2009 of just $9,666, in one of the poorest counties in the state.
            “They have to add plumber to the their list of priorities, in addition to housing, food, medicine, electricity, water/sewer, in terms of what bills they choose to pay,” Roper Town Clerk Dorenda Gatling says. When she’s forced to cut off their service, even when she knows they don’t have the money, it’s usually someone she knows.
            “It’s hard to do, and frankly stressful,” Gatling admits, “because I know what it’s like.”
            Yes, at one time, the town clerk of Roper was among those who lived in poverty.
            Roper is a small town in Washington County. With a population of just 602 residents in 2009, it has actually lost people since the 2000 US Census, which registered 613 residents.
            Roper is one of 38 small towns in eastern NC populations less than 1,000.
            Washington County is home to over 12,800 residents, 49.8 percent of whom are black.
Virtually 90 percent of Roper is black, with the median family income at just $16,958 in 2009, a steep drop from the $20,694 in the 2000 census.
Countywide, household median income was $32,172 in 2009, well below North Carolina’s $43,674.
Only 64 percent of Roper’s citizens graduated high school, and less than eight percent have either an associates, bachelor’s or graduate/professional degree of any kind.
            Unemployment in Roper is 12.6 percent, higher than either the state or national average.
            Percentage of residents living in poverty in Washington County as of 2009 - 25.8 percent, and the elderly comprise much of it.
No one knows the plight of Roper’s poor, let alone elderly poor, better than Mayor Estelle “Bunny” Sanders, who literally fights with the state and federal government every day to get more dollars flowing to her town. With no strong economic engine in the area, and no commensurate strong tax-base to speak of, the daily operations rest on Roper’s ability to collect taxes and fees, and attract whatever governmental assistance is available.
In essence, Roper, like many predominately black, predominately poor northeastern North Carolina towns, is getting older, and poorer.
“The cycle of poverty, is indeed a cycle,” says Mayor Sanders.
That cycle extends to the local education system, already suffering from a small budget, further gutted by the NC General Assembly recently.
It extends to healthcare, where costs are rising for seniors and the indigent because of stringent state and federal budget cuts.
And the cycle extends to a critical lack of infrastructure investment by the state that help Roper, and other low-wealth areas, put together strong economic development packages to attract industries and factories, thus growing jobs and the tax-base.
Matching funds is one way to get the grants needed to upgrade water and sewer services for small towns. But Roper’s revenue balance is barely enough to qualify, Gatling says, thus finding itself ineligible to even apply in many cases. So the town has to tackle infrastructure problems as they can afford to, which ultimately costs it more money.
And because of the way money is appropriated by the state and federal government, sixteen poor counties in North Carolina are forced to compete against each other for funding, instead of working together to meet the needs of their citizens. Unless they band together, Mayor Sanders says, they will never amass the political lever of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg or Raleigh-Wake to get their fair share of resources and funding.
Mayor Sanders says her town can’t even hope to grow without the capability of broadband technology for computers and cellphones.
“Everybody is doing business online,” she said. “Remote rural North Carolina areas still do not have affordable broadband, and in some cases, no broadband at all.”
Why? Because high tech companies will not run lines into high poverty areas, seeing no markets to profit from. So the people there are cut off from the world.
            Town Clerk Dorenda Gatling made clear that she has a job to do when she garnishes wages or income tax refunds, or aggressively pursues those who fall behind in paying their fare share for the municipal services they receive.
            But she also, and tearfully made clear, that by her own experience, she understands, and seemingly resents not being given an option to deal with those who are desperately struggling to survive, like she once was.
            “I have a great compassion for the citizens of our community because I’ve lived it,” Gatling told the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour members. “A couple of years ago I lost my job, and a substantial amount of my income. I lost my home. I tried everything I could do to keep it. I tried to work with the mortgage company; I tried the homeowners’ assistance program…both of which strung me along for a year. And the payments and the interest kept building. I begged for help, and finally, I had to walk away. Thank God, into another home. I’m blessed to have a job.”
[Editor’s note - The Truth and Hope Poverty Tour Through North Carolina was sponsored by the NCNAACP; the NC Justice Center; the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and the NCCU Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change.
It begins its second leg March 2.]

