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Bertie NAACP conducts Freedom Fund Banquet

WILLIAMSTON – Yesterday is history…Tomorrow is a mystery…Today is a gift.

That was the rallying cry here Saturday evening where the Bertie County Branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) held its 23rd annual Freedom Fund Banquet.

The banquet facility at the Senator Bob Martin Eastern Agricultural Center was filled to near capacity as Bertie NAACP Chapter members and their invited guests gathered to pay honor to this 97-year-old national organization.

Representative G.K. Butterfield, a Wilson native who holds North Carolina’s First Congressional District seat in Congress, served as the guest speaker. He spoke of the NAACP’s proud past n formed in the early 1900’s to specifically address the lynching of blacks; their drive to help educate their children; and was at the forefront of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“The NAACP was behind those two powerful pieces of legislation in the mid 1960’s,” Rep. Butterfield said. “It allowed blacks throughout the nation to again seek office; never again to be frightened to seek public office due to earlier threats of violence.”

Butterfield said those laws, especially the Voting Rights Act, has transformed eastern North Carolina over the past 25 years.

“There are now 302 black elected officials, not statewide, but right here in the First Congressional District,” Butterfield said of the 23 eastern counties in his district. “Bold men and women made this happen by confronting a system that wasn’t fair.”

The Congressman was referring to a 1987 challenge by the NAACP that led the Department of Justice to identify majority/minority districts. One year later, Bertie County’s Cy Grant was first elected to a post he still holds today, that of the Resident Superior Court Judge of District 6B.

“I was elected the same day as Superior Court Judge in District 7B,” Butterfield recalled of his former political office.

While he was proud of what the NAACP has been able to accomplish over the years, Rep. Butterfield stressed that much work remained.

“Putting black men and women in positions of government is not enough,” he noted. “You have a responsibility to challenge those elected officials to always strive to do their best.”

In regards to his 21 months in Congress, Butterfield said there are numerous issues to address. However, as he enters a campaign year with no opposition for his congressional seat, Butterfield said he wanted to use that time to address one of the biggest issues on his political agenda n poverty.

“We are the 15th poorest congressional district in the entire nation,” he said. “That is totally unacceptable. We have to make the effort to lift these families out of poverty.”

Butterfield reeled off two key stats n 29 percent of the children and 21 percent of senior citizens in the First Congressional District live in poverty.

“We’re spending $6 billion a month in Iraq,” he noted. “Why can’t we find $1 billion to address poverty in eastern North Carolina?”

The Congressman closed by saying, “You have great leaders in Bertie County. I want to work with you in improving the quality of life in Bertie County as well as eastern North Carolina.”

Rev. Roy Sharpe Sr., pastor of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church of Windsor, served as the master of ceremony at the banquet.

Greetings to the group were given by Bertie County Commissioner Norman Cherry Sr., Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, Martin County Commissioner Ronnie Smith and Martin County NAACP Chapter President Ron Moore.

Following a dinner catered by the Lighthouse Caf\u00E9 of Windsor, Carrie Crowe delivered a powerful poem entitled, “Phenomenal Woman.”

Ojerie Henderson, a senior at Bertie High School, presented her essay, “Education Beyond High School.” Later in the program, Henderson was presented a scholarship by the Bertie County Chapter of the NAACP.

Special recognitions were given by Marshall Cherry Sr.

One of the evening’s numerous highlights came with the presentation of the Freedom Fund Award. That honor was bestowed upon John and Fannie Ward of Windsor.

Carl White, Area Director of the NAACP, informed the audience that a membership drive was currently underway.

The evening closed with remarks from Bertie County NAACP Chapter President Jean M. Cherry and Program Chair Vickie Watford followed by the singing of “We Shall Overcome.”