Jerry McCombs: Catawba County NAACP head still rallying against racism

Staff Writer

On Monday, January 20, Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy was celebrated again, and Catawba County’s NAACP head, Jerry McCombs, headed up Newton’s activities.

Although excited about the annual downtown march, McCombs says there’s so much work to still be done. He believes that the majority of the work lies in educating today’s youth about the significance of contributions made by Martin Luther King Jr.

“They need to understand that what Dr. King did was to stand out for all minorities,” McCombs said. “He stuck out and made an emblem in the country.”

McCombs went on to talk about how King opened the doors for minorities to have chances just like everyone else.

“He showed black men they could be what they wanted to be, and they could be treated fair,” he said. “Johnny and Jerry both deserve a dollar for the same job.”

McCombs wants minority youth to understand the price King paid and how things are different because of it.

“You have not been free all your life,” he said. “It’s because of Dr. King that you are.”

McCombs said that the problem not only lies with educating the youth and future generations, but ending the culture of racism that he says still runs rampant.

In fact, he says that racism is so bad that things are going back to the era of Jim Crow, and Catawba County is not excluded.

“Racism is more popular now-- we’re going back to the Jim Crow days,” McCombs said.

“There are places in Catawba County that still don’t want us in there.”

McCombs says that he tackles racism daily in the school systems, businesses, and even in restaurants.

“We see racism across the board in our schools,” he said. “There’s been a couple of cases recently in the city and county schools.”

McCombs said that racism is brought to his attention only after students or parents file a complaint.

He says that the school systems aren’t following their own policies because they tolerate harassment.

“These schools need to get educated in their own policies on harassment,” McCombs said.

One of the biggest problems, McCombs says, is students using the “N” word.

He says it’s unfair that some children get punished while some don’t.

“There’s not only Caucasians saying it, but African Americans saying it as jokes,” McCombs said. “They need to stop joking.”

He recognizes the culture of rap music and television shows that use the “N” word, but says it’s not right and doesn’t make it alright for others to use.

“These TV shows that say it-- it’s too serious,” McCombs said. “I’m totally against rap songs that say it. Don’t say it in front of me-- I don’t want to hear it.”

He recognizes that it’s not only a problem with white people, but black people too.

“Black on black-- it don’t matter who says the word,” McCombs said. “You’re giving someone else the right to say it. Wrong is wrong.”

McCombs thought that racism was in decline back in 2004.

“We buried the “N” word back in 2004,” he said. “We had a celebration and told people to stop saying it.”

McCombs said that the celebration was complete with a preacher and even a casket.

“We sat just like you sit at a funeral,” he said. “Each person took a piece of paper and wrote the “N” word on it and then put it in the casket.”

McCombs said that even after the “burial,” “a lot of folks are still saying it and getting by with it.”

McCombs isn’t angry with the people who use the word, but says they are uneducated.

“I don’t think less of them, they just need to be educated,” he said. “They don’t have a clue or just don’t care.”

For McCombs, a big problem also exists in the workplace and in restaurants.

“An employee at a restaurant has called a customer the “N” word,” he said. “I wouldn’t go back.”

McCombs said that to help combat the racist culture, it’s important to continue traditions like the annual Martin Luther King Jr. festivities in Newton.

He wants to keep growing the celebration every year.

“Last year for our march, we decided to start doing a parade in 2021,” McCombs said.

“We will have vehicles, bands, floats, and the whole nine yards. It will be really nice.”

He says that a committee of seven are working on the details and that further information will come out at the end of 2020.

He hopes it will raise attendance for the occasion, because the attendance was really low last year.

“One year is good and one is bad,” McCombs said. “A lot of the time it’s because of the weather.”

He joked on the irony of it.

“If it’s a nice pretty day, they won’t come march,” McCombs said. “They do stuff in their yards. But if it’s a cold day, they’ll come on out.”

Regardless of the turn-out, McCombs will continue to preach his message of respect and tolerance of minorities.

“We just need to get back in the days of having more love, respect, and care for our neighbors,” he said. “And just don’t criticize people of color.”