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Historical Opportunity for Rocky Mount, NC

Updated: May 9, 2022

Edgecombe and Nash counties, located in Eastern North Carolina have a long history that has been defined by a rail line that separates the two counties predominantly in Rock Mount, North Carolina. In 1871, state legislators voted to relocate the boundary line between Nash and Edgecombe counties and separated the counties with a rail line that was controversial then and continues to have racial, economic and educational implications today for residents of Rocky Mount.

After years of struggle, African Americans are positioned to elect candidates of their choice in Edgecombe County, which is 57.8% African American. Elected representation includes a diverse board of County Commissioners, a diverse Rocky Mount City Council, and African-American representatives in the NC House and Senate.

According to retired N.C. Sen. Angela Bryant, “These electoral gains have been challenging as a result of some intra-group black power dynamics along with continuing impact of racially polarized voting by whites, racial gerrymandering and voter suppression, which is amplified by increasing housing segregation and the roll-back of voting rights. As (blacks) slog our success by channeling resources into our long underserved and neglected communities, whites counter with in essence, reverse discrimination or charges of incompetence or overreaching because development is going to much in the black, inner city or Edgecombe direction. A community that is governed by a majority of African-Americans is very likely to be subject to backlash by whites regarding distribution of the resources and how to manage the power that comes with being a black majority.”

The Carolinas Gateway Partnerships reports there is significant economic growth coming to the region. Corning is investing $87 million, which is slated to generate approximately 149 jobs. Triangle Tire Co. a Chinese based company that manufactures tires for passenger and construction equipment, will create 800 new jobs at its two $580 million plants in Edgecombe County and will generate $2.1 billion in economic impact. CSX (intermodal facility) has broken ground in Edgecombe County. And the city of Rocky Mount has been selected for the new NC Division of Motor Vehicles headquarters in 2020. To provide youth with career opportunities, The NC Simulation Station will be utilizing electronic software games to assist in and out of school youth explore career occupations through online simulations. Additionally, there has been new investment to redevelop the 200-year-old Rocky Mount Mills and there is growing entrepreneurial investment in the city of Rocky Mount.

The Nash and Edgecombe educational systems face high complexity grounded in historical integration and segregation of its schools. The state legislature’s merger of Rocky Mount City Schools and Nash County Schools in 1991 did not resolve segregation issues, but created a complex set of issues around funding, educating and addressing the issue of segregation and poverty.

In a report written by Kris Nordstrom of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project for NC Policy Watch, integration can transform North Carolina schools and the lives of its students. North Carolina has made progress, however there is plenty of room for progress in Edgecombe and Nash counties. The research on school segregation and integration has reached general consensus on three points according to Nordstrom:

  1. School segregation has negative impacts on low-income students and students of color.

  2. School integration has positive impacts on low-income students and students of color.

  3. School integration does not have negative impacts on high-income white students.

The report goes on to state that “leaders at all levels of society can do more to create an inclusive, integrated system of public schools. The state’s public schools are becoming increasingly segregated by income, and while the trends in racial school segregation in North Carolina are mixed, the overall level of racial segregation remains far too high. The good news is that integrating our schools is an incredibly low-cost proposition…”

Despite its history of slavery, reconstruction, political disruption, segregated schools, and economic downturns, the City of Rocky Mount is positioned to leverage the growing economic headwinds and change the lives of its residents, thanks to public and private leadership and cooperation.

Now is the time to move away from the historical issues and give many of its residents an opportunity to elevate from poverty and live and thrive in a vibrant and integrated community.

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