We Need a ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’- Captured By A Past Not Of Our Own Making

At Monday’s City Council meeting, September 9, 2019, I had to face the fact that for some people, there will never be an expiration date, or enough markers placed, or an end to talk of reparation, an issue raised during the public comments. Life is filtered through the dark lens of the past.

Growing up in the North, I know I have a different perspective, but that doesn’t make me wrong.  None of us living today are remotely responsible for slavery in this country nor lived a life as a slave. Yet we choose to remain captured in that past, a past we poke at as if it were a bear we must keep riled and angry. We even have a convenient image, a metaphor for maintaining a racial divide; the railroad tracks that separate Nash and Edgecombe Counties.

I know people strongly identify with one side of the track or the other, they talk in these terms, weigh and measure in these terms. The rationale for a project like a hotel, parking, and mixed-use development is predicated on the past. Never you mind that there are problems associated with these kinds of projects. Never mind about dubious line items that raise red flags, or any other reasonable concerns: The past dictates that Edgecombe County deserves this project. If only half the energy, leadership, scheming and planning spent on the Atlanta Street corridor in these last months had been spent on Main Street after the Peter Varney years, it wouldn’t be in the state it is.

Because I am a board member of the Twin County Hall of Fame and know their good intentions, I am saddened by Councilman Knight who raised the issue of the Civil War Monument that offends him to now include Mr. Ricks of the Ricks Hotel era because of his association with the monument. Mr. Ricks will be inducted in the Hall of Fame in November. Knight strongly objects to this inductee and a portrait of Mr. Ricks added to the exhibition in the public space of the Event Center. Agreed upon at the opening of the Event Center, this is where the Hall of Fame inductee portraits are displayed. It is a beautiful exhibit enjoyed by all who pass by. Each inductee is honored for their particular contribution to the life and times of Rocky Mount. These good folks now remembered serve as an inspiration to us. Still, at this Council meeting, the past shook its long angry finger once again.

If only we could light a candle and place it on the altar leaving the past in God’s hands to repair and heal. We could become the lead story on the evening news. Rocky Mount North Carolina, has opened a walking, jogging, and bicycle bridge over their railroad tracks that divide Nash & Edgecombe Counties. The bridge is a symbol of the two counties working, playing, living and prospering together. The counties will no longer allow the railroad tracks to separate the community’s spirit and common goals. They have ‘laid themselves down’ for one another. The famous John Legend was on hand for the celebration and sang his beautiful rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water –


Why can’t we slip the negative constraints that bind us to the past, and become an inspiration to this weary world? We need a bridge, either literally or symbolically, over troubled water that the community is willing to lay itself down for. That bridge is the future! Our future and those who come after us. Will the younger generation still be lugging the burdens of the past with them, or allowed to live to the other side of this divide: the past finally resting in peace?

Take an extra minute to read an earlier post:  Rocky Mount and the Railroad – Can’t Be Separated

PLEASE scroll down to read the thoughtful reply from Monnique Taylor who has taken the time to write her wise and careful words in this matter. I’m grateful!

8 thoughts on “We Need a ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’- Captured By A Past Not Of Our Own Making

  1. Stephanie, I always enjoy your writing, and I too long for the day when we can stop dredging up old, hurtful ways and ideologies, and live in peace and harmony.
    Unfortunately, there are those in this city who would rather constantly beat the drum of discontent, rather than pass the proverbial peace pipe. I don’t think Rocky Mount is a racist city, but there’s no question we have some people here who exemplify the very essence of racism and bigotry. And as MOST of us live each day trying to live in harmony with our fellow man, some people refuse to even accept the possibility of such coexistence. And for those people, there will never be unity or coexistence or harmony, because they flatly refuse to participate. For these people, there’s no “bridge”, no “olive branch”, no “common ground”. It’s sad really; sad that some people live each and every day, merely to point out the shortcomings and imperfections of others, all the while failing to see their own earthly faults.
    Rocky Mount is certainly not hopeless, and I firmly believe our best days are ahead of us. It’s just a shame we constantly find ourselves swimming up stream, against a formidable current of antagonism and distrust. Surely we can and must overcome this!
    Thanks again Stephanie for shining a much needed light on a topic that needs more attention.
    Have a great day!


