January 07

KENNARD: Context helps highlight county's history - The Robesonian

Historical markers such as this on in downtown Lumberton are scattered around the area, explaining significant events in the region’s history.

You may have seen the story in Wednesday’s paper about another big spike in virus cases here in Robeson County, but believe it or not, we’ve been here before — a long time before, like nearly 110 years ago.

Robesonian Reporter Chris Stiles has been tracking local pandemic numbers for nearly two years now. His reports continue to show that while we have made some gains, this virus is still causing devastation in our communities.

This last week, I was digging around in Robeson County’s history and discovered that at one point, we served as a model for the country in our public health efforts.

I should back up. You should know that I love history, or more precisely, historical context. I suppose it’s the journalist in me that understands that a single event, regardless of its impact, is made more relevant when it is presented in context. That’s why news stories frequently use historical standards — the moon landing, the Sept. 11 attacks, etc.

So, how serious is this pandemic? It’s very serious, especially when it’s put into historical context.

Back in the early part of the 20th century, the county — but North Carolina especially — was struggling with a number of deadly diseases, among them hookworm and typhoid fever.

Both of these diseases were common in emerging agriculturally centered economies such as Robeson County.

In response, the county health movement was born, here in Robeson County.

You may already have known that. There is a historical marker in downtown Lumberton announcing this historical fact to anyone taking a moment to notice.

According to information from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, the state took responsibility for public health in 1877, forming the State Board of Health. Soon after, counties began organizing health boards that included doctors, as well as municipal leaders such as mayors and county commissioners.

Robeson County’s health department “roots can be traced to the local health board hiring Dr. B.W. Page in 1912,” according to the Department of Cultural Resources. “In Page’s first year, he examined 45 schools, inspected 500 rural homes (quarantining 118), vaccinated 525 schoolchildren and set up a lecture series.”

As the historical marker states, the “first rural health department in U.S.” was located about where the Robeson County Courthouse building now...

Read Full Story: https://www.robesonian.com/opinion/153078/kennard-context-helps-highlight-countys-history

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