A1 A1
Tuscarora in Greene, informative

SNOW HILL — The Tuscarora tribe once was a powerful economic and social force in the Tar-Pamlico region, a local historian said on Tuesday, discussing their daily lives, struggles and ultimate defeat at Fort Nooherooka during an educational presentation.

George Mewborn, a retired educator who works at the Greene Library Museum, and who played critical role in the building of the Nooherooka Monument on N.C. 58, discussed the Tuscarora’s history in Greene County.

Mewborn said that while other tribes lived in North Carolina and Greene County, the Tuscarora were the largest and most prominent.

“They came in with a force. They became quite a force, politically, socially and economically,” Mewborn said.

According to legends, he said, there were six families of Haudenosaunee — a confederation among Native American nations.

The sixth family, which would encompass Tuscaroans, was instructed to travel and find a new homeland out west.

They did so, but when they reached the Mississippi River, they used grapevines to cross. The grapevines broke, leaving members of the family separated and divided, Mewborn said.

Members who were left east of the Mississippi were guided by a spirit and told to travel southwest to find their homestead. They would know they found their homeland, the spirit said, when they reached pines submerged in the water.

When traveling through North Carolina, the members discovered bald cypress trees, Mewborn said, and decided they were home.

The Tuscarora name is derived from the Anglicized spelling of the native word Skarure, which translates to hemp gatherers, Mewborn said. Tribe members gathered Indian hemp or prairie dogbane and used the plants to make fibers. The fibers were used for sewing, making twine and rope, tied nets, fabric and bowstrings.

“They became a staple of their society,” Mewborn said.

In 1995-1997, Dr. John Byrd and Dr. Charles Heath conducted an archaeological survey in an effort to identify Tuscarora cluster communities. The communities consisted of multi-generational homes and gardens.

Seven communities were identified: Catechna near Grifton, Caunookehoe, north of Hookerton, Innennits, north of Snow Hill, Neoheroka (Nooherooka), adjacent to Fort Run, Kenta (Conneghta), near Bullhead, Torhunta (Nahunta) on the border of Greene and Wayne Counties and Tosneoc (Toisnot), near Wilson.

The Catechna community was the most prominent and considered the capital of the southern band of Tuscaroas, Mewborn said.

Though in separate communities, the Tuscarora tribe worked together and relied on each other for support, he said. They lived in longhouses, with members of the tribe sharing the same house.

“Life in the longhouse must have been intense. I don’t know if you’ve had relatives that come and stay,” Mewborn joked.

Their diet consisted of wild game, fish, beans, corn and squash.

“They were known for their fields of strawberries. Strawberries were one of the things that signified something special,” Mewborn said.

The Tuscarora followed a more matriarchal system, he said. Men and women had separate roles, with each having power in the nation. It was believed that the creator established women as the stewards of the land. Clan mothers would appoint chiefs or leaders and had the power to strip the title and power from the chief if they felt he was corrupt.

Children took their mother’s name, and becoming married or divorced were simple tasks. Food was often exchanged to show marriage and to become divorced, a women would simply ask her husband to leave and remove his things from her longhouse.

“The esteem this group of natives had for women is remarkable,” Mewborn said.

The Tuscarora remained a strong force in eastern North Carolina until their defeat came at the Battle of Nooherooka. In March 1713, a military force under the command of Col. James Moore laid siege to a fort on a branch of Contentea Creek in Greene County. Moore defeated the Tuscarora warriors by mining an outer wall and setting fire to the fort and its structures.

“It was the single event that made a determination as how North Carolina was to go,” Mewborn said, about the encroachment of European settlers upon Tuscarora land.

After their defeat, some Tuscarora were forced into slavery, others went north and some formed groups that participated in guerrilla-type warfare against the settlers.

Mewborn used maps to demonstrate how the Tuscarora slowly disappeared from the region.

The monument at Nooherooka serves to remember the Tuscaroras and their story. Mewborn said he wants to see this area become designated as a National Battlefield.

Participants attended the seminar in-person and through Zoom. Many said they were impressed by the information presented.

“We’re so appreciative of someone like Mr. George here, who to give such a fantastic presentation for people who really want to know and for people who don’t know to learn from his expertise. This type of presentation would be welcome in the school systems,” said Tuscarora Principle Chief Cecil Hunt.

Tuscarora member Donnie McDowell added, “It was awesome. He had a lot of background. He used scholarly sources and he used very local people. Having his expertise and seeing more about internal history were really interesting.”

