Forward together, not one step back

NAACP gains momentum in Haywood County
By Rachel Robles, Lifestyles Editor | Feb 26, 2014
Photo by: Rachel Robles FORWARD TOGETHER — Pictured from left is the Rev. William Staley, Mary McGlauflin, Mary Elizabeth Staiger, Lin Forney, Katherine Bartel and the Rev. Walter Bryson, who serve as the temporary organizing committee. Not pictured are Phillip Gibbs and John Vanderstar.

The Forward Together People’s Assembly of Haywood County announced Saturday, Feb. 22, that it has been granted a charter as an Authorized Committee of the NAACP.

Men and women of all ages and from all walks of life, with a desire to affect change for social justice and equality in Haywood County, crowded together at the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center Saturday, Feb. 22. Due to inclement weather, only 20 people attended January’s meeting, but this month’s meeting was packed.

“We live in very historic times,” said Laurel Ashton, state NAACP field secretary. “Some of the incredible energy in the NAACP is coming out of the mountains.”

Haywood County is one of five NAACP assemblies recently created in Western North Carolina. Previous to Forward Together’s creation, the only branches in the western part of the state were in Buncombe and Henderson counties.

The idea to form an NAACP branch in Haywood County was sparked by the “Taking the Dream Home” rally held Aug. 28, 2013 in Sylva that marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dreamz' speech.

“Three Haywood County residents were on the program that day, and several participants from the county felt encouraged to join the NAACP at the rally,” said Mary McGlauflin, member of the Forward Together Organizing Committee.

A follow-up meeting was scheduled for participants of the rally to discuss where they wanted to go from there; 34 people from Haywood, Jackson, Swain and Macon counties attended the meeting at One Love Jamaican Restaurant at Lake Junaluska and decided to start a branch of the NAACP.

“We at first thought we would form one large branch, encompassing all four counties, but learned that if we did that, not one of those counties could later form its own branch,” said McGlauflin. “Therefore, Haywood County opted to apply for a charter as an authorized committee while (we recruited) to qualify as a branch.”

Meetings with Jerry McCombs, interim District 1 director, and Laurel Ashton, field secretary for the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP, were held and the ball got rolling.

Eight members from the community volunteered to serve as the temporary organizing committee — McGlauflin, Katherine Bartel, Mary Elizabeth Staiger, Lin Forney, Phillip Gibbs, John Vanderstar, and the Revs. Walter Bryson and William Staley.

“[Our] primary responsibility was to compile and submit the application for charter, receive and submit membership applications, and convene meetings until the charter was granted and officers could be elected,” said McGlauflin.

In the minutes of the last meeting, the Rev. Staley was quoted as saying that it was “past time for there to be a committee in Haywood County.”

“The reason that people are willing to join the NAACP is because this is a very effective organization,” said Bartel. “They have long years of experience providing support for the civil rights movement, legal redress for violations of constitutional rights, and a track record for winning. In North Carolina, the Legislature has given us all good reason to become organized. These new branches of the NAACP are a direct response to the way we have been treated."

“People across our state and nation are becoming aware of the issues facing North Carolinians as a result of recent legislative actions by the General Assembly,” said McGlauflin. “Local people are finding that the NAACP and its Forward Together Moral Movement offer credible opportunities to take effective, non-violent, direct action in response to oppressive legislation."

During the meeting, those who attended the Moral March on Raleigh spoke of the great diversity of causes present, and how the march was a fusion movement of many issues.

“If it wasn’t inspirational, I don’t know what is,” said Stan Smith, a member of Forward Together.

And though many have said that the Forward Together Moral Movement is highly partisan, Ashton contends it is not.

“It’s been said NAACP has no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, but it does have permanent interests,” said Ashton. “The NAACP is open to everybody.”

One of their primary goals is to achieve a membership of 100 to qualify for branch status. As of Saturday’s meeting, they’re halfway there.

Another primary goal is to elect officers, which will take place March 29 and will be conducted by the district director and field secretary.

In the meantime, the group has big plans for the future.

“Our efforts will include getting people registered to vote, getting voter IDs as needed and organizing rides on election days,” said Bartel. “We also have people working on legal redress, education/youth work, political action, economic affairs/labor and industry, and will potentially have a finance/Freedom Fund committee.”

With March set as Voter Rights Month, Forward Together is looking to engage young voters.

“The younger people are very concerned about what’s happening in Raleigh,” said Smith.

Furthermore, the group will continue to closely watch and follow the developments of the 2012 Haywood County cross-burning case that carried huge implications for many in the community.

The next meeting of Forward Together Haywood People’s Assembly will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 29, at Harris Chapel AME Zion in Canton, located behind the Canton Branch Library at 26 Prospect St. All members of the community are encouraged to attend.