I grew up in Hertford, and my parents still live in my childhood home. I live about four blocks away. Like many young people, I wanted to leave and I did. I left for college in 1978, went on to law school and then to Asheville and Washington, D.C. But city life got old.
In 1996, after 10 years in one city or another, I made the decision to come back to my hometown, hang out a shingle and open my own law practice. It was a reasonably safe decision since my parents were still here.
I don’t know how many of you remember Charles Kuralt. As a journalism major at North Carolina, he was a hero. And he loved North Carolina to a fault. He published a book called “North Carolina is My Home.” I believe there was a companion video. In a similar vein, James Taylor sang about “Carolina in My Mind.” He was homesick while in London when he wrote it. Both expressed my feelings about North Carolina. I wanted to come home. So, I did. And it was, ultimately, a wise decision, both professionally and personally.
That single decision to come home led me to the love of my life. It led to my child, who is precious beyond all measure. It allowed me to raise my child in a safe environment, where she could roam the downtown at will. I have been rewarded again and again for choosing to come home.
When I returned, North Carolina was still on its progressive path, leaving to the ash heaps of history the racism and strife exemplified by the Wilmington Massacre and the Greensboro Massacre. I had worked for Gov. James Martin in his campaign during law school, and I thought I was returning to that North Carolina. I was wrong.
I have been back 20 years now. In that time, North Carolina has taken massive steps backward.
It is no longer home. I no longer recognize my home state. I watched it happen, and I still do not understand how it happened.
The utter hatred I have seen in my state for the “other” – people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants – has been shocking. I could not have imagined the sheer number of people in North Carolina who were capable of being that vile. I was wrong. Based on my professional experience, I thought misogyny was at least nearly dead. I was wrong.
I was so very, very wrong.
This has become oh so plain in the last few days. The actions of the Republican-controlled General Assembly are nothing short of disgraceful. The people of North Carolina elected Roy Cooper as governor, expecting him to have the same authority as out-going Gov. Pat McCrory.
In a fit of pique, the General Assembly has launched a campaign of vengeance against the people of North Carolina, attempting to strip the Gov.-elect of the authority of his predecessor. And, it appears it will succeed at least temporarily.
There may be some salvation through the courts and perhaps in 2017, if the court-ordered redistricting and elections stand. If nothing changes, I’ll find some place where everyone is welcomed in every way. I have no idea where that it is, and I hope I won’t have to look for it.
Because North Carolina is my home.
Melanie M. James lives in Hertford.