Participants also supported Mewborn’s quest to see the Nooherooka site turned into a national battlefield. Both Hunt and Vice Chief Elisha Locklear said they hoped to return the remains of deceased Tuscaroras — found during an archaeological dig — to the site.

“I would still like to find some proper burial grounds for the 19 remains found. We’d love to see some land set aside for a proper burial,” Hunt said. “We would love to see it in the area, since they were found in the area. Let us come up and do a proper burial service for those remains.”

Hunt said the remains are presently housed at East Carolina University.

Tuscarora member Taylor Locklear also was excited to establish connections with local people.

“It’s good to get with the locals. We try to do more with the locals … We’re trying to bring connections back in a positive way,” he said.

H.B. Sugg model provides education, motivation

FARMVILLE — Dominque Baker of Farmville is hoping to provide both education and inspiration with his model of the H.B. Sugg School.

Baker unveiled the model Saturday during informational sessions held in conjunction with The Lost Sheep Foundation.

H.B. Sugg High School, also known as the Farmville Colored School, was established in 1903 and served African-American students in the Farmville community before integration in 1970.

After integration, it served as an elementary school until its closure in 1999.

The building now houses several community organizations including Farmville Benevolent Ministries, a food bank and J & L Enterprise Summer Camp.

In November, the school earned a spot on the National Register for Historic Places for having a large significance in African-American history.

Baker, whose mother attended the segregated H.B. Sugg School and played a crucial role along with her organization, The Lost Sheep Foundation, in the school’s historic designation, has been collecting history and information on H.B. Sugg for many years.

“I was walking around trying to find information on the school. I am sad to say they had no information on the H.B. Sugg school at the local library,” Baker said, adding he wanted to learn more and help others who were interested in learning about the school.

“When all this is over, I will make sure that no other person has to dig up that information,” Baker said.

After forming a plan to create an archive about the school, Baker decided to add a visual representation.

“I decided to build the model to show the town of Farmville today and this generation what H.B. Sugg School used to be like during segregation,” he said.

“I wanted to give them a view of what the school actually looked like during segregation because the kids have no idea how the school looked. When they look at it now they see it as H.B. Sugg Community Center,” Baker said.

Baker attended H.B. Sugg following integration and only remembered it as an elementary school. To create a realistic model, he reached out to H.B. Sugg High alumni.

The 17-foot by 14-foot model illustrates how the school looked from 1903 until 1962. It shows the school’s front entrance, 32 classroom and gymatorium. Classrooms feature photos of students who attended the school at various times.

In the gymatorium, viewers will see students playing basketball with cheerleaders and coaches looking on. The walls of the gymatorium are lined with jerseys of former players who returned to the school to teach.

Former Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Blenda Gay is featured in the gym. Gay is the only person in Farmville to ever play in the NFL, Baker said.

The school is without a cafeteria, which was built in 1962. Until then, students ate lunch in their classrooms, Baker said, adding the school also lacked air conditioning.

The model took Baker three years build and was made from foam board. Baker, a custodian and bus driver at Creekside Elementary, received used donated material from teachers at the school to complete the model.

Phase two of the project will begin at a later date, according to Baker. It will showcase the school since 1962, after the cafeteria was built.

Baker hopes that seeing the model’s realistic features will help people understand the school’s history and importance.

“It’s something to teach the kids. Since the H.B. Sugg school closed down and moved, a whole lot of history of what it used to be was lost. I’m resurrecting history and standards of what H.B. Sugg School stood for,” Baker said.

“It needs to be passed on from generation to generation so the kids of today can understand that people paid the ultimate price so they can have brand new books, air conditioning, and so everything can be equal,” he said. “And to let everyone know that at H.B. Sugg school, even during times of integration, those kids still became successful.”

Baker hopes that young people are inspired by seeing the model and learning about the school’s and its students’ history.

“These kids need to understand if the kids of yesterday can deal with segregation, civil rights, going to the back of the restaurant to eat and still be successful, why can’t this generation do the same thing? They don’t have to go through what this generation had to go through,” Baker said.

“They went through all this outside the classroom and had to be back in school the next morning with used books,” he said. “But those used books carried them a long ways. Those used books got some of us in the NFL. Those used books got some of us as lawyers … Failure now is not an option because generations have seen worse.”

More than 40 people attending Saturday’s presentations with many recalling the days when they walked the halls of the school.

