NAACP rallies to demand board's time

Staff writerJanuary 11, 2010 

— With a call for "fighting resegregation in whatever form," the Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president, on Sunday called on the Wake County school board to hear the group's position on plans to scrap the diversity policy of North Carolina's largest school district.

"The NAACP is not going to be ... told it can come to a committee," Barber said at a rally where a petition was circulated calling for Wake school board Chairman Ron Margiotta to allow the NAACP a 45-minute public hearing before the full board.

Margiotta declined an earlier request, instead offering a private meeting with the school system's leadership. Such meetings, he said Sunday night, have been the past practice rather than affording groups time on the board agenda.

"What we're trying to do is listen to his concerns," Margiotta said. "We respect them and would like to hear them. ... I tend to be a believer in meeting with people and thoroughly discussing [their concerns] but there are limits to what we can do."

NAACP members passed out the home telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of school board members.

"We have some things we want to tell them," Barber said.

Barber and others speaking at Sunday's meeting said the school board's plans to move to a neighborhood-based school system and end student assignments based on economic diversity will bring back the racial segregation that existed before a landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling that ended the separate-but-equal doctrine for public schools.

"This is the political, moral issue of our time," Barber said. "This is a critical issue ... whether or not we are going to go forward when it comes to educating our children, or we go back."

As an example of resegregation, Barber used Wayne County, against which the NAACP has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging civil rights violations resulting from the racial makeup of that county's schools. Barber has threatened similar action in Wake if the school board's new ruling majority's pledge to move to neighborhood schools results in de facto resegregation.

In Wayne County, Barber said, "you can see what will happen if you are not vigilant quick, early and in a hurry."

More than 100 people turned out for the rally, held at Martin Street Baptist Church and sponsored by Wake County's three NAACP chapters. Besides NAACP members, the rally drew representatives of WakeUP Wake County and several other organizations.

Besides Barber, they heard from Wake school board member Keith Sutton; Mark Dorosin, an attorney with the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights; NAACP attorney Al McSurely; and Duke University historian Tim Tyson.

"If Wake County schools become resegregated by race and class," Dorosin said, "it will be the direct, intentional result of actions taken by the school board."

McSurely likened the Wake board's five Republican-backed members' support for "neighborhood schools" to the Republican "Southern strategy" of the 1960s, which, he said, employed the same phrase to appeal to white voters. Fall elections swept four new members onto the board to join Margiotta in forming a majority that promised to end Wake's diversity policy and mandatory year-round schools.

"We've seen this before and it smells just like it did in 1967," McSurely said. "...Shame. Shame."

jim.wise@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2004

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