[Published Feb. 23, 2012]
By Cash Michaels
Staff writer

            Wilmington will be one of the stops on the second leg of the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour , this time through Southeastern NC, announced the NC NAACP Wednesday.
            Co-sponsored by the NCNAACP; the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity; the NC Justice Center, the NCCU Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change and the AARP of North Carolina, the second leg, as the first through Northeastern North Carolina in January, is designed to shine a light on the extreme lack of resources and  opportunities for many of the state’s historically neediest communities.
            Other counties scheduled for the tour include Sampson, Pender, Robeson, Cumberland, Pitt and Wayne counties.
The Truth and Hope, Putting a Face on Poverty Tour is exposing the painful stories and faces behind the often "bloodless statistics" of poverty. On the first leg, observers  heard about:  
                A long-ignored crisis of electric bills that are tearing apart the delicate safety net for scores of families.
                26 beds available for a homeless population of 1,000 in Elizabeth City
                A community in Tyrrell County who fought 16 years for a sewage system while living with unsafe drinking water and soil full of septic overflow.
                A couple who both had jobs, but still were on the brink of homelessness with the low wages, high utilities and poor housing they faced in Washington.
                A recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill who faced poverty and unemployment if she followed her dream to return to her hometown of Rocky Mount and serve her community.
                Local officials in Washington County telling the stories of joblessness and poverty rates in small towns that reach nearly 40%.

[Published March 1, 2012]            
By Cash Michaels

            In January through six counties of northeastern North Carolina, there were stories of homelessness, joblessness, higher-than-normal utility rates, elderly citizens having to work for little pay and no benefits, children consuming diets that are crippling their health.
            This weekend, the southeastern leg of the Truth and Hope Putting a Face on Poverty Tour in North Carolina promises more of the same, and then some.
            Sponsored by the NCNAACP; UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity; NC Justice Center; the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at North Carolina Central University; and AARP of NC, the tour will this time visit southeastern counties with some of the poorest communities in the state, if not the South, seeking to expose the pressing needs of these low-wealth areas, and urging elected officials and the business community to answer the call.
            "Our second leg of the Tour of Truth and Hope will take activists, academics, media and economists to places of poverty in Southeast North Carolina. This problem of structural and systemic poverty is complex," said Rev. William J. Barber, president of the NC NAACP. "It has many faces that we must dare to see if we're going to dream and have a hopeful vision to do better.  Maybe then we can develop a Marshall-type plan for North Carolina and model a progressive agenda for the nation. Individual charity alone will not address this problem.  The moral requirement of our Constitution and the moral underpinnings of the Biblical truths require more than a call to private charity.  They require a call to structural change and systemic reorientation." 
            As with January’s tour of six northeastern counties, the tour will conduct fact-finding town hall meetings to hear from those in poverty, as well as local leaders, and those who struggle to conduct the much-needed programs to help the needy.
            The tour will also visit hard-hit low-wealth neighborhoods to see what is, and what is not being done to improve the quality of life there.
            Leaving Raleigh’s First Baptist Church on Friday, March 2, a bus full of activists, reporters, foundation leaders, students and scholars will visit Greenville in Pitt County, Goldsboro in Wayne County, and the town of Faison in Duplin/Sampson County.
            Then on Saturday, March 3, the Truth and Hope Tour will visit Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Wilmington, and then travel to Navassa in Brunswick County to see the 600-acre site of intentionally contaminated land.
            Later that afternoon, the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour heads to Red Springs in Robeson County, and finally to Cumberland County at a designated location to be announced.
            “This is the southern half of the North Carolina Black Belt, where my ancestors helped liberate themselves from slavery, fighting with Abraham Galloway's Colored Brigades,” Rev. Barber says. “And then, instead of getting 40 acres and a mule, got tricked into signing sharecropping contracts that immediately re-enslaved them.  But tens of thousands of free men and free women joined [Pres.] Lincoln's Republican Party, moved to the larger cities in the area we are touring, and built grassroots fusion movements with white farmers and small land-owners and businessmen in Wilmington, and Fayetteville and Goldsboro, and other growing urban areas.”
              “For a brief period in the 1890's, they won both houses of the General Assembly, the Governorship, both US Senate seats and many county court houses.”
            Rev. Barber continued, “The former slave owners and their corporate allies, frightened by this initial effort to heal the breach, implemented a plan of homegrown terrorism in Wilmington, and other parts of southeastern NC.  Murdering scores of Black men on the streets of Wilmington, the largest city in the State, in November 1898, they engineered the only coup d'état in the United States. Thousands of African Americans and their white allies were traumatized by this divide and conquer tactics of the extremist and racist right-wing.  People were rousted from their beds, and were helped to get out of town and try to re-establish their lives in the poorest counties in the Southeast.” 
            “We will make the poor visible and lift the silence that surrounds this region,” Rev. Barber vowed.  “We will challenge those who make unjust laws, those who issue oppressive decrees.  We will protest those who deprive the poor of their rights.  And we will never turn back.”
            Editor’s note - The Carolinian Newspaper will be traveling with this Southeastern leg of the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour this weekend. Watch for our reports.

