The Richmond Observer – IMPERIAL FOODS FIRE: Memories remain for survivors of the Hamlet tragedy
Blanchard was one of two survivors to speak Friday morning at the 30th anniversary memorial service held at the site of the fatal incident on Bridges Street in Hamlet.
Towards the end of his speech, Blanchard rummaged through a bag and pulled out the clothes: a blouse, a shirt and a pair of socks.
“It’s so great to be here on behalf of my Heavenly Father who gave me life that day… he saved me that day,” Blanchard said. “That day is the most terrible day I can remember. As I stand here for these reasons, I cannot tell you where I was, but I know that it is on these reasons that the tragedy occurred.
In addition to the factory workers, Phillip Dawkins, who filled the Lance snack machine, also perished.
Blanchard said after the fire she traveled the country to talk about workplace safety.
“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “An employer is a man like me… we have to have nerve, we have to be bold… we have to rise to the occasion, because when you go to bat… you want that home run.
“It’s not about us anymore, it’s about the future,” Blanchard continued, saying his daughter now works in a chicken factory. “I don’t like it, but it’s an income. I didn’t like it when I worked here, but I had to provide for my family.
Blanchard said it was time for the companies to “stop using the poor man, the poor woman, just to get your luxury yacht.”
“It’s time for us as people to come together, to work together, to love each other, to help each other. “
Blanchard then thanked Reverend Tommy Legrand for his help over the years, and his own pastor, Dian Griffin Jackson for being an inspiration.
On that fateful day, Blanchard said she saw the name of Jesus in her head “and it turned into musical notes”.
“My children have passed over my forehead,” Blanchard continued. “I wanted to live for my children … not for myself, just for them – so that they could have a future. And I tried to instill in them ‘educate yourself, so you don’t have to work in any chicken factory. ‘
“Maybe you all think I’m delusional and delusional,” Blanchard said. “And if you’re not delusional and you are not delusional, you won’t do anything!”
For the survivor Annette Zimmerman, being at the scene of the tragic event, “it’s still so fresh”.
“As beautiful as this memorial site is and as lovely as the trees and the monument are… certain steps I take, certain areas I enter… my body dates back to that day,” Zimmerman said after the service.
She said now retired Fire Chief Calvin White, who was captain of the Hamlet Fire Department at the time, probably doesn’t know, but she recalls his face being one of the first that she saw when she came across the street.
Imperial Foods survivor Annette Zimmerman reads a poem as Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey watches.
Zimmerman was the first of two survivors to speak at the service, reading a poem she wrote for the occasion:
“… Thirty years of tears. Thirty years of pain.
Thirty years of anguish, but nothing in vain.
The world noticed that day, our voices were heard.
The injustices of this tragedy have had an impact on workplace policies, word for word.
Who will work to die?
Neither him nor her, certainly not me … “
The survivors of Friday’s service included not only the workers who made it, but also family members of those who did not.
Michael Banks was six years old when his mother, Margaret Banks, was killed in the fire.
He also has a younger sister, whose father was previously killed in Winston-Salem, so she never knew either of her parents.
Banks and his sister were raised by their grandparents.
For him, the memorial service provided the closing.
“I think they tried to do everything (they could),” Banks said of first responders at the scene. “I appreciate everything they’ve done for those they saved… I’m fine. I don’t hold a grudge… maybe early in my life I could… but now… closing.
Zimmerman said the service was an emotional roller coaster.
“(I) feel good to see people come out and see people that I haven’t seen in a long time and being able to just reconnect – then seeing these strangers coming in and just acknowledging what happened makes me feel good. “
But, Zimmerman added, when she gets home and settles down to “soak herself in the day, it will be like a ball of tears and shaking and screaming, just because I’ve held her so long.”
Zimmerman still lives in Richmond County and said she visits the site weekly as it is just down the road from her church.
She may not always come out, but she always stops.
“I love to go out and talk to Margaret and Brenda,” Zimmerman said. “They’re not there physically, and I’m sure their bodies were gone by that day, but that was our place.”
Zimmerman said she hoped that what happened that day, 30 years ago, that government officials stick to the changes “and make sure we don’t back down.”
“Because sometimes it feels like we’re just going backwards and if we go backwards, then it was all in vain.”