A protest in Trump Country brings home nation’s race divides

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A protest in Trump Country brings home nation’s race divides

Teens take political stance, embrace fallout
South Robeson High School cheerleaders join hands during the national anthem before a football game in Rowland, N.C.
Former NFL football player Vonta Leach, right, gets his haircut by Matthew Pierce at a barbershop in Lumberton, N.C. A reporter at the local newspaper called Leach, who grew up in Rowland, to get his response to the president’s comments around the NFL kneeling protest. When the paper landed on doorsteps the headline read: “I would have kneeled.” The keyboard thugs, as Leach has come to call them, pounced. A man he’s known most of his life told him on Facebook: “Get out of the United States. Go back where you came from.”
Aajah Washington, right, listens as her grandmother Edith Washington recalls being one of the first black students at Rowland’s newly integrated high school in 1971 at their home in Rowland, N.C. She still remembers teachers making a big show of scrubbing their hands after they touched the black students’ papers, children screaming racial slurs as they walked through the white neighborhood on their way to school.
Cheerleader Amare Leach prepares for the evening’s South Robeson High School football game in Rowland, N.C. Leach was one on her squad who knelt during the national anthem at a recent game. They had for days been quietly planning this protest, against discrimination and police brutality, but also against the nation’s ratcheting racial tensions, against those white supremacists they’d seen on television with torches in a city not so far away. They had agreed in the moments before that they were ready to accept the consequences, and braced for the response.
South Robeson High School football players warm up before a game in Rowland, N.C. The school is in the poorest pocket of the poorest county in North Carolina. The student body is almost entirely minority, split approximately evenly between African-Americans and Native Americans. Some of the students have never left the county.
Members of a color guard walk off the field following the national anthem at a football game at South Robeson High School in Rowland, N.C.
Dinner guests bow their heads in prayer before their weekly gathering at a home in Lumberton, N.C.
Elton Connor, rear, joins Bruce Kinlaw and Ricky Phillips on the patio before dinner is ready at their weekly gathering at a home in Lumberton, N.C. Sometimes, the men watch Fox News and talk politics. These days, they turn on football and bemoan the national anthem protests that, to them, represent an unraveling of American values of tradition, patriotism and honor.
U.S. Army Gulf War veteran Robert Tolbert, center, who supports the protests of kneeling during the national anthem, speaks with fellow veterans at a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting in Lumberton, N.C. “Everybody’s mad at each other because everybody’s got their opinion on this,” Tolbert bemoaned to the group of mostly African-American war veterans, and recounted the exchange. “I said, ‘look brother, we’ve got to understand why we came into the military, why we fought for this. Don’t let the media and politicians divide us because we all believe in the same thing - we believe in justice, we believe in freedom of speech - because that’s what we fought for. Isn’t it?”
A cross stands in New Hope United Methodist Church as Rev. Shawn Mitchell, a Navy combat veteran, stands in the sanctuary in Rowland, N.C. “Southern hospitality lives here in North Carolina. But now we’re starting to see it less and less because you are free to be as racist as you want.” He says President Trump has contributed to that environment. “Everybody wants their family to be well fed. Everybody wants their family to be well educated. Your children shouldn’t be better educated than mine because they’re white and mine are black or because you have more money in the bank than I do.”
Jerry Jacobs, rear left, joins Rick Lovett, from left, Walker Davis and Jerry Batten in a prayer breakfast at a diner in Lumberton, N.C. In Robeson County, whites, blacks and Native Americans split the population - and many often remark at how well they’ve overcome the scars of segregation to struggle together, side by side. But churches remain largely segregated by race, and some have tried to get diverse congregations together.
Walker Davis, right, embraces Bobby Martin at a prayer breakfast at a diner in Lumberton, N.C.
Horace Locklear sits for a portrait under a picture of his late wife Quessie, who passed last year after 53 years of marriage. Locklear, a member of the Lumbee Native American tribe, says that when he was young and growing up in Robeson County he remembers having to get his food from a back window because he and his family couldn’t dine in many restaurants. “I just couldn’t really understand why people couldn’t get along. You know, mix and mingle.” But he says it’s gotten better over the years and he has friends of many races. While he voted for President Obama, he voted for President Trump because he thinks he can bring jobs to the region – and also, based on his reading of the Bible, because he doesn’t think a woman should be president.
Members of the South Robeson High School cheerleading squad kneel during the national anthem before a football game Sept. 29 in Rowland, N.C. The decision by the school’s cheerleaders to kneel drew both praise and strong criticism, often divided along racial lines.

