Oppressed can become oppressors when they gain power
While Mangum is proud of his community, he cautions that oppressed peoples who overcome obstacles and seize power are prone to misuse that power like their former oppressors did. He avers that communities must remain vigilant against abuses of power by any segment of the population. Abuse of power is not the only problem his community faces, either—poverty and drugs are plaguing the county, and he hopes that its different groups will join together to fight them.
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
RLM: I’m proud of this community. We’ve still got our warts. It pains me when we cancel out each other when we could do so much better than we do at times. It pains me when Indians act like the dominant race and treat each other like they have been treated. That pains me, but that’s the nature of humanity.
When we’re given power and privilege we either act in altruistic ways to see that justice and rights are bestowed on others, or we act selfishly. That always brings about injustice, and discrimination, and denial. Indian people are no better than anyone else. They, too, have to guard against injustice, and often it’s perpetrated against each other. But I’m proud of Indian people. I’m proud of this county.
I came back. I was in the mountains, and I was asked to serve a church as a retired pastor, to serve the First Methodist Church there. I haven’t told everybody about this, but I was asked to be the associate pastor in the biggest church in the county, the Methodist Church. That would have been a great middle class retirement opportunity, but I wanted to come home. This is home. This is where my kids grew up, and I have Lumbee grandchildren, as you know. I had to come home, and my wife agreed. We had to come home because we felt that we still could make a contribution. And we’ve tried since I’ve been back. I’ve tried to make a contribution.
I’m proud of all of our people in this county. Now we have a Hispanic community that’s growing. We have to prove as Indians, and Blacks, and whites who’ve been here all these years, and we’re working out our differences, we’re trying to eliminate the racism, and the bigotry, and the denial. Now we have another ethnic group, and we have to show compassion and a commitment to the empowerment of these people so that they can have as much dignity and pride in being a Robesonian as anybody else.
We can never take for granted. There’s always the struggle, and we must always be on guard to challenge racism, and bigotry, and denial, whenever it appears, regardless of what color it is. If Native Americans are mistreating other races and mistreating each other, that’s just as wrong as white people or Black people mistreating other people. So we always have to remind ourselves of our need to follow the Master, and to understand that He cared about everyone, and He came to help us understand that His life, and death, and resurrection was so that there would be neither Greek nor Jew, male or female, bond or freed, but all could be one in Christ. That was his calling, and that’s my calling. That’s our calling, and that’s the calling of our Native American community, and all of our communities.
We’ve got a lot of problems in the county. Education is affected. Everything’s affected by the drug traffic. Everything’s affected by loss of jobs through NAFTA, and the terrible loss of 12,000 or so jobs that were in garment manufacturing, shoe manufacturing, textiles. It’s just so painful.
I and others worked so hard to see people empowered, to see equal opportunities, and all of this, and then now to see that people have no jobs and have little hope of jobs in so many instances. That’s painful.
MM: Are we coming to a point now like we were in the ‘50s and ‘60s where things have got to change and we need a social movement to make it change, or can you even compare the two moments of crisis?
RLM: Well, I think now we’re learning to work together. We’re pragmatic. It isn’t whether we learn or not. We are working together. We’re all in this together. Our economics are affected by this circumstance. It doesn’t matter what color you are. All of us are dealing with the economics of the community. We’re all affected by what is happening right now.
I feel that it’s a different day. Back in the ‘60s people were denied because of the color of their skin, because of their culture. People have always been denied when they’re poor and don’t have friends regardless of their color, but we’re in a more common circumstance now that affects everybody in a similar way. We’re sharing power, and I know we still have to work at it. We’re sharing opportunities, but now our economic resources and opportunities have diminished to a great extent. Now we’re having to rebuild an economic system that will provide for the people of our county, and provide the jobs, and provide the pride that we can all have because we can work and we can have the things that are necessary to life.
There won’t be an out migration like there used to be, I don't think. There may be some, but there’s a reason to live here in Robeson now, you know. I can be that nurse. I can be that doctor. I can go to school. Like Adolph had to go to Boston, to Boston College, to get is masters degree because he couldn’t go to a school in North Carolina and get a masters degree. As a Native American the system wouldn’t allow it. These doors are all open. Instead of having a flight I think, hopefully, we’re going to have more and more energy spent in trying to provide the jobs and provide the opportunities we need for all the people in the county.
Secondly, I think eventually we’re going to come to a point where we’re going to work together like we’ve never worked to snuff out as much as possible this drug traffic. Because money is so powerful, and the traffic is so predominant, that we’re all suffering regardless of our color in our culture. We’re al suffering from this. All of our families are suffering. It’s insidious. It’s eroding at our fiber as a community. So I think that rather than fighting each other there’s more joining of hands, and hearts, and commitments to work together to make this the best county it can be. I’m an optimist.