After boarding buses at 3:30 a.m., dozens of Robeson County, N.C., residents arrived sleepy-eyed in Washington last week to tell stories of job losses in their community. They spoke of the toll the economic downturn has taken on their area.
The group came to the nation’s capital at the invitation of the recently reconstituted Congressional Rural Caucus, which lobbies for rural education funding and other causes.
Robeson County is a diverse area of 123,000 residents along Interstate 95 in southeastern North Carolina. A slight majority are Native American, and the rest split almost evenly between whites and African-Americans, with a few Hispanics.
The county has lost about two-thirds of the 17,400 manufacturing jobs it had a decade ago, said Leslie Hossfeld, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, speaking March 30 at the Longworth House Office Building.
Sallie McLean, of Maxton, N.C., told members of the House of Representatives and an audience of more than 100 that she had lost her job at a manufacturing plant.
"We’re here asking that you rally for us in rural America," Ms. McLean said. Later, she added that she’s working in an after- school tutoring program in the Robeson County public schools, among two other part-time jobs.
She also lamented that schoolchildren in her county lack enough textbooks to take home, and other resources to provide a "first-rate" education.
Mac Legerton, the executive director of the Center for Community Action, in Lumberton, N.C., urged federal lawmakers "to develop and save rural America." His organization is working with local schools to link learning with community investment.
A former football coach at the University of Nebraska, U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., told the group that all of rural America shares in its dilemma. "We’re really concerned about the loss of young people and out- migration" in rural areas, he said.
Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., who represents Robeson County, joined others who said they were moved by speeches from the local residents, and hoped to make policies that could help such places rebound.
Added U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, another Democrat from North Carolina: "We’re in the same boat together."
Vol. 23, Issue 30, Page 7Published in Print: April 7, 2004, as Rural Education