Monthly Archives: June 2011

A Bit of Warren County Background

One of the things we’ll be doing as we get to know a community is write a few posts about some of the interesting but maybe not too well-known local history. One of the reasons I chose Warren County as our initial location was its interesting background.

We’ve already had quick posts about Soul City and the groundbreaking legal battle over the PCB dump. Both of these stories are fairly recent- they happened during the last half of the 20th century. If you ever happen to drive through Warren County  you see history goes much further back.

Warren County is located along the I-85 corridor in North Carolina, and is right next to the Virginia border. Many people pass through it without noticing. Honestly, there aren’t many towns there.  Warrenton is the county seat, it’s population is 811. Norlina and Macon are the two other towns there, but there are some other unincorporated communities. The entire county is home to 19,388 people.

A lot of people ask me where Warren County is even though it’s only an hour outside the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle region where about 1.8 million people make their home. It’s a beautiful place and I have enjoyed getting to know it better.

The county is bordered by two lakes, Lake Gaston on the east and Kerr Lake on the west. It looks like most of the eastern piedmont to me, though I admit I am looking through West Coast lenses. Some rolling hills, lots of trees, tobacco farms here and there- I think it looks like what you would expect in North Carolina.

I have seen a lot of old homes in Warrenton, probably more homes older than 1860 than I have seen anywhere in the South. Even the older parts of Raleigh don’t seem to have as many antebellum homes as Warrenton. I’ve been told many times in Warrenton that before the Civil War, there were more millionaires living there per square mile than anywhere else in the South. General Lee of the Confederate Army sent his daughter to live there, and the home where she resided still stands. The wealth was connected to the railroads, but the genteel nature of the Warrenton homes doesn’t seem to reflect the smokestacks and iron trains that brought them their money.

I often feel like there is more to the story when I am there.

Some Warren County Trivia

In 1862, Robert E. Lee’s daughter, Annie Carter Lee visited White Sulphur Springs and died of typhoid fever. She was buried in Warren County, and her father returned to visit her in 1870 and stayed in the house pictured below. Her body was later re-interred in Virginia in the Lee family cemetery.









Before the Civil War, Warrenton was a center for cotton and tobacco trade and was one of the most prosperous towns in the South. After the Civil War, the town did not continue its prosperity, however many of the old homes still remain. Ante-bellum Greek Revival, Italianate and Federal style homes still stand throughout the town. 90% of the town of Warrenton is listed in National Register of Historic Places.


Poverty & Anxiety

The other day I was talking to a pastor from Winston-Salem about the foreclosure crisis. He told me that he suggested to people that they talk to the court, even if they had no way of paying anymore on their mortgages. This pastor said he knows that the court tries to work with people and people are losing their homes without making an effort.


We both agreed that one of the biggest problems is that people lose hope and no longer advocate for themselves. When they find themselves in a crisis they may stop opening their mail, for it’s brought nothing but bad news for so long. They may not answer the phone because it’s so frequently someone asking them for money they do not have.


Additionally, there is a stigma associated with financial problems. Somehow if you find yourself scrambling to hold onto your home, it’s always your fault and it’s because you were greedy and stupid. To be sure, nothing is simple and to say people had no role in their troubles is often untrue. However, when people feel scared to open their mail or answer their phone, and don’t feel like anyone out there understands them, it is very isolating. Isolation is one of the worst things for someone when they are in crisis.


For some people, foreclosure isn’t the only crisis they are dealing with at one time. Often foreclosure follows job loss or debilitating medical conditions. It can feel like there is just too much to deal with. For families who experience inter-generational poverty, the coping skills are further reduced as everyone is constantly living in crisis. Even when life becomes relatively calm, people can still live in a panic, as they have become accustomed to it. Learning the skills and information they need to get themselves back on the right track can be almost impossible when the world is spinning around them, even if they don’t actually realize what they experiencing.

Roads to Justice North Carolina not only provides background knowledge about legal issues to those we serve, but does so in a supportive, low-stress environment. We encourage women in our workshops and roundtables to talk to each other, to offer their own stories- so that they see they are not alone.

People blame themselves and give up. I believe with a little education and encouragement, we can start turning the tide. We need education about financial instruments, but also about the causes of the problems we are facing once things already are headed downhill. We hope to bring some relief to folks and help them keep their homes and their sanity.


Poverty & Legal Issues

Legal problems don’t exist in a vacuum. Even in the most expensive lawsuits between multinational corporations over the most obscure minutiae, there is latent context that not everyone sees. There are personalities to deal with, cultural differences, competing concerns, etc.

For the women we serve living in poverty, this is very true as well. There might be a landlord tenant issue that brings a woman to one of our clinics, but she also has other concerns. The landlord might be a powerful member of the community or even a family friend that she doesn’t want to insult. She definitely has financial concerns and is probably living paycheck to paycheck, and unable to save for another first month’s rent, so she can’t just move out. Time is very difficult to manage, as she can’t miss work to deal with the problems, nor can she find childcare. There could be domestic violence or secret health issues that also influence her decisions, and she may be hesitant to talk about them with an attorney or other potential advocates.

Poverty isn’t just about not having money. There are many collateral issues that attach. Lack of perceived power, lack of actual power, lack of education, lack of time- there’s no lacking of lack. For this reason, our approach to legal issues is more holistic. We understand that it’s inevitably more complicated from the inside than it seems. However difficult, we don’t believe that’s a reason to lose hope. We strive to be an ally to women battling poverty.




Re-entry Issues- Roadblocks to Reintegration

With 1 in 6 North Carolinians over the age of 16 with criminal records, it’s amazing that re-entry issues don’t get more press. From people who have been in prison for a significant amount of time, to people with criminal records but have never served time, there is a huge spectrum of concerns. Expungement of records, driver’s license restoration and employment and housing issues are difficult for an individual to deal with, especially when they are simultaneously trying to reconnect with their families and communities. Education is the first step, and we at R2JNC are committed to bringing legal knowledge to rural North Carolina.


Check out Community Success Initiative for information on their work.