It is Sunday at Small’s Chapel Christian Church in Arapahoe. The congregation strains to see Jeremiah Pearsall, just two years old, wearing all white, starched and pressed, somehow still clean, layered with a white vest.
“We know the challenges this child will face, that hasn’t changed,” Rev. Douglas Pearsall, Jeremiah’s Grandfather, or “Papa Mac,” tells his congregation, speaking of racism. “But this is where we give him the foundation he needs.”
The Pearsall family, who make up almost half of this morning’s congregation, gather around Jeremiah and Rev. Pearsall for his christening. Jeremiah looks at his grandfather with calm curiosity as the Reverend holds him high against his chest and completes the scripted prayers.
After the ceremony, everyone in the congregation is seated. Rev. Pearsall delivers his sermon, entitled “The Battle Before the Breakthrough”—a hopeful nod to a current struggle in the county, the need for appropriate representation of minority teachers in the county public schools. This lack of diversity has spurred a fight that local chapter 5429 of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has taken up. Rev. Pearsall is the president of this local chapter.
In the past few years, Black teachers in county public schools have reported unfair treatment and hiring inside the system, a school system that reports about 18 percent of the student population is Black but only about 11 percent of the teachers are. The struggle has brought heightened interest in school-board meetings and engagement with the NAACP. But, beyond this issue, Rev. Pearsall says there are a lot of misunderstandings about the role of the NAACP.
“A lot of people have the misconception that the NAACP is just for Blacks, but it’s not. It’s for justice for everyone,” Rev. Pearsall told me during an interview at his home in Cash Corner where he lives with is wife, Nellie C. Pearsall.
At his kitchen table, he told me he thinks the biggest problem in the county is cronyism. “People are secretive about jobs. They need to be announced, there is too much in-house hiring happening,” he explained, speaking primarily about the school system. “People don’t get a chance to compete.”
On the walls of his home is a framed Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam, along with certificates honoring him and his wife for their work in the county public schools. Now 74, he is retired and spends much of his time volunteering for Hospice of Pamlico County and picking up food from local stores to be distributed at HeartWorks, a learning center for children. He sees how the county operates, he said.
“Race relations are getting worse, people are becoming more distant,” he told me, with a sigh. “Politics should have nothing to do with how we relate to each other as human beings.”
Rev. Pearsall and his wife have three sons and 11 grandchildren, none of them live in the county. “There is nothing here for them,” he said. “They can’t find a good job here.”
At the end of our interview, we walked to his driveway. He pointed across a low field, toward the home where his parents raised him. The sun was setting, he had yard work to finish. I asked him why he stays.
“This is my land, my house. This is where I grew up,” he answered, taking in a deep breath of the sunlit air. “I am not leaving.”
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