A protest in Trump Country brings home nation’s race divides

South Robeson High School cheerleaders join hands during the national anthem before a football game in Rowland, N.C.
Former NFL football player Vonta Leach, right, gets his haircut by Matthew Pierce at a barbershop in Lumberton, N.C. A reporter at the local newspaper called Leach, who grew up in Rowland, to get his response to the president’s comments around the NFL kneeling protest. When the paper landed on doorsteps the headline read: “I would have kneeled.” The keyboard thugs, as Leach has come to call them, pounced. A man he’s known most of his life told him on Facebook: “Get out of the United States. Go back where you came from.”
Aajah Washington, right, listens as her grandmother Edith Washington recalls being one of the first black students at Rowland’s newly integrated high school in 1971 at their home in Rowland, N.C. She still remembers teachers making a big show of scrubbing their hands after they touched the black students’ papers, children screaming racial slurs as they walked through the white neighborhood on their way to school.
Cheerleader Amare Leach prepares for the evening’s South Robeson High School football game in Rowland, N.C. Leach was one on her squad who knelt during the national anthem at a recent game. They had for days been quietly planning this protest, against discrimination and police brutality, but also against the nation’s ratcheting racial tensions, against those white supremacists they’d seen on television with torches in a city not so far away. They had agreed in the moments before that they were ready to accept the consequences, and braced for the response.
South Robeson High School football players warm up before a game in Rowland, N.C. The school is in the poorest pocket of the poorest county in North Carolina. The student body is almost entirely minority, split approximately evenly between African-Americans and Native Americans. Some of the students have never left the county.
Members of a color guard walk off the field following the national anthem at a football game at South Robeson High School in Rowland, N.C.
Dinner guests bow their heads in prayer before their weekly gathering at a home in Lumberton, N.C.
Elton Connor, rear, joins Bruce Kinlaw and Ricky Phillips on the patio before dinner is ready at their weekly gathering at a home in Lumberton, N.C. Sometimes, the men watch Fox News and talk politics. These days, they turn on football and bemoan the national anthem protests that, to them, represent an unraveling of American values of tradition, patriotism and honor.
U.S. Army Gulf War veteran Robert Tolbert, center, who supports the protests of kneeling during the national anthem, speaks with fellow veterans at a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting in Lumberton, N.C. “Everybody’s mad at each other because everybody’s got their opinion on this,” Tolbert bemoaned to the group of mostly African-American war veterans, and recounted the exchange. “I said, ‘look brother, we’ve got to understand why we came into the military, why we fought for this. Don’t let the media and politicians divide us because we all believe in the same thing - we believe in justice, we believe in freedom of speech - because that’s what we fought for. Isn’t it?”
A cross stands in New Hope United Methodist Church as Rev. Shawn Mitchell, a Navy combat veteran, stands in the sanctuary in Rowland, N.C. “Southern hospitality lives here in North Carolina. But now we’re starting to see it less and less because you are free to be as racist as you want.” He says President Trump has contributed to that environment. “Everybody wants their family to be well fed. Everybody wants their family to be well educated. Your children shouldn’t be better educated than mine because they’re white and mine are black or because you have more money in the bank than I do.”
Jerry Jacobs, rear left, joins Rick Lovett, from left, Walker Davis and Jerry Batten in a prayer breakfast at a diner in Lumberton, N.C. In Robeson County, whites, blacks and Native Americans split the population - and many often remark at how well they’ve overcome the scars of segregation to struggle together, side by side. But churches remain largely segregated by race, and some have tried to get diverse congregations together.
Walker Davis, right, embraces Bobby Martin at a prayer breakfast at a diner in Lumberton, N.C.
Horace Locklear sits for a portrait under a picture of his late wife Quessie, who passed last year after 53 years of marriage. Locklear, a member of the Lumbee Native American tribe, says that when he was young and growing up in Robeson County he remembers having to get his food from a back window because he and his family couldn’t dine in many restaurants. “I just couldn’t really understand why people couldn’t get along. You know, mix and mingle.” But he says it’s gotten better over the years and he has friends of many races. While he voted for President Obama, he voted for President Trump because he thinks he can bring jobs to the region – and also, based on his reading of the Bible, because he doesn’t think a woman should be president.
Members of the South Robeson High School cheerleading squad kneel during the national anthem before a football game Sept. 29 in Rowland, N.C. The decision by the school’s cheerleaders to kneel drew both praise and strong criticism, often divided along racial lines.

A protest in Trump Country brings home nation’s race divides

Former NFL player Vonta Leach, left, who voted for Hillary Clinton, gets a haircut alongside Jamie Locklear, who voted for Donald Trump.

A protest in Trump Country brings home nation’s race divides

A monument of a confederate soldier stands outside the Robeson County Courthouse in Lumberton, N.C. The monument has stood two stories tall outside the courthouse for 110 years with little notice until now when it was recently defaced.

A protest in Trump Country brings home nation’s race divides

South Robeson High School student and cheerleader Aajah Washington crosses the street to catch the school bus outside her home in Rowland, N.C. “I watch TV every day and that’s all we see, police brutality or the KKK is coming out,” Aajah says. She’d never before felt the sting of racism, at least nothing obvious, but the ferocity of America’s divisions frighten her. “It just seems like the world is changing, where everything from back then is coming back now,” she says. “It feels like it’s slowly approaching.”

A protest in Trump Country brings home nation’s race divides

Spectators stand for the national anthem before a South Robeson High School football game in Rowland, N.C. When the cheerleading squad knelt during the national anthem at a recent game, the protest of racial injustice highlighted divisions in Robeson County, North Carolina, the most diverse rural county in America, where voters also helped Donald Trump win the county and the White House.

A protest in Trump Country brings home nation’s race divides

Ricky Phillips, from right, Cary Lewis and Billy Wilcox talk during their weekly dinner gathering at the home of Buddy Jones, foreground, in Lumberton, N.C. “People in this country ... they’re already losing respect in a lot of areas. It’s the national anthem and the flag now. What’s going to be next?” he asked his friends that Thursday night.

A protest in Trump Country brings home nation’s race divides

Billy Hunt, a Native American and a Marine, stands outside his small engine repair shop in Rowland, N.C. Hunt was hurt, because he thinks the cheerleaders who knelt during the national anthem failed to consider people like him - people who served their country and see the flag as a symbol of that service, of loved ones and limbs lost to war. It seemed to him, like many others here, that they’d chosen a side, without imagining life on the other one. “I’d like to see it back to people start feeling for each other again,” he said, “instead of - ‘it’s my idea, it’s great, if it’s your idea, it sucks.’”
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