By Ben Rappaport
A school board member in rural North Carolina who was convicted of assaulting a Black town employee during an encounter in which she was also accused of using a racial slur said Monday she will remain on the board but step down as chairperson.
Kandle Rogers, who has served on the Whiteville City Schools Board of Education for years, was found guilty Nov. 3 of misdemeanor assault. The charge stemmed from an August incident in which a Whiteville public works employee, Nishan Pridgen, was setting up cones to keep traffic away from flooding caused by Tropical Storm Idalia. Pridgen testified in court that Rogers, angry about traffic being blocked, got out of her vehicle, tried to move the cones, grabbed and scratched his arm and used racist language.
Rogers said Monday she did not assault the employee or use a racial slur. In court last week, she said it was her daughter, Bella Rogers, a teacher for the school district, who got out of the car and spoke to Pridgen without using racist language.
“I come before you humbled and embarrassed by the happenings of the last month,” she said Monday. “I am not here, however, to apologize for something I did not do.”
For some Columbus County residents, Rogers’ case has reopened wounds caused by former sheriff Jody Greene, who was heard in a recorded phone call released last year calling deputies “Black bastards” and “snakes.” Racial tensions have been high since the 2018 election, when Greene defeated the county’s first Black sheriff, Lewis Hatcher, by fewer than 40 votes.
Greene resigned in October 2022 and again in January, two months after he won reelection. He is now the target of a federal investigation. Details have not been made public, but in petitions to have Greene removed from office, local District Attorney Jon David accused him of having sex with a subordinate, trying to intimidate county commissioners and racially profiling employees, among other things.
“You would think that after all this community endured with [Greene], folks would know better,” Curtis Hill, president of the Columbus County chapter of the NAACP, told the Border Belt Independent on Monday. “Our county lost a lot because of his behavior, and we were making strides to be better, but this is certainly a step backward.”
The county and statewide NAACP called on Rogers to resign last week, as they did with Greene last year.
At Monday’s meeting, several Black residents condemned Rogers’ actions, saying she needed to be a role model for the students she serves. “Here in the last couple of years we’ve been having a battle,” said Andy Anderson, a community activist and preacher. “We need to be able to say three simple words: ‘I messed up,’ or the other three words, ‘I am sorry.’”
Columbus County is one of the few counties in the state that still has two school districts: Columbus County Schools, which serves 5,000 students, and Whiteville City Schools, which serves 2,000. The Columbus County Board of Education came under fire last year when it reassigned the district’s only two Black principals to assistant principals and made several other personnel changes. “We’re not asking for anything except racial equity and diversity,” Timothy Lance, a local preacher, NAACP member and former school counselor, said at the time.
Rogers has served as chair of the Whiteville school board since 2020, when she was appointed to replace Coleman Barbour. She previously served before 2016. Hill said he would like the next chairperson of the board to represent the concerns of the district, where 41% of students are Black but four of the five school board members and the superintendent are white.
Gloria Smith, who is Black and lives in Whiteville, said racial slurs, including the N-word, stir up traumas of slavery and oppression. She said the community had been making progress toward justice, and this incident stung.
“That word is a term that was used when our ancestors were being branded and beaten,” she said. “This incident brings up a lot of emotions in our community when we’re in the process of healing from the last four years.”
Bill Rogers, who was appointed sheriff after Greene’s resignations, has pledged to mend racial divisions in the community. He created a position in February dedicated to ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion within his office. “I’m the sheriff for everybody in the county,” he told the BBI in an interview last month. “It’s my job to look out and protect everybody to the best of my abilities.”
Kandle Rogers was sentenced to a 60-day suspended sentence, and she was placed on unsupervised probation for 12 months and ordered to complete 20 hours of volunteer work. She is appealing the verdict.