NAVASSA'S BURDEN - Children from the predominately black town of Navassa in Brunswick County greet the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour with signs decrying the contamination of 624 acres of their community by the fertilizer and chemical treatment industries [Cash Michaels video still]

[Published March 15, 2012]
By Cash Michaels

            Editor’s Note - Periodically, The Carolinian and Wilmington Journal will report on the issues surrounding persistent poverty in North Carolina. Based on research, and the first two legs Truth and Hope Poverty Tour through over 12 counties since January, our stories will explore why there is poverty in our state, and what is, and is not being done to address it
          Our goal is not only to bring awareness of this issue to our readers and community, but also to challenge our elected officials to do something substantive about the tremendous need for economic and social equity in our state.
            Today, we focus on Brunswick County.

            NAVASSA, NC - If there is such a thing as a curse from the past still haunting the living of today, then the poor, rural community of Navassa can surely testify.
            Just five miles outside of Wilmington, on the west bank where the Brunswick and the Cape Fear rivers meet, the predominately African-American town (75 percent) in Brunswick County of just under 2000 residents, established first as a village in 1885, is struggling with the legacy of its industrial past.
The story of Navassa is a story America should know, Mayor Eulis Willis says, but doesn’t. For if it did, there would be no question why its citizens - 16 percent of whom live below the poverty line; median income is just over $35,000 and per capita income is les than $21,000 - have little hope of seeing economic equality in their town anytime soon.
Unlike much of Brunswick County, which is growing, healthy and thriving, Navassa, you see, is literally poisoned.
Six sections of Navassa were contaminated by decades of industrial waste from the fertilizer and chemical treatment industries - 624 acres of contaminated land in all.
Oil giant Exxon Mobil cleaned up one of the sites it owned, to the tune of $10 million, but the others remain uninhabitable. And even on the decontaminated site, no housing can be built, local officials say. Only heavy industry.
            Over 600 acres of contaminated land and areas of polluted water, land that no homes can be built on, or on which no crops can be grown.
Water from the ground that generations of families have consumed, and have gotten sick from.
 In the case of a noted family of 16, local officials say, born between the years 1936 and 1958, only two of the offspring are alive today.
“There have been significant health problems,” says Mayor Willis.
The legacy of Navassa is a legacy of post-Civil War businessmen establishing a railroad connection from the town across the Cape Fear River to transport guano fertilizer, produced in factories there, across the state.
Guano fertilizer became big business for Navassa, as four big factories opened between the 1890’s and 1946, employing as many as 4,000 people.
“There were jobs on top of jobs,” Mayor Willis said.
1936 was also the year the Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation opened a wood treatment plant on the banks of Sturgeon Creek near the Navassa community. The dried lumber produced at the facility was pressure treated with creosote solution, and left outdoors to dry.
The wastewater from the treatment process found its way into unprotected wastewater ponds, and eventually the community’s water table. This went on until 1974, when Kerr-McGee finally shuttered its operations at the plant, and new forms of manufacturing fertilizers soon put Navassa’s factories out of business.