  2. It is both unwise and foolish to engage in a discussion regarding history without knowing and understanding both sides of the story. Unfortunately, we have created a social climate where poetic license is used freely to distort history or worse to further one’s personal agenda in politics and business. The discussion of slavery does not belong in this arena. It unwise to use slavery, abolished in 1865, as leverage to excuse lack of access to financial stability and education.

    Growing up my grandmother LaVerta used to tell me “Roddy, to succeed in life one must wake up early each day and be the best they can be regardless of their circumstance.” A reasonable and honest suggestion. Most people have a hardship in their cultural heritage where acts of cruelty and unkindness were directed at individuals who were Jewish, Christian, Irish, Italian, black and white to name just a few. What if I were to demand reparations for the killing of my ancestors in the concentration camps? What if I used this atrocity to claim that I cannot succeed because of the cruel acts of the Nazi regime? It would not secure me a better future. And, it will not secure you a better future either. Whining is not a substitute for lifting yourself up.

    While remembering what happened is important to avoid repeating it; we must also not let the past determine our future as an individual. Success in life is not based on skin color it is based on education and hard work.


  3. We just returned from Dallas, Texas, where I saw a great idea for our downtown. They built a park and gathering area complete with a casual food and drink pavilion, over the railroad tracks! It is basically a big overpass, built the length of the tracks between two connecting streets, with a park on top and the train tracks running underneath.


  4. The wonderful connecting ‘bridge over the troubled waters’, the bridge that connects the haves and the have nots (counties), is not used very much anymore. The surrounding area and bridge are not even maintained and beautified like it once was. In a city of more than 54,000 people, that speaks volumes about where we are in terms of “making progress”…


  5. Stepheny, where shall I begin?! I agree that the past has to quickly become our future, however our past is what has shaped our future. It is what has been instilled in us over many years. We were taught our history, whether it was slavery or the civil war. The passion from which these words and stories were told and subsequently passed down through the generations, is why people are still passionate about these divisive topics today. It is not designed for us to forget. It is in our history books. It’s taught in our schools albeit a little distorted. It doesn’t help that we have constant reminders such as the rail road tracks. It doesn’t help that “our city” has chosen to grow one side and not the other side of the tracks. Revitalizing down town is not the final answer to a unified city. It’s a start. Restoring down town cosmetically and economically just makes good sense. It’s a beginning point, but until the mindsets change, until the voices that be are brought together, until we visit each other’s anger and understand the ‘whys’, until we can come together in a civilized and unified manner, these divides will continue to exist. Sure, things will change some as the younger generations come along; they live in a tech world so we either have to conform or be left behind. For now, though, we have to find a solution that does not involve a power struggle, color, social economic status or rail road tracks. Until we can find that unity, we will have dividing lines in the sand. The baby boomers helped to find a way for us to live together and thrive without too much chaos. Then the recession happened and it was every man or woman for themselves and their family. Tensions ran high on all levels. The Generation X eased tensions and smoothed out the blurred lines but didn’t stay around to continue the progress. Now we have the millennials, who have absolutely no interests in our history, in continuing any development or in erasing the lines. When all is said and done, it falls back in the hands of the ‘boomers’ who are still here. Still hoping for a miracle. Still trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Still trying to live as if it’s still 1970. Trying to bring back the times when it was good in our city. We can’t live 2019 as if it were 1975 and not everyone understands that. Downtime can be restored for a bit if nostalgia, while everything else must progress; hearts and minds included. The problem is we can’t relive the past. We can’t erase it either.


    1. Monnique: What a beautifully written piece full of wisdom while clearly stated. I want everyone to read this and am going into the post to flag your reply. I can’t thank you enough for these helpful thoughts. We were going to have lunch or something, we must do that. I’m appreciative of your time to add this thoughtful and accurate reflection on the matter. Thank You!


      1. Stepheny, you inspire me to speak what’s been on my mind for a long time. For that, I thank you. I think lunch, or coffee, at one of our newest eateries would be lovely. Next week? Let me know!


  6. I can’t understand why slavery is a problem still. We have proven that waring tribes in Africa sold there black captives to the Dutch for profit, no one living today as experienced slavery 1st hand. The Egyptians enslaved the Jews yet you don’t see them screaming repetitions to Egypt! Our nation will never heal if we allow one ethic group to hold a noose around the neck of the entire nation.


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