Julian Pierce (1946-1988)

March 27, 2008

Twenty years ago this week, someone ended the life of Julian Pierce with multiple blasts from a shotgun.

Pierce was 42 years old, a Lumbee Indian, the founder of Lumbee River Legal Services, and candidate for a newly-created Superior Court judgeship in what might have been the most corrupt county in the nation.

His opponent was Joe Freeman Britt, the local DA who held the world record for obtaining death penalty convictions. Britt was very much part of the system Pierce was battling against.

The same month Pierce announced his candidacy, two local Native American activists had taken hostages at the local newspaper office. They had two demands:

1) That they be allowed to surrender to state or federal authorities rather than local ones, and

2) That the state conduct a thorough investigation of law enforcement and government in Robeson County, and that someone look into a bevy of unsolved or suspicious murders that had taken place in recent years, including one one incident where a deputy (who happened to be the sheriff’s son) shot an unarmed man in the back. The DA’s office dismissed the killing as “self-defense.”

Tensions ran very high after that. the DEA opened up an office in Robeson, which closed just a few months later. The agent in charge practically threw up his hands in defeat, saying on the way out that the whole place was “awash in drugs.”

By March, one month after throwing his hat into the ring, Pierce was dead.

Not long after, police rousted a 24 year-old Lumbee man from a closet in his mother’s house and charged him with the murder. He had been dating the daughter of Pierce’s girlfriend, and the official story became that Pierce was helping her break up with him.

Britt’s DA office made short work of the kid.

Britt was named the winner of the election despite losing to the dead man, whose name still appeared on the ballot.

Things would eventually change some in Robeson County. Pierce had been holding voter registration drives and pulling in hundreds of new voters into the process.

“We should never forget what Julian did for this county and all of its people,” said Mac Legerton, director of the Center for Community Action “On this day 20 years ago, many of our lives were fundamentally changed. In many ways, our entire county was changed on this day … Although unspoken, we knew we all had to change.”

One comment

  1. Wow…that is heavy. Glad times have changed (?).

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