The first stop on our trip was in Lincoln Heights outside of Roanoke Rapids, N.C. This was a tour to witness the disparate impact of segregation on this community. Though the two towns were geographically separated by one bridge, I was amazed at how disconnected this community was from Roanoke Rapids. Most of the roads were unpaved, lined with dilapidated houses that were boarded and covered by “No Trespassing” signs. There were no streetlights, no sidewalks. The one grocery store in the community had no fresh fruit or vegetables. As we walked, I learned that this community was literally built on top of waste. When Roanoke Rapids still maintained a thriving mill industry, the mills would cross the river to dump all of their waste in Lincoln Heights. Even after the mills stopped dumping, the town of Roanoke Rapids leased land in Lincoln Heights to use as a landfill for the trash of Roanoke Rapids. In a time before regulations were in place on what could be put in landfills, toxic and hazardous waste was being dumped in the back yard of Lincoln Heights residents. This was not a community that had been forgotten – this community had been actively neglected for generations, and the community leaders are now doing what they can just to keep their heads above water.
Touring Lincoln Heights gave us a real perspective on poverty in the state. Living in Chapel Hill, it is easy to forget that life in that bubble is not indicative of most communities. I have often passed through the “poor” area of cities, and have not thought much of it, mostly regarding the situation as an inevitability – there will be rich areas, and there will be poor ones. But this tour taught me there are all sorts of unforeseen actions that lead to the state of the community, most of which are out of the control of its residents. It was Mahatma Ghandi who said “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” This tour helped me realize that we as a nation have a long way to go in giving everyone an equal opportunity at success and happiness, and I am motivated more than ever to help make that happen.
Posted by Justice D. Warren on Wed. March 7, 2012 11:39 AM
Spring Break 2012 (Eastern)