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Letters: Walmart, Water and Racism
Reaction To Accusation
October 3, 2013

n Tuesday, October 1, Oriental’s Town Board voted 4-0 to let a proposed Walmart Express store outside the town limits tap on to the Town of Oriental’s water system, so long as Walmart agreed to be annexed in to town once its building is constructed. Opponents concerned about Walmart’s impact on in-town businesses wanted the Town to not provide the water or negotiate for more. At the meeting, Commissioner Larry Summers criticized the opposition, saying “this is a racial thing” and to decide “we don’t like Walmart is a grievous mistake and harkens back to the days of Jim Crow.” That drew looks of surprise in the audience and, after the meeting, letters to the editor. Among the letter writers, Larry Summers, Bob Kruger, Penny Flaherty, Doug Sligh.

To the Editor:

My husband and I were fortunate to buy a lot in the Oriental town limits. Fortunate is an understatement as we managed to buy the lot for $12,000 – by Oriental standards, a great bargain. I wanted to be in town limits for 2 important reasons, city water and city sewer system. The lot price probably points to the fact that we are not wealthy, will not be building a MacMansion, do not own a sail boat (but will be holding out for a kayak) and will not be living in a gated community.

When I read the first article about the Walmart store there were few facts available. At that time I wondered how many employees would be hired, would they qualify as full time or part time, the average wage paid, if they would have benefits such as health care, paid sick and holiday leave and voluntary retirement contributions.

Now wait, those of you who want to point out that this is just a small Walmart store, not some large corporation such as Home Depot, BP Oil, or even Papa John’s Pizza. No, Walmart is just a small town store trying to stay alive among the giants and doing pretty well it seems.

I have followed the not-in-our-backyard movement and personally do not care to have any type of Walmart operation at the entrance to Oriental. I also understand the lack-of-jobs-movement as the surrounding areas of Oriental depend on agriculture and fishing which I image do not include many benefits or pay high wages.

As a retiree, I understand the point of the high percentage of retirees who make up the Oriental population and whose property taxes help support Oriental’s infrastructure and civic operations. (You know us retirees, the people that by choice move to Oriental and help support the Oriental economy and tax base.)

What I do not understand is why Larry Summers would want to insult those who took the time to go to the Town Hall meeting. And could he have pulled out a bigger hammer than the charge of racism to hit them over the heads with? Mr. Summers, those people that were seated in front of you are called citizens (and least we forget, they, by living in Oriental town limits, by law, are voters.)

The caption under one of the pictures of the meeting on October 3, provided by TownDock read:

Oriental’s Town Board on Tuesday night. From left, Commissioners Michelle Bessette, Warren Johnson, Mayor Bill Sage, Commissioners Barbara Venturi and Larry Summers. All but Warren Johnson are seeking re-election on November 5. Absent from the dais was Commissioner Sherrill Styron. (Maybe a big “Oops!” should have followed the caption. November 5 is closer than some of you may think, then again perhaps Oriental citizens enjoy this type of treatment.)

Iris Nance
Columbia, SC

Open letter to the Oriental Town Board:

I attended the meeting last evening and was appalled at the behavior of one of the members, Mr. Summers. There were a few folks speaking their 3 minutes in respectful and intelligent tones about why they thought water service to Wal-Mart should not be offered.

Mr. Summers, later in the meeting, broke out in a 5-minute loud shout facing directly at those few speakers, going off in a tangent about how Wal-Mart will help some 40 African American people buy their beans at 50¢ less than the local stores. What an insult to the African-American members of our community.

He also stated that Oriental had some 470 unemployed. Wow, that is a lot for our small community of 950 +/-. Yes, many of us retirees are unemployed, however, after 30-40 years of hard work? I think he just got another fact wrong actually meaning all of Pamlico County.

He also pontificated over and over again about the 100 new jobs Wal-Mart would bring to the same unemployed community. He has these following 2 facts totally wrong and is naive to believe either one.

Wal-Mart may employ 20 folks in the first 6 months to a year, probably part-time, I may add, with no benefits, thus keeping these same people who may apply for the 100 jobs he incorrectly quoted, below the poverty level. The often-mentioned beans he spoke of may be a few cents less for that period of time to entice buyers, but just wait to see the prices inch up and then that little price buster sign goes up once in a while with a price drop. I will wager that the price of beans or a lot of other food items will continue to be lower priced at both Ruth’s and Dollar General.

I, as well as most in the audience, were shocked that Mr. Summers pulled a race card totally out of context with the water discussion and insinuated, if not directly, said that all who opposed Wal-Mart’s coming to Oriental were racists.

Shame on you, Mr. Summers, and shame on the board members and the Mayor for not putting a quick stop to your loud, boisterous and uncontrolled statements, not fitting an elected official. You stepped way over the line with your elected position and not only embarrassed yourself but have publicly involved your community to unwarranted ridicule for no reason.


