First Posted: 1/15/2009
“Love is drawn by opportunity, not driven by obligation” has served as a motto for the 68 years of Robert “Bob” Mangum: co-founder of the Robeson County Church and Community Center, director of Native American Ministries for the United Methodist Church, fighter for voting rights and a public defender's office in Robeson County, fighter against “double voting,” mission team member to Bolivia and Alaska, and local pastor.
Born in Washington, D.C. to Robert and Eleanor Mangum, Bob spent his childhood in Brandywine, Md., a rural area where his dad worked as a building contractor. His mom, a trained nurse, stayed at home, primarily raising the five Mangum children.
Today Mangum's sisters are scattered across America and around the world. Anna Mae Rowland makes Silver Springs, Md., her home while sister Sue Osborn lives in Golden, Colo. His baby sister, Deborah Mangum Capenello, resides “down under” in Australia. His only brother, Al, married Betty Oxendine. They live in Raleigh.
After high school, Bob graduated from Asbury College before going to Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. He met Neila Jean Roberts from Pigeon, Mich., and they married after his graduation. While Bob went to seminary, Neila taught school at LaFayette High in Lexington, Ky.
Native American call
“After seminary, I had a deep sense of calling to be in partnership with the Native American community so together we could engage in Christian ministry,” Mangum said.
After two years as a pastor in Kentucky of a three-point charge in the Danville district, the Mangums were able to answer that call. They came to Robeson County in 1958, where he would serve in various capacities for the next 33 years.
From 1958 through 1963, Mangum was pastor of First Methodist Church in Pembroke. Along with this appointment came the volunteer position of advisor to the student movement and pastoral counselor at Pembroke State University.
Next, he became pastor of a four-point circuit: two South Carolina churches: Fairview in Dillon County and Hickory Grove in Clio, and two North Carolina churches: Branch Street in Lumberton, organized the previous year by Oscar Cummings and D.F. Lowry, and Sandy Plains, outside Pembroke.
Since there was no parsonage to the circuit, the Mangums lived in two rented houses their first two years before moving to the College Terrace Apartments. In 1966, Sandy Plains and Branch Street became a two-point charge with Mangum as their pastor. A parsonage was built at Sandy Plains in the fall of 1969.
The next June, Mangum became pastor of Sandy Plains and director of the Robeson County Church and Community Center. He served both until 1976 when he became the full-time director of the church and community center for the next two years. Rounding out his 33 years are the 13 that he spent as pastor of Prospect United Methodist Church.
A dream come true
The Robeson County Church and Community Center was an answer to prayer. Observing the disparities between the “haves” and the “have nots” and the inequities between the three races in Robeson County, Mangum prayed for a means to address such disparities.
Out of this cry of the heart, God planted a dream, which became the Church and Community Center. Central to this dream was a human desire that all people who needed services could have access to them. Mangum observed the systemic cruelty and the center sought ways to empower people to help themselves.
In the Church and Community Center's first years, the Bishop's Fund for Reconciliation of the United Methodist Church provided start-up money. With Mangum as director, Matilda Hocker served as caseworker and Nancy Ford became secretary. The first board's officers included Adolph Dial as president, the Rev. Jim Bailey as vice president, the Rev. Jimmy Cummings as secretary and Howard Cooper as treasurer. Today the board maintains representation of the four dominant races in the county.
Eventually the center spun off two caucuses, the African American caucus and the Native American caucus. Political and economic empowerment was their aim and goal. The first realization of this was the registration of 11,400 blacks and American Indians to vote in Robeson County.
A first in county
Mangum served with Adolph Dial and Brenda Brooks on the N.C. Advisory Commission to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. They brought in a hearing to show the disparities in employment within county government. Having given this issue visibility, Howard Cooper, then county chairman, broke the tie that would employ Pete Jacobs as the first non-Anglo supervisor in county government.
