AFRICANGLOBE – The slow southern pace of this small town makes it feel like time can stand still in these parts.
So do the racial epithets, the Klan rallies and the latest affront to blacks in the rural town of 1,700: The suspicious Aug. 29 hanging of Lennon Lacy, a local high school football star.
The stunning death was ruled a suicide. His relatives suspect a lynching.
Federal authorities are now reinvestigating the death after Lennon Lacy’s family suggested a racial element: The 17-year-old was possibly killed for dating a white woman.
The dead teen’s 32-year-old paramour, Michelle Brimhall, resurfaced this week to say she too believes Lennon was murdered.
“Don’t tell me they’re bringing this back again,” said Bessie Monroe, 72, a Tar Heel State native who carries the painful memories of a time when lynching was rampant in the South. “When I got here (in 1998) a few people told me about the Klansmen in Bladenboro . . . They said, ‘That’s what’s here.’ ”
The KKK actually held a local rally the week before Lennon Lacy’s death, according to the dead youth’s relatives.
The Bladen County town is 80% white and 18% Black — and most Blacks still live in a section known as the Quarters, formerly the local slave quarters.
The quiet town has only three public schools: An elementary school, a middle school and a high school. Its elected officials include the mayor and six commissioners.
“It’s a family community,” said J.D. Hargrove, a 76-year-old white man and board member of the Bladenboro Historical Society. “There’s no racial animosity.”
Some sights in the small town belie his benign description.
A sign warning “N—–s keep out” and a Confederate flag hang outside a home at the trailer park where Lennon Lacy’s body was discovered. Yet the homeowner, Dewey Sykes, knew Lennon well and welcomed the teen into his home. “He was a good kid,” Sykes said.
Lennon, a high school football star, became friends with Sykes’ stepson. The dead youth protected his pal from Black kids who allegedly inflicted their outrage over Sykes’ racist paraphernalia on the stepson.
Cotton Hill Mill, where Lennon Lacy was found dead, was once off limits to Blacks.
“Older people, if you’re Black, you don’t go there,” said Lacy family attorney Allen Rogers. “It had a history of Black people getting attacked. You just never ventured there.”
Several Black families now live in the typically quiet trailer park. Yet nobody heard nor saw anything before Lennon lacy’s body was found dangling from a swingset nearly four months ago.
The family’s suspicions were aroused for several reasons: Lennon Lacy was found wearing somebody else’s sneakers, two sizes too small for his feet. The popular, outgoing teen showed no signs of depression. He left no note.
The blue belt wrapped around his neck did not belong to Lennon, leaving his mother to wonder who owned the one used in the hanging.
Homicides are an anomaly in Bladenboro, where state investigators assisted the six-member police department with two homicides and a suicide between 2004 and 2014. The household median income in Bladenboro is $19,184 and the unemployment rate is 12.3% — higher than North Carolina’s overall 9% rate.
“There’s nothing here,” said Helen White, 56.
Lennon had plans to make it out of the small town. He wanted to attend college and eventually land a spot playing for Washington’s NFL team, his favorite.
“He said he would come back home and bring everybody with him where he lives,” said teammate Anthony White, 17.
Those dreams died with Lennon, who was found dangling from a wooden swing set with a belt and a dog leash wrapped around his neck.
His death rattled the small town to its soul.
“It was a ghost town,” said Sylina Hargrove, 17, who is white. “You used to open the window and see 20 to 30 kids running in a circle playing . . . (His) death changed a lot. Spinners Court is not going to be the same.”
Lennon’s high school friends and teammates of both races were bonded by his death, with some marching arm-in-arm at a recent rally.
“It has hurt a lot of people,” said Sylina’s mother Frances Hargrove, 32. “People want to see justice for poor Lennon.”
By: Jan Ransom