“I was glad to see a whole lot of H.B. Sugg alumni. When they looked at it they could point at it where they used to be at, where they hung out at. They knew every ounce of it down to a T,” Baker said. “They didn’t want to leave it.”

Baker’s mother, Carrie Baker, added, “One of the guys said that it’s like memory lane for them. It was awesome.”

As a former student, Carrie Baker said she is proud of the school and where she came from.

“To me, I’m glad that it happened the way it did,” she said. “It was hard then but when I look on it I thank God for it. It shapes you in a certain way. It makes you understand better.”

Carrie said she watched as the older generation reflected on their history, their school and the friendships made. She also saw a look of deeper understanding from the younger generation.

“To see their eyes and know I’m part of that. I lived it,” she said. “It wasn’t fun but we had a good time. We thought that was the way it was supposed to be. Until we started learning. I didn’t even know we were poor until I got older.”

“I’m so proud of (Dominique) yesterday, to see him stand up and talk like he lived it,” Carrie said. “I can’t say that I taught him that because he knows more than I know because I wasn’t looking at myself in that situation.”

Organizers are hoping to raise money to restore the school. When completed, the Lost Sheep Foundation and others hope to expand on the efforts of the Community Center housed in the building.

A GoFundMe page is in the works. Organizers are also seeking grants to help with repairs and restoring the structure.

The Bakers said they are appreciative of Horne’s Funeral Home for allowing them to display the model in one of its buildings.

Hik's long history honored with Business of Month award

FARMVILLE — Celebrating its 34-year anniversary in Farmville, Hiks Fashions of New York was selected as February’s Business of the Month by the Farmville Chamber of Commerce.

The Business of the Month award replaces the chamber’s Merchant of the Month honor. The change allows the chamber to be more expansive with the award, including businesses that aren’t merchant-based and nonprofits, Chamber Executive Director Lorie Drake said.

Hiks Fashion was honored last week as being the second-longest operating business on Main Street.

“They have just been committed to Farmville and have helped bring people to downtown Main Street,” Drake said. “They have helped bring people from out of town and really helped support the downtown business district of Farmville as well as whole community itself.

“They have been active members of the community,” she said.

Hik’s opened Feb. 9, 1987. It is owned by husband and wife, Don and Sunida Vasnani.

“One of my friends had a business here,” Don said. “He wanted to move to a bigger city and he asked me if I wanted to come and open it. So I bought it from him. This was our first business.”

“It was good. We started small,” Sunida said. “We had a small store. We only had men’s clothing. Then we added children’s. Later on we added ladies’ and hair. Then when schools decided to do uniforms, we added school uniforms.”

At the time of its inception, Hik’s was one of seven clothings stores in Farmville, including Belk.

“When Belk moved to Greenville they asked us to move too,” Sunida said. “But we wanted to — our kids were young at that time — spend more time with our kids. I like the small community because they are a kind of close-knit community.”

Hik’s moved to the building it now occupies at 3753 S. Main St. following the closure of Cannon’s Clothing.

The store now specializes in men’s, women’s and childrens’ clothing and offers preacher’s robes, church clothing, shoes, school uniforms, hats and more.

The store also provides alterations and prides itself on its customer service.

“We are doing our best,” Sunida said.

The Vasnanis have expanded their business over the years and have a second location in Williamston. They also own a Subway sandwich shop and shopping center in Williamston.

Owning two fashion stores provides for better customer service, Sunida said.

“Since we have two stores, if we don’t have it here we can get it from our other store and get it to them the next day,” Sunida said.

Despite their expansion, the Vasnanis’ deep roots in Farmville have remained.

“You’ve anchored Main Street and helped to keep Main Street active and vibrant all these years,” Drake said. “That’s an amazing accomplishment. It’s awesome — an amazing, wonderful privilege that Farmville has had to have you all here.”

Farmville Chamber of Commerce board member Phillip Irvine said Hiks has been a strong business in Main Street and has supported the chamber for many years.

“We really appreciate their presence in Farmville,” Irvine said. “We really appreciate them bringing people to Farmville and for their support of the chamber.”

“That’s quite an accomplishment,” said Farmville Mayor John Moore. “And to see how the family has expanded into Martin County and how the family has expanded to have a son working at McDavid’s and having roots deep in Farmville means an awful lot. I thank you for choosing Farmville.”

The Vasnanis said they are thankful for all their customers and the support they have received through the years.

“I appreciate all our customers, neighbors and friends,” Sunida said.

