Need for churches to act in their communities
By the 1980s, Mangum thinks, groups that had once struggled, powerless, had gained some influence and were working to elevate others in their situation. A Christian ethic motivated some of these activists. Mangum shares his belief that Christians can affect policy outside of their churches.
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: We didn’t talk much about this. We didn’t talk a lot about the ‘80s. We talked some about the ‘80s. I don’t know if you—?
RLM: Well that was, in the ‘80s now you’re beginning in that situation to deal with the court system. You’re dealing with the system that allowed calendaring to cause people to lose their jobs because they were calendared to come day after day, and the court still wouldn’t receive them. And a seeming disregard for a person’s dignity to come and sit, and sit, and waste a day and not be received into the court, their hearing not to be held or their trial, and people losing their jobs because of it. People pleading guilty just to get out of losing their job.
Court-appointed attorneys, some working for very little, did a wonderful job of course, but others spending little or no time with their clients for whatever reason, encouraging them to plead guilty just to get it over with. No money to do investigation. Poverty breeds injustice. I don’t care what color you are. In the legal system with the pubic defender there was a chance that with a staff they could do investigation, they could do their homework to prove the person was not as guilty as they would have been otherwise, or they were innocent rather than guilty. That was so important.
That was some of what was beginning to happen in the ‘80s, a dispute resolution center where people could get together before they had a court issue they would opt, and elect, and accept the dispute resolution process rather than litigation in the court. That would save our courts a lot of time, and it would bring about an attempt for some kind of reconciliation. That was good. I don’t think it still exists. It was here when I left, but when I came back, I was away for nine years, I think at some point it dissipated. But anyway, that was important. Birth was given to that during the ‘80s.
Then there was the election of Julian running for office to challenge what he felt was a part of the reason for the injustices in the way the court was administered prosecutorially. That was a part of the reason he ran, I’m sure.
In the ‘80s it was a look at the new empowerment so that the people who were often the victims and the denied were now the people who were gaining power to challenge the system to work for people that weren’t their color, to be the justice promoters, and to be able to work for systems that would be fair so that a poor white man would get as good a break as the rich white man, as the Indian or the Black. There were Indians and Blacks that were making this possible for whites or for other races so no longer was it the paternalism of one race having all the power, and being able to call all the shots whether they had the office or not, they dictated what happened. That was gone, and there was new emerging of power of the people.
MM: Would you say that Indians and Blacks being empowered generally did apportion justice more equally?
RLM: Oh, yeah. In my opinion, yes. Blacks got involved at the Parkview Housing Authority back in, I guess, the early ‘70s. Housing coming out of the church community. The Blacks were much more directed by then. In this little thing I wrote, they were more directed in their challenging of political systems. The Native American community, if you’re a Christian you sort of let things ride and let other people take care of the politics, and you worked for the personal spiritual salvation and personal nurturing and development.
Like one religious leader told me. He said, “You can’t change city hall.” Well, I’m here to tell you Christian people changed city hall in Robeson County. It was Godly people. It wasn’t just people who didn’t care about the church or didn’t care about the things of faith. It was people of faith that were committed, across all the races of the county, that were committed to change in the county. So, yes, I think the empowerment has produced positive effects for the whole county. Of course it has.