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The Blue Wave Turns Black: North Carolina’s Wave Of Black Sheriffs

NC Sheriffs, Sheriffs, Law Enforcement
Paula Dance for Pitt County Sheriff
Major Paula Dance is the new sheriff of Pitt County. She is the first African American woman to serve as a sheriff in North Carolina.

When Paula Dance started her campaign for sheriff of Pitt County, she knew her win would make history. Dance would become the county’s first African-American sheriff and the first African-American female sheriff in the state. What she could not predict, however, was the wave of black sheriffs that would join her. The November midterms ushered in black sheriffs in Buncombe, Cumberland, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Pitt and Wake counties. Five of these countries have never had an African-American sheriff.  

WUNC’s Race and Southern Culture Reporter Leoneda Inge spoke to many of the new sheriffs before their inauguration earlier this week. She joins host Frank Stasio to talk about their backstories, and the various factors contributing to their success.

Marcus Bass joins the conversation to talk about his organization’s efforts to support black candidates running for office in the state. Bass is executive director of Advance Carolina a black-led 501(c) (4) organization advocating for political power in underrepresented communities. 


Inge on the outgoing sheriffs:

They ran these counties, and people respected them. But over the past several years there have been instances where the federal government has stepped in. The 287(g) program, ICE … Where they would sort of hand over people who lived in their county who were there illegally.  And that just did not sit well with a lot of residents. That also helped in their demise this go round.


Inge on a shared goal of the new sheriffs:

At the top of their list of things they want to do is to diversify that department. They feel that it’s not enough people of color that serve in these sheriff departments at all.


They do not like being known as the black sheriff. - Leoneda Inge

Inge on Paula Dance becoming the first African-American female sheriff in NC:

She’s the highest ranking woman period. She said: You know when a new sheriff comes to town usually they change the administration. They start firing everybody. She said: You know, I don’t think I’m ready to go ... She said: I think I can run this department. And she ran and she won.  


Bass on the impact of the 2016 election:

They saw that it is not just a vote every four years and walk away. They also saw that the progress that has been made can clearly be wiped back. - Marcus Bass

What we saw in 2016 was a rejection of an upward trajectory of African-Americans participating in representation in the form of a president. The direct result in that — and the backlash that transpired after 2016 — caused a lot of individuals to pay attention to elections on a yearly basis.

Bass on the myth that young minority voters are apathetic:

If you look at the results of young voters, and the increase of young voters particularly young voters of color since 2008, we have seen an uptick …  Young people are engaged in every single election, not just presidential years.


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Dana is an award-winning producer who began as a personality at Rock 92. Once she started creating content for morning shows, she developed a love for producing. Dana has written and produced for local and syndicated commercial radio for over a decade. WUNC is her debut into public radio and she’s excited to tell deeper, richer stories.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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