In the early '70s within Robeson County, there were six administrative school units. Along with the county school system, there were five city units: Lumberton, St. Pauls, Maxton, Fairmont and Red Springs. While each city system elected its own board of education, residents in these five systems could also vote for the county board, or double vote.
The local and state courts ruled that double voting was legal. Yet, when this issue went before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., double voting was declared unconstitutional. The principles for this legal battle were developed by Professor Barry Nakel of the University of North Carolina School of Law and Dexter Brooks, a law student there at the time.
Not only did the Church and Community Center empower people politically and economically, but this group helped to establish the North Carolina Literacy Council and worked to establish several county literacy programs. These continue to be strong today.
In 1991, Mangum left Robeson County to become director of the Southeastern Jursidiction Native American Ministries (SEJNAM) of the United Methodist Church. This was another dream come true.
In the early '70s after the Methodists and Evangelical United Brethren merged to become the United Methodist Church, the Native American caucus dreamed of an organization within the church that would give visibility to American Indian concerns and ministry.
In 1983, Mangum, Sam Wynn, and others went to Atlanta to meet with Ross Freeman, then Southeastern Jursidiction program director, to talk about establishing SEJNAM. SEJNAM became a reality in 1984 with Simeon Cummings becoming its first director in 1986. Mangum succeeded Cummings in 1991.
During the '90s the Committee on Native American Ministry was established in every annual conference of the United Methodist Church. The training model for the committee was developed in the Southeastern Jurisdiction and moved to others around the country.
Under the committee's auspices, two new American Indian churches were established in North Carolina: Triad UMC in Greensboro and Victory UMC in Charlotte.
In 1995, SEJNAM believed that American Indians needed to connect with native peoples from other countries. Working with the Andean Rural Health Organization, that year Mangum and three others from Robeson County -- Wade Hunt, principal of Union Chapel School, the Rev. Carolyn Woriax, and James Dial, principal of Pembroke Elementary -- made their first trip to Bolivia.
Missions to Bolivia
Since that time, six additional trips have been made to Bolivia, with the eighth coming this year. These teams have built an apartment for staff members who worked at a health project in Carrabuco, Bolivia. They provided three fetal dopplers the next year.
In the past seven years, Prospect United Methodist Church, the Prospect United Methodist Men and other churches in the Rockingham District Native American Co-op have collected and given $200,000 for Bolivian projects, including $70,000 for an orphanage, money for scholarships for Bolivian students, money for water projects and money to replace the huts of the Guarani Indians.
The thatch of their roofs contained beetles, which causes a parasitic disease among women that is often fatal. To only Mangum's surprise, the group named the scholarship for Bolivian students after him. In addition to the mission team to Bolivia from Robeson County, other teams from various North Carolina cities have been spun off from their efforts.
After Mangum retired in 1999, he promised Neila that he'd take a year off. He kept this promise. However, today he is back at work with the Native American Co-op in Robeson County and is as busy as ever. This group established the Triangle UMC, a new American Indian church in Raleigh. This year the co-op made two mission trips to Alaska, taking 13 in the fall and 19 in the spring. They did 17,000 square feet of sheetrock for the Chugiak United Methodist Church there. The church called their hard work “the best sheetrock job in the state of Alaska.”
Recently, the co-op had the groundbreaking for the Home for the Challenged at Pembroke. In partnership with Asbury Homes, this will be the first group home for Native Americans in the country.
In all these efforts, Mangum has sought to be a team player. At times, he has willingly been up front when necessary, but he prefers working behind the scenes or alongside others of all races. Truly he has fulfilled his call to work for God's kingdom in Robeson County, in North Carolina and all over the world.
Mangum has tried to live out his vision of Christian ministry with the dual foci of promoting personal salvation and public responsibility. He has willingly lived in the tension between celebrating what is good and just and accepting the challenge and opportunity of what can be better. His love for God and for all those with whom he has served has been drawn by the unique opportunity for his ministry among us.