Hik’s Fashion of New York is open 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information call 753-2046.

Healthy fund balance, financial report will help Pitt County fund school building, auditor said

A clean audit opinion and a higher fund balance should help Pitt County government when it seeks bonds this spring to renovate a local middle school and refinance existing bonds.

Martin-Stearnes and Associates delivered its annual audit of the county finances to Pitt County commissioners on Feb. 15.

The county, like all local governments, is required to submit to outside audits when the fiscal year ends on June 30. A comprehensive financial report is then prepared and submitted to the Pitt County Board of Commissioners and the Local Government Commission of the State Treasurer’s office for review.

Elsa Watts, project manager for Martin-Stearnes, said Pitt County’s audit received an unmodified option, means it was a clean audit with accounting issues.

Her report focused on the county’s general fund, the portion of the budget associated with local tax revenue.

When fiscal year 2019-20 ended June 30, Pitt County’s general fund revenue was $154.65 million, a 4 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Expenditures totaled $147.62 million, a 6 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, she said.

Sixty-two percent of revenue was generated from property tax, 15 percent came from restricted intergovernmental revenues, 15 percent from other taxes and licenses, and other revenues made up 8 percent of the total.

Restricted intergovernmental revenues are state and federal dollars that must be allocated for certain expenses in social services and public health, Deputy County Manager/Chief Financial Officer Brian Barnett said.

On June 30, the county’s available fund balance was $33.38 million, a $4.47 million increase over the previous fiscal year.

Watts said the county’s fund balance is now at 21.44 percent of the general fund budget. The previous year’s fund balance was 19.61 percent.

“This will benefit the county when going for bond review,” Barnett said in a later interview. “It is basically demonstrating the county’s ability to live within its means, and the county’s strong ability to pay any future debt payments, which can lead to lower interest payments, which save the county money in the long term.”

Last month county staff recommended issuance of $34 million in limited obligation bonds to pay for renovations at A.G. Cox Middle School and a solid waste compactor and to reimburse the county for its purchase of the Warren Farm Property for future economic development projects. It also would be used to refinance and get lower interest rates on earlier debt for the school system and Pitt Community College construction projects.

Refinancing the earlier debt is expected to save the county nearly $109,000 yearly over an 11-year period, Barnett said in January.

Pitt County took in $95.7 million in property tax during fiscal year 2019-20, a 7 percent increase that was due a 3.2-cent raise in the county tax rate, which brought it to 72.1-cents per $100 valuation.

Revenue generated through other taxes and licenses was slightly more than $23 million, Watts said, a 1 percent decrease.

While the last four months of the fiscal year, March-June, are when the coronavirus pandemic produced state-at-home orders in North Carolina, and saw dips in sale take revenues in April and May, it didn’t negatively affect the county’s budget, Barnett said because sale tax revenues between July 2019 and March exceeded expectations.

“We did not have to adjust budgets in the months of April and May of 2020 to reflect lower sales tax revenues,” Barnett said. “Sales taxes for fiscal year 2020 still exceeded budget, but did not exceed 2019 levels”.

As for major expenditures in fiscal year 2019-21, $48 million was allocated to education, both Pitt County Schools and Pitt Community College, a 3 percent increase.

Public safety was allocated $36.8 million, a 4 percent increase.

Human services, public health and social services, was allocated $39 million, a 1 percent increase.

Watts thanked Barnett, his staff and finance officials in other departments, saying they had been “wonderful” and delivered requested information in a timely fashion.

“We really enjoy Pitt County and hope to continue that working relationship,” Watts said.

In other business on Monday, the commissioners also approved the following items:

  • Renaming the western section of Cheek Farm Road as Averette Farm Road.

ezoning three parcels totaling 1.55 acres located on the southeastern corner of the intersection of U.S. 264 East and Grimesland Bridge Road from rural residential to general commercial.

  • Rezoning nearly 2.2 acres of property located on the southern side of Worthington Road, west of its intersection with N.C. 43 South in the Hollywood Crossroads area from rural residential to general commercial.
  • Approved adding a clinical social worker position to the Pitt County Public Health Department’s Baby Love Plus program. Elliott said no county funds were needed because the position is financed through state dollars.
  • Approved the request to purchase a new compactor for the solid waste and recycling department’s transfer station for $1.25 million, which is $173,451 above the estimated cost.
  • Approved a budget amendment allowing the county to transfer $904,956 from CARES Act funds to pay eligible salary expenses.