Successful activism unifies different racial groups
In this excerpt, Mangum describes bringing together African American and Native American movements to register voters in Robeson County. Mangum remembers that the public defender program was instrumental in bringing together different oppressed peoples. He makes sure to note, however, that divisions persisted.
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: That’s helpful. That definitely helps because it’s the past and the present sort of wrapping up together to try to figure out how to solve the problems that everyone was facing. That seems important. The other level of conflict and agreement that people are going to be interested in, I think, is the extent to which the Native and African-American communities unified to accomplish things during this time period. From your observations, what did they work on together? What did they not work on together? What were some of the tensions and agreements?
RLM: There came, pragmatically I think, different aspects of cooperation. For instance, in our caucuses, we had the Methodist caucus, Indian caucus, and we had the Black caucus, and they were working for political empowerment of people. We worked hard in our program from the Native American caucus.
Let me tell you what happened. After a couple years of these two caucuses operating separately they came together, the Black and the Indian caucus, to work together under the aegis of the Church and Community Center. They came together to do voter registration, and the Reverend Charles McDowell, an African-American who is now bishop of a denomination that he has founded, and Reverend Dufrene Cummings, those two became the employees for voter registration. They just worked their socks off registering folks. So there they were sitting in the same office, side by side.
Then we worked in the Fairmont community with Joy Johnson and got a lot accomplishment of voter registration. So there was a lot of helping, Blacks and Indians helping each other to empower the people. It was beautiful. That was very beautiful.
And then there were good relationships on the school board as we began to get Blacks and Indians that were elected by the populace and not by the injustice of double voting. For a number of years Major Greene was the chairman of the Board of Education. The majority of the students and the majority of the representatives probably on the board at that time were Native American. I mean the plurality. It showed a lot of good relationships. There were efforts always being made to work together, Native people and African-American people. There are always differences, and divisions, and separations.
One of the big things that happened in recent years that saw native people and people of all races actually working together was the development and the establishment of the public defender program. That came out of cooperative efforts. We established, and you’ll see in these writings that I have here, we established in about 1980, ‘4, ‘5, or ‘6, along in there, we established a justice project for Robeson County. Harbert and I were the initiators for that along with folks that came out of New England that were helping. Out of that there came the strong cry for a more just court system and the public defender became a consequence of that. We rallied. We labored for that. We caucused for that in Raleigh, but it wasn’t until the death of Julian [Pierce] that it was finally given to the community.