Laurinburg County, NC to most is a blimp on the map, but for Mr. Andra McNeill, it is where he gained understanding and a keen awareness of the segregated south. Mr. McNeill attended the segregated Shaw School and has since, returned to work where he was once forced to attend due to governmental policies. Mr. McNeill proudly served in the Marines during the Vietnam War. As a child, he grew up on his family’s farm chopping wood, cutting tobacco and picking cotton. He spoke highly of his grandparents, who every summer he would live with when his family traveled down south from Michigan. His father, Thomas Edison McNeil was stationed in the Midwest military after leaving the South.
We discussed the mental and emotional preparation his father imparted to Andra and the rest of the family pertaining to the dangers of traveling south. Some African Americans utilized The Negro Motorist Green Book while driving through the southern states, but the McNeill’s did not. The family journeyed with an abundance of food for the road trip, as well as an empty jug to urinate in. Due to segregation, most business did not allow African Americans to use their facilities. Strict instructions were given to the family by Mr. McNeill’s father until they arrived at his grandparents’ home. Mr. McNeill stated ” my father never felt safe until we actually pulled into my grandmothers driveway”.
Many individual’s I’ve interviewed felt safer staying in the confines of their segregated communities. Mr. McNeill was excited to tell his experience and took pride in showing me the massive amount of land his family still owns. He discussed how his family made a pact NOT to sell their land. His grandparents home stands firm on the once heavily farmed land. The McNeill’s plan on renovating the homestead at the start of the summer and contemplating revitalizing farming efforts. While touring the downtown area of Laurinburg, Mr. McNeill identified where African Americans had to park and congregate. He also expressed being referred to as “boy” often, and offered other racial aggressions African Americans experienced from whites during segregation.
Mr. McNeill traveled the world while enlisted in the Marines , but decided to settle back where things all began for him as a young child. Nowadays, you will see him in the community spreading his knowledge of cultural self-importance and working at the Shaw School, the very same place he attended with lifelong friends and family during the years of segregation.