Supporting school merger
Mangum shares his recollections about the move to merge Robeson County's separate school systems in the mid-1970s. After the double voting victory, he says, he and others started to believe that separate school systems, not double voting, were the source of the area's difficulties. Informed by this belief and by a Christian faith that taught them to break down barriers, he and others pushed for a unified school system. Mangum does not recall opposition to the merger from African or Native Americans.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Robert Lee Mangum, November 18, 2003. Interview U-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
MM: Tell me a little bit about the merger effort in ‘74 because it seems like you all were way ahead of your time to conceive of that. Who worked for that, and what was the inspiration of it, I mean, especially so soon off of the double voting?
RLM: Well, that was concurrent with the double voting time.
RLM: I may have to look back and see, but I think it was ‘74 when we did that. Well, we were working to alter and to correct an injustice of double voting. That was always wrong, always would be, and you can imagine the kinds of feelings that came out of the community that was resisting and all kinds of foolish things about, “We pay taxes, etc., etc.” It was so unfortunate. So many people thought that it was right, it was actually right and just to have double voting.
Anyway, probably, I don’t remember the origin except that anybody knew that five or six administrative units was duplicating expenses, duplicating administration, reducing the effect of a dollar for the student. It wasn’t sensible, and it was divisive. It continued to give community division, racial division. It fostered division. So I guess it was just a part of the understanding that ultimately breaking double voting wasn’t what was needed. It was to bring the whole system together as one system, and that was what was needed for this county.
So I guess you shoot for the highest goals as well as work hard for a lower goal, and you accomplish what you can at what level you can and continue to move toward what is ultimate. And so it was timely to get this ultimate concern before us because that’s where we needed to go. I think it was just a part of the whole thinking and concept that if we are really the people we need to be in Robeson County we need to work together.
MM: Um-hum. Right.
RLM: And as a Christian you want to break down barriers. You want people to respect each other, and you want people to related to each other based on respect for the rights, and the dignity, and the power, and the resources of each other, not on accommodation. Accommodation is paternalism, and so to empower people is to give reconciliation, is to provide community based on respect for the rights, and for the contributions, and for the potential of each other. And so a unified, merged system was ultimately the way to do that.
MM: Right. It fit in with that vision. What were some of the reactions of some of the Indian and African-American communities to that proposal at that time?
RLM: Of merger?
RLM: Well, I think that there were probably Native Americans that felt it was unnecessary, that the main thing was to get the monkey off our backs so that we could determine our own election system. I mean our own Board of Education, and have authority to rule and to lead our own Board of Education. So I think there were some of our native people that probably felt that it was not timely or unnecessary. But I don’t remember right now the different aspects of resistance. As you see, by a 10,000 to 5,000 vote we got a lot of Indian and a lot of Black votes to make that vote possible.
But I would say we had few if any real resistance from native people or from Black people. I would say our major resistance came from those in authority, those in power. But I don’t remember now the arguments that were used against merger. But I was thrilled when finally in about ‘88 we did have complete merger of the systems and have the first Native American superintendent of schools in the history of the state of North Carolina of a multi-cultural system, so that was a great plus.