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Race issues plague Lucama

Posted on September 16, 2021

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Lucama resident Gladys Martinez, standing at right, is led away by her daughter and Commissioner Patricia Uzzell during the Lucama Board of Commissioners' Monday meeting.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Lucama resident Gladys Martinez, standing at right, is led away by her daughter and Commissioner Patricia Uzzell during the Lucama Board of Commissioners' Monday meeting.

Bob James, a second vice president of the NAACP's Wilson Branch, raises his hand to ask a question of Lucama Mayor Jeff Johnson during Monday's Lucama Board of Commissioners meeting.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Bob James, a second vice president of the NAACP's Wilson Branch, raises his hand to ask a question of Lucama Mayor Jeff Johnson during Monday's Lucama Board of Commissioners meeting.

Lucama resident Gladys Martinez, standing at right, is led away by her daughter and Commissioner Patricia Uzzell during the Lucama Board of Commissioners' Monday meeting.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Lucama resident Gladys Martinez, standing at right, is led away by her daughter and Commissioner Patricia Uzzell during the Lucama Board of Commissioners' Monday meeting.

Bob James, a second vice president of the NAACP's Wilson Branch, raises his hand to ask a question of Lucama Mayor Jeff Johnson during Monday's Lucama Board of Commissioners meeting.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Bob James, a second vice president of the NAACP's Wilson Branch, raises his hand to ask a question of Lucama Mayor Jeff Johnson during Monday's Lucama Board of Commissioners meeting.

Bob James, a second vice president of the NAACP's Wilson Branch, raises his hand to ask a question of Lucama Mayor Jeff Johnson during Monday's Lucama Board of Commissioners meeting.
Lucama resident Gladys Martinez, standing at right, is led away by her daughter and Commissioner Patricia Uzzell during the Lucama Board of Commissioners' Monday meeting.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7818

LUCAMA — Race issues boiled to the surface again Monday as Lucama residents and NAACP members made clear that they’re “tired” of the way people of color have been treated.

The comments were delivered to the Lucama Board of Commissioners during its regular monthly meeting.

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Resident Gladys Martinez, a persistent commenter, refused to curtail her comments beyond the board’s three-minute maximum.

Martinez said she was incensed at the treatment of two recently resigned African American town employees, former Town Administrator Teresa Whitehead, Town Clerk Melissa Hayman and an unnamed Hispanic employee.

“You think that is going to sit well with us? I believe all them women were harassed,” Martinez said, “Commissioner (Patricia) Uzzell is the only African American woman left. She is making a way for other African American and Hispanic men and women to step in this door.”

When Martinez’s three minutes expired, she declined to leave the table where speakers sat to address the board.

“Your time’s up,” said Commissioner David Johnson.

“Time’s up. Time’s up!” Johnson said, raising his voice.

Upset, Martinez refused.

I’m not going to get up until I’m finished,” Martinez said. “I’m not because I have been asking y’all these questions all these many months and y’all never gave me an answer and y’all never did anything.”

Mayor Jeff Johnson tapped his gavel and told Martinez her time was up.

“We have given you three minutes. That’s it,” the mayor told Martinez.

Martinez had asked the board why it couldn’t install a basketball hoop for Lucama’s youths to use. She said she wants to see the town grow and see the people get along.

“I’m going nowhere,” Martinez said. “They say, ‘If you hate Lucama, why don’t you move?’ I’m not moving because it’s not the town. It’s the people and the people’s attitude. People need to get things straight and get things done. I’m just sick of it.”

Martinez’s daughter stood up along with Commissioner Uzzell to encourage Martinez, who was emotionally distraught, to go home.

“I’m not going home because they are wrong,” Martinez told the 18 spectators shoehorned into the narrow commissioners’ meeting room.

“Am I right?” Martinez asked as she walked to her seat.

Spectators clapped for her.

“Some of this stuff she’s asking about you all do need to answer, please, because a storm is coming,” said Arthur Johnson of the NAACP’s Wilson Branch. “You can push her aside all you want to. It is coming to the light.”

Arthur Johnson said it’s time to more forward.

“It is time to put someone in charge who is going to show integrity, someone who is going to be honest and, most of all, someone who is going to show the town accountability. That’s something that you are not doing. These questions she asked tonight, yes, she lost it because she’s been asking these questions for the last year and she’s never gotten one answer.”

Arthur Johnson urged people to vote in November’s municipal elections.

“They are so arrogant,” Arthur Johnson said of town board members. “They say they are not going anywhere. Your vote is your voice. If you don’t show your voice in November, then you get what you get, so show up, show out and do what you have to do. I am tired of it myself.”

State Rep. Linda Cooper-Suggs, D-Wilson, witnessed the exchange.

Cooper-Suggs came to update the board and Lucama’s residents on the state budget process along with the General Assembly’s work on redistricting, education and affordable housing.

“We will be there to hear your voices,” Cooper-Suggs said, discussing public hearings on redistricting held Wednesday in Nash County and Thursday in Pitt County. “As your representative of Wilson County, I need you there to speak out to say what you want.”

Cooper-Suggs was also told to conclude her remarks after three minutes had elapsed.

“Thank you for caring enough to come and talk to us,” board member Peggy Lamm politely told the representative.

Bob James, second vice president of the NAACP’s Wilson Branch, said state officials who address the board in their professional capacity shouldn’t be subject to the time limit for public comments.

“I heard you say three minutes,” James said.

James said Cooper-Suggs should be given the courtesy of speaking beyond three minutes.

“I think you need to take care of this situation,” James said. “I hear how people are being mistreated, how they are being talked to, especially African Americans and people of color. Now we need to straighten up and fly right. Now, we didn’t come down here to throw stones or bones as the NAACP. We want fair and honesty across the board.”

James said “complaints have to be solved and issues have to be solved.”

Monday’s meeting was the first Lucama town board session he attended.

“I see a lot of things in protocol out of order,” James said. 

James told commissioners it was “not appropriate” that the board didn’t have agendas to distribute to residents in attendance.

“You are supposed to have a copy that we can go down to see what you are talking about,” James said. “I can’t read your lips to understand what’s going on.”

“That was probably an oversight,” Mayor Johnson said, adding that he couldn’t interrupt the meeting for every question and saying he was trying to be polite.

Cooper-Suggs said Thursday that listening to the emotion Lucama residents expressed made her think about democracy.

“As I sat there, I thought that democracy is on the line in everything that we are doing, that we have a democratic process and we are going to follow that democratic process,” she said. “I thought about the history of America and that all of us must come together so that we can do what is necessary to better the lives of those persons who are not really in that room but who live not only in our small towns but also our larger areas too, our urban areas and our state and our nation. That’s what was on my mind as I was sitting there.”

Uzzell, Whitehead, Hayman and Taylor are plaintiffs in a current federal lawsuit that alleges Commissioner David Johnson used racist language to describe Uzzell and African Americans working for the town and that the current board failed to do anything about it.

The suit stems from a complaint brought to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January 2020.

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