Accusations of racial bigotry in Wake schools from a ranking state NAACP official and Baptist minister temporarily shut down today's county school board meeting, during which the man, the Rev. Curtis Gatewood, was faced with forcible removal by school system security.
During a public comment period, Gatewood, who is second vice president of the state NAACP, raised the specter of racism as he attacked the new school board majority's plans to discard Wake's diversity program.
"If you are going to go to hell, don't take our kids with you," Gatewood, who is also a former Durham NAACP president, told school board members, refusing to yield when chairman Ron Margiotta told him to moderate his comments.
The Rev. William Barber, state head of the NAACP, ended up in the midst of the controversy, trying to intervene as media and audience members thronged in the already crowded room.
Later, Gatewood said he was not acting as an NAACP official.
"It felt like a slap in the face of democracy," Gatewood said of Margiotta's interruption.
As president of the Durham NAACP from 1995 to 2003, Gatewood was known for his fiery rhetoric. He led other demonstrators in chants that disrupted at least two Durham school board meetings during that time. He was escorted out of one meeting and later convicted of trespassing.
Gatewood had many who appreciated his unflagging support for poor blacks, bus riders and schoolchildren in Durham. Others viewed him as alienating for efforts such as asking Duke University to drop its Blue Devil mascot because it promotes "devil-worshipping" and urging blacks not to fight in the war against Iraq.
Gatewood ran for the leadership of the state NAACP in 1997, but lost.
Barber has threatened to file a lawsuit if the policies of the new majority of the Wake school board harms low-income and minority students.