As plant after plant closed, the owners, while removing the equipment, buildings and storage tanks, did little to cleanup the toxic pollution left behind.
In fact, in the case of Kerr-McGee, 45,000 cubic feet of creosote material was left behind on-site when the factory was finally dismantled in 1980. It wouldn’t be until 1988 when state officials would investigate, and years beyond that until 2005, that samples were finally collected and evaluated.
By this time the EPA joined the state in assessing the contamination. The resulting report warned people about, “…entering the south portion of the site where the wood treating operations occurred [and] eating fish caught near the site until testing is done.”
The report also stated that, “to protect public health, the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the soil and sediment need to be reduced or contact prevented if the site is redeveloped for industrial, residential or recreational use.”
            The Kerr-McGee site is a super fund site -the highest Environmental Protection Agency classification there is. The site was so deemed by EPA in 2006.
            According to Mayor Willis, there has been a definitive up-tick in cancer cases in the town because of continuous exposure over the years to contaminated soil.
            A predominately black town, left to struggle with the remnants of its industrial past, being kept from growing into the future as fast as it would like with more housing and businesses, and unable to upgrade basic water and sewer services to its population because it can’t afford to.
            Many of it’s homes are mobile or built by the charity Habitat for Humanity.
            In contrast, Leland, a neighboring town, is bustling with businesses and housing. Residents of Navassa, which incorporated in 1977, have no choice but to shop in Leland, which incorporated in 1989, and has a population of over 10,000.
Because it can’t grow as it should, Navassa has little revenue, and as a result, cannot hire adequate staff to maintain it records and operations properly.
            The state’s Local Government Commission has demanded that Navassa officials take “immediate corrective action” to address their problems. The Internal Revenue Service has assessed the town a $35,000 penalty for not filing W-2 forms for its employees in 2008. The town attorney insists it was not “intentional,” and that a contracted auditing firm was supposed to handle it, but didn’t.
            Amazingly, the town has never filed litigation against any of the companies that operated there to right the many wrongs that were left behind.
“It sounds like somebody’s constitutional rights were violated around here,” declared NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber when he, Mayor Willis, and members of the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour visited the cleaned up Exxon Mobil site two weeks ago.
“These folk have to live with contamination every day of their lives,” Rev. Barber continued, vowing that attorneys affiliated with the NCNAACP, and the UNC Center for Civil Rights, will investigate.
“It is blessed thing today that this truth is being told, and that we see this,” Barber continued. “These folk have to live with contamination every day of their lives.”
Pointing to a group of black children holding signs saying, “Clean Up for Our Future;” “Environmental Racism in My Backyard;” and “Why Was My Neighborhood a Dumping Ground?,” Rev. Barber added, “These babies, holding these signs, it’s criminal [for them] to be walking around, at risk, that their lives could be cut short, not because they’ve done something wrong, but because somebody else, purely for money and profit, chose to put contamination in the soil and the water tables.”

