RALEIGH — An anti-racism rally in downtown's Moore Square on Friday brought out hundreds of students, veteran activists and others who heard ringing endorsements of civil rights and a stinging condemnation of the Wake County school board.
Organized by the YWCA of the Greater Triangle, the rally featured songs, skits and slogans from about 170 students who came from nearby Moore Square Middle School, where they have been involved in a study project on the subject for weeks.
A featured speaker, the Rev. David Forbes, talked about his childhood in segregated Raleigh, where everything from water fountains to libraries was divided by race. Forbes criticized the current school board for its efforts to end Wake County's diversity-based school assignment policy.
"Shame on the board of education of Wake County," said Forbes, 69, a civil rights veteran who helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Raleigh half a century ago, to loud applause.
"How dare they try, through chicanery and fancy wording, to reverse what made Wake County the leading school system in the United States - diversity?"
Board member Chris Malone, a member of the majority, said later Friday that attempts to defend the county's previous approach to diversity don't take into account the achievement gap between low-income, minority students and more affluent, white students.
Malone said he was not familiar with Forbes.
"This guy has a right to his opinion, but he's wrong and we're right," he said, adding that the new board needs time to fulfill its mission of improving student achievement.
"It's going to take work and diligence and care," Malone said.
Students' song, skit
About 300 people gathered in the sunny square for the rally. Students from the middle school, which has a magnet program, sang a song composed for the occasion, "Live the Dream." They recited and explained quotations on racism, and put on a skit offering a race-reversed twist on the historic 1960 sit-ins in Greens boro.
Downtown resident Courtney Hodgson, 29, brought along son Caedmon, 20 months, in his stroller to take part. "We live in a diverse neighborhood, and we just really try to build relationships and grow in community with our neighborhood," Hodgson said. "Being part of a 'stand-up-against-racism' rally means we're in it for the long haul."
Marjorie Eckels, 88, a longtime activist, came from her West Raleigh neighborhood partly because she's concerned about what's happening in Wake County schools. "I just foresee segregation again if they do what they say they are going to do," Eckels said.
Christopher Johnson, 19, was in town from Fayetteville and decided to come to the rally. Johnson is not sure how effective such public events are at changing human behavior but thinks they are worth the effort.
"You've got certain people that want to listen and certain people that don't want to listen, but it's always good to talk to them," he said. "You never know what might happen."
Both Gov. Beverly Perdue and Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker issued proclamations supporting the anti-racism event, which is observed nationwide in dozens of locations.
thomas.goldsmith@newsobser ver.com or 919-829-8929