BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Jane Cabarrus and the art of ‘bringing people together’

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Jane Cabarrus

BY STEFANIE JACKSON, Eastern Shore Post —

Jane Cabarrus, the first and only female president of the Northampton County NAACP, remembers joining the organization when she was in high school in the 1960s and paying annual dues of 50 cents.

That memory is a testament to Cabarrus’ longstanding dedication to public service, which continues to this day.

Cabarrus is the daughter of the late Lloyd and Annie Giddens, who realized a dream by opening what became known as the Giddens’ Do Drop Inn, in Weirwood, in 1967.

The popular restaurant and lounge was a welcoming place where people from diverse backgrounds came together to eat, drink, listen to music, dance, and socialize.

Lloyd and Annie Giddens instilled a strong work ethic in their daughter. At one point in her life, Cabarrus was working three jobs — late nights at the Do Drop Inn and early mornings at Northampton-Accomack Memorial Hospital, as well as a job in home health care.

She drew on that work ethic over the years as she took on more and more community service roles, seemingly never running out of energy or enthusiasm.

Cabarrus first became president of the Northampton County NAACP around the same time that Dawn Goldstine became superintendent of Northampton County Public Schools.

They worked together to promote equality. The Northampton NAACP was also influential in the decision to close Northampton schools for Martin Luther King Jr. Day every year.

The NAACP pitched the idea as “a day on, not a day off,” and so began Community Unity Day, an annual event held at Northampton High School to honor King’s legacy.

The event included participants marching together down Courthouse Road in Eastville, and a couple of years later, the popular Community Unity Day breakfast was added to the program and continued for over 30 years.

Cabarrus worked to defend the Bayview community in the mid-1990s when former Gov. George Allen proposed building a maximum security prison in the area, she said.

She remembers visiting Richmond and sitting outside the door of the governor’s office when his staff refused to allow Cabarrus inside.

Cabarrus also received a national NAACP Thalheimer Award for her work uncovering what a national NAACP representative called “third-world conditions” in Bayview, where, even into the 1990s, residents lacked indoor plumbing.

She continued to work on the project with Alice Coles and Bayview community residents.

“It was just everybody coming together to help develop that area,” Cabarrus said.

Cabarrus has participated in many other efforts to lift up the Northampton community.

She supported musician Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, who lived in Nassawadox prior to his death, when he sued his record company for unpaid songwriting royalties. Elvis Presley recorded one of Crudup’s songs.

She assisted in the effort to make the Northampton County School Board an elected body instead of an appointed one.

She started a scholarship through the NAACP, which has awarded more than $150,000 to Accomack and Northampton students.

Cabarrus also has advocated for education, housing, and health matters on a national level and won many awards for her work.

She was often motivated by her love for her family members and the difficulties they endured.

Her father, who died of lung cancer at age 88, was the reason the Do Drop Inn became a smoke-free restaurant 20 years before it was required by state law.

Her daughter, who had asthma and became critically ill at 7 months old, also inspired her.

“It was snowing. I’ll never forget my parents walking to the hospital four miles from where we lived to Nassawadox,” Cabarrus said.

The doctor told Cabarrus that her daughter “may not make it through the night.”

The hospital at that time was segregated. “They would put about seven or eight babies in a room in a crib … and sometimes it was in the hall,” Cabarrus said.

“Ever since then, I said my daughter will never know that she came up in a condition where … we didn’t have,” she said.

Her daughter grew up and graduated from college. Tracy Giddens-Jarrett is now the director of organ recovery services for LifeNet Health.

“I always felt like my parents wanted me to be somebody. … I owed them a lot, so I dedicated my life to the struggles of going to work, working three jobs, and still maintaining community, and learning all I could, and (meeting) people, traveling on the Shore, off the Shore,” Cabarrus said.

But making a difference was often dangerous work.

“There were times we couldn’t even open our own mail” because of anthrax threats to NAACP members and civil rights activists, Cabarrus said.

There was even Ku Klux Klan activity on the Eastern Shore at one time, she noted.

Cabarrus persisted by rising above the fray. “Instead of fighting the system or fighting people,” she approached social issues from “a different angle,” she said.

“You don’t ever see me standing on top of the table about anything. I go to the people (and say), ‘Let’s talk about it. Let’s see what changes we can make,’” Cabarrus said.

“I want to do the right thing for our Eastern Shore communities, and that’s bringing people together,” she said.

Her motto is “to help all mankind pursue the paths of justice and strive for racial equality.”

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