In late September, Emancipate NC partnered with Breathe (Board for a Racially Equitable Transformed Harnett County) Harnett to raise additional billboards in support of Black lives. The messages on the billboard were crafted by the members of Breath Harnett to empower marginalized communities in Harnett County, North Carolina.
Two billboards were put up on September 21, 2020 which state: “Black Lives Matter,” one at intersection of the 401 and 210 in Lillington across from Food Lion, and one on 95 South in Dunn, just a few miles before the Confederate Flag in Godwin.
A billboard stating “Racism is a Public Health Crisis” was put up on September 28, 2020, right by the Cape Fear River in Lillington heading South.
“Harnett County was a perfect location due to the racial climate of that county as well as the economic oppression of the marginalized communities there,” said Kerwin Pittman, Community Organizer for Emancipate NC. “We wanted to reaffirm for them and the rest of the county that their lives matter.”
To many, Harnett County is a beautiful, rural county with the Cape Fear River running through it. However, Harnett is also home to countless racial disparities that stem from centuries of oppression and overt structural racism.
- In Harnett, Black children only represent 25% of the student population, but accounted for nearly 50% of the short-term suspensions and 60% of school-based juvenile complaints in 2018.
- Black babies accounted for 42% of the county’s instances of low birth weight in 2018, despite the county’s Black population only accounting for 22% of the population.
- In the county’s 2016 community health assessment, Harnett had the 9th highest Black/African American infant mortality rate in the state, and in 2018, Black babies were 2.4 times more likely to die than White babies, and about two times more likely to die than Hispanic babies.
- In 2018, only 57% and 56% of Black and Hispanic women (respectively) received prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy compared to 72% of white women in the County.
- With the new dangers of COVID-19, white residents only made up 35% of the positive cases despite comprising 62% of the population, with the majority of positive cases being Black and Hispanic residents.
- 35% and 37% of Harnett’s Black and Hispanic children (respectively) live in poverty, compared to only 15% of white children in the county.
- Black households earned (on the median) $21,000 lower than white households in 2018. Hispanic households earned $14,000 less than White households.
- In 2018, 14.4% of Harnett’s owner-occupied housing units are owned by Black families, despite comprising 22% of the population. For Hispanic residents who comprise 12% of Harnett’s residents, its only 6.7%. White families own 75% of the homes, despite making up only 62% of Harnett’s population.
- In 2019, Black drivers accounted for 37% of the Harnett County Sheriff’s traffic stops, but only comprised 22% of the population (opendatapolicing.com).
With an estimated viewership of 74,000, the goal of the billboards was to hold Harnett’s elected officials and appointed leaders accountable and to mobilize citizens committed to justice and equity.
In the 1960s, anyone driving through Harnett County could see billboards promoting the KKK. Today, multiple billboards have boldly affirmed that Harnett’s Black residents matter.