Penny Flaherty

The letter-writer shares the following letter sent to Oriental Town Commissioner Larry Summers.

Dear Commissioner Summers,

So, you think my opposition to Walmart is evidence of my racism? That the price of a can of beans harkens to the Jim Crow era? How dare you.

I will tell you what Jim Crow was like, because I grew up with it. I know racism you cannot imagine. My family was on the wrong side of the racism question in Georgia while I was too young to know what was happening.

After high school, I had to watch my father sit by silently while his KKK brother ridiculed me for not sharing the family’s racist views. That KKK brother, a former demolitions expert in the Army, taught bomb making to other Klansmen in the ’60s. The House Un-American Activities subcommittee had evidence (you can read the text of his testimony online) he was teaching bomb making when the children in Birmingham were killed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Talk to me about racism any time you wish. But do not call me a racist. I have a lifetime of voter registration drives, job discrimination fights and red-lining fights to validate my belief that I am not a racist.

Jim Crow was a set of laws designed to keep blacks out of places where whites gathered. You need to read a bit more history.

As for how black citizens of Oriental feel about Walmart, ask the people on Town Road and George Street how they feel about having the big delivery trucks jockeying around their front doors and the Walmart parking lot lights shining in their living room windows all night. Ask them how they feel about being the first people exploited by corporate America every time there is a dollar to be made somewhere.

I am not the only person offended by your remarks. This is not about racism. It is about trying to keep Town & Country in business as our neighborhood grocery store. I barely know Ruth Ireland or Renee, but they have responded to my requests to carry products in their store without hesitation. When I need something, they usually have it. Black customers, as well as white, get credit at Town & Country. This is not about racism.

I, and the other people who oppose Walmart, deserve a public apology from you. Just as public as the comments you made Tuesday night. I hope this does not damage our friendship, but it is teetering on a precipice right now.

Doug Sligh

TO the Editor:

I wrote this letter to the editor a couple of weeks back, but did not have the courage to send it in. Now that Larry Summers has brought this issue to a blunt head, I would be remiss in not sending this opinion to TownDock in support of his analysis of the Wal-Mart “opposition”:

The front cover of TownDock.net, published September 11, 2013, showed thirty-some Orientalites, expressing their collective outrage that a Wal-Mart would dare set up shop a mere 255’ from the Village boundary. Mon Dieu! They sport a tee shirt that screams: “support your local businesses,” like the Li’l Ole Dollar Store. Give me a break.

But I think the group photo of this event is revealing in an unintended way. The photo displays not one person of color among this indignant group. This in spite of the fact that just beyond the Village boundary there exists a community with a very different racial make-up from those who reside safely within its virtual walls. And yet it is in their neighborhood, not in the Village, that Wal-Mart is considering expanding its operations.

Where is their outrage? Where are their tee shirts and petitions? Could it be that they are not outraged? Perhaps they don’t consider lower-priced goods and better services located “just around the corner” a potential threat, but rather a welcome benefit, especially among those of lesser economic means than all those outraged, white Orientalites on the cover of TownDock.net. The positive impact that Wal-Mart might exert on these folks’ lives is implicitly discounted by those who oppose Wal-Mart. I think there is plenty of valid outrage to go ‘round the Village, but I would focus this outrage on the sanctimonious, self-serving interests of these Villagers, rather than on Wal-Mart, its advocates and those whose lives will benefit most from its presence.

Larry Summers is right.

Bob Kruger

Letter to the Editor:

The issue of Walmart has engendered some strong feelings in The Town of Oriental. I have been accused of supporting an immoral company. This accusation has greatly disturbed me. From day one I have advocated supporting our local businesses. I may have overreacted at the town meeting on October 1st with some of my comments and if I have offended anyone I apologize.

The anti-Walmart people have said that Walmart is an immoral company. I have read and studied Walmart extensively. They have certainly had a questionable past but the latest information tells me they have cleaned up their act. This has certainly been facilitated by many successful lawsuits and a lot of public pressure. So now I am told that they are more immoral than Dollar General. Who decides which company is more immoral?

I don’t, personally, like the idea of Walmart but I consider that the greater “moral” question is what it means to the 473 people, as of April 2013, that were unemployed in Pamlico County. Several people, from outside of Oriental, said, when I asked them what they thought about Walmart, “100 jobs, 100 jobs, 100 jobs”. That would be 100 jobs in the county between the two proposed stores. The census statistics say that the unemployment rate for African Americans is 2 ½ times that of whites in North Carolina. I also consider the cost factor for the 1,518 (2006-2010) people, in Pamlico County and the 40 People (2013 USA City Facts), who live in Oriental, whose incomes are below the poverty level. The Department of Health and Human Services places that as an income below $11,490 per individual and $15,510 for a couple. If they can save a dollar or two on a food purchase they might be able to eat two meals a day instead of one. Support our local businesses but take a careful look at all of the moral issues.

Larry Summers

The writer is an Oriental Town Commissioner.

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