State Rep. Larry Womble received an outpouring of support from friends, colleagues and well-wishers Tuesday evening, during a prayer rally at his home church, Bethlehem Baptist.
Late last year, Womble, serving his ninth term in the North Carolina General Assembly, was involved in a tragic car accident that left him in critical condition and the driver of the other vehicle, David Carmichael, dead. The feisty legislator, known for championing causes such as the Racial Justice Act and compensation for state eugenics victims, chose not to seek re-election in the state’s 71st District because he is still recovering from his injuries. Womble, whom witnesses say crossed the center line on the two lane Reynolds Park Boulevard where the crash occurred, was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle and could face up to 45 days in jail if convicted. He is slated to appear in court on Nov. 28.
The Ministers Conference of Winston Salem and Vicinity staged the prayer rally as a show of support for the legislator, who remains in a wheelchair.
“Rep. Larry Womble followed in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. He went about doing good. He had been running up and down the road to Raleigh, sacrificing for you and I,” declared Ministers Conference President Joseph Nance. “Truly, bad things happen to good people, but this is to let him know … that joy comes in the morning.”
Womble was not in attendance for the early portions of the 6 p.m. rally, which drew a bevy of political and religious leaders, but that didn’t stop the evening’s speakers from heaping the praise on the former City Council member.
“Larry Womble has been a tireless advocate for many, many years and in the General Assembly, he never forgot where he came from,” said State Rep. Earline Parmon, who is running for the NC Senate District 32 seat. “I’ve been proud to join him and to work with him.”
Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., chairman of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, said Womble’s dedication to his work has made a him “a giant” in the General Assembly.
“He has been fearless,” said McKissick, who represents District 20 in Durham. “He’s always been there at the right time at the right place on the right issue, doing whatever he could to right a wrong… He was always somebody who had an open ear, but most importantly, a compassionate heart.”
Rep. Alma Adams, who represents Guilford County’s 58th District, likened Womble to the biblical character Nehemiah.
“Like Nehemiah, Larry Womble was always cognizant about the work that needed to be done, and never did he stray away from doing his part,” Adams said. “…You are fortunate to have had this giant of a man (represent you). He believed in doing what is right.”
By the time Womble made his entrance through the church’s side door, the event had taken on a somber tone, but audience members rose to their feet with enthusiastic applause as his caretaker, Tracy Ingram, rolled him into the room.
Womble began by reciting the first stanza of William Ernest Henley’s famed poem, “Invictus,” eliciting smiles from many in the audience, who have heard the poem – one of Womble’s favorite openers – many times before. He expressed his gratitude to the dozens in attendance, and the countless others who have supported him throughout his nine month ordeal. He cautioned them not to lose faith in him.
“It’s a prayer rally and that’s the way we’re gonna do it – we’re gonna do it like a prayer rally,” he declared. “This is not a funeral. Like the young guys say, ‘I ain’t dead yet,’ and don’t plan on being no time soon.”
Womble thanked those in the audience who have supported his work in the Legislature. Though some have speculated that the accident and long recovery that has followed have prematurely ended Womble’s civil service career, but he told rally attendees that he has no intentions of retiring.
“Bet your bottom dollar: this wheelchair is not my home,” he declared. “I will be walking again and we will be fighting those big battles again.”
Womble closed by asking the audience for their continued support.
“I’m going to ask you to pray for me in a serious way because a serious prayer will be answered,” he remarked. “You can’t be playing around – we can’t be taking life for a joke, because you can be here today and gone today, so I’m grateful to be here today in any condition.”
Following Womble’s remarks, a parade of pastors took to the stage to offer intercessory prayers. Rev. Steve Boyd led a prayer for Carmichael, at Womble’s request.
Rev. Dr. John Mendez reminded the audience that good things can come from negative situations. The Emmanuel Baptist Church pastor said he worked alongside Womble years ago in the formation of Citizens United for Justice, a political action team that fought for changes in the city, including the implementation of a citizens review board and equal racial representation on the county Board of Education. Womble’s involvement in the group cost him his seat on the City Council, Mendez said, but “God moved him up to the Legislature.”
“You win some, you lose some,” Mendez concluded, “but in the arena of God, it all becomes a promotion.”