TO BE POOR WITHOUT SHELTER - The Rev. William Barber (center with a cane) is brought to tears after visiting an encampment in the Catawba County woods near Hickory where many of the homeless live. The visit was part of Truth and Hope Poverty Tour through western NC Monday and Tuesday. A summit to address North Carolina's failure to help its poor is being planned for June.[photo courtesy of the Hickory Daily News]

[Published May 1, 2012]

By Cash Michaels

            In January through northeastern counties like Halifax, Beaufort and Pasquotank, there were heartrending stories of no jobs; high utility bills; government cuts to vital social programs; and the steady decline of crumbling neighborhoods.
            In March, traveling through southeastern counties like Brunswick, New Hanover and Robeson, impoverished citizens spoke of living amidst contaminated soil; a lack of decent housing; and an increasingly aging rural population in need of vital services. As
            So on Monday and Tuesday of this week, it was no surprise to hear much of the same as the third leg of the NCNAACP’s Truth and Hope Poverty Tour continued on through the Western North Carolina counties of Guilford, Rockingham, Surry and Rowan on Monday. Then Catawba, Henderson and Mecklenburg on Tuesday.
            And yet, while there was the continuing narrative of lack of jobs due to industries shutting down and moving out, there were also new challenges revealed by the struggling poor, this time in urban inner cities, not only by African-Americans, but significantly by more Latinos, and whites as well.
            Stories by former members of the US military, now homeless, being denied services and housing. One young man sleeping in a sewer line. Once gainfully employed professionals, suddenly terminated and finding that the marketplace not only doesn’t need them anymore, but puts roadblocks up to prevent their return to the workforce.
            People losing their homes and their health insurance, finding themselves without permanent shelter and adequate healthcare.
            People living out in the woods of Catawba County, bringing Truth and Hope Poverty Tour leader Rev. William Barber, president of the NCNAACP, to tears when he saw the blankets on the ground, clothing hanging from branches, and rationed food being stowed away from the elements.
            There were visits to homeless shelters in Guilford County, and town hall meetings in churches in Rowan, Henderson and Mecklenburg counties where attendees were encouraged by the audience to “Tell the story” of struggle, and hope.
            In all of these counties, just as on the northeastern and southeastern legs, the poverty rate is at lest 20 percent, if not significantly more, among the African-American and Hispanic populations. Many are desperately dependent on social services, but are running into persistent roadblocks when it comes to qualifying, let alone accessing those services.
            At Union Grove Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Green Meadows residents shared the frightening March 8th story of how police, chasing a suspected unarmed robber, fired more than fifty shots through that black neighborhood where the church is, sending bullets through people’s homes. Much of that artillery ended up peppering one side of the church for a number of yards. The suspect was wounded and charged. Residents, angry that the police felt free to shoot up their neighborhood because it is poor, are now starting an NAACP chapter.
            In Mecklenburg County at Little Rock AME Zion Church, there were those who identified themselves as the “working poor,” families who are overcome by ever-rising costs, with no end in sight, to maintain a decent standard of living.
            In the predominately black town of East Spencer in Rowan County, the water bills are very high, abandoned property litters the area, and the closest supermarket is five miles away in the predominately white town of Spencer.
            Considering that the corporate headquarters of the Food Lion grocery chain is in nearby Salisbury, East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett says the town’s 1500 residents are being deprived of both basic services and opportunities.
            And there were those in Mecklenburg County who were subject to being sued by major hospitals there, which placed liens on their homes, just because they’re not able to pay their hospital bills.
            Joined by the tour’s co-sponsors - the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity; the NC Justice Center; AARP of North Carolina and the NCCU Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change, NCNAACP President Rev. William Barber says the next step is a statewide summit that allows representatives of government, business, and the church, as well as those who are in poverty, to sit down and strategize how the state can tackle what is proving to be a multi-faceted problem, that may require a likewise solution.
            “No region of our state is free from the dehumanizing realities of poverty," Rev. Barber said in a statement. “"North Carolina must turn her eyes towards the plight of the least of these, to the living conditions of its marginalized people, black, white and brown, young and old, and realize that we cannot continue to ignore them if we intend to fulfill our constitutional and moral obligations.”




1 comment:

  1. Stories by former members of the US military, now homeless, being denied services and housing. One young man sleeping in a sewer line upland plumbing