‘Not One Step Back’ in Wake County

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Last Saturday, on one of North Carolina’s sunniest, warmest days this winter, thousands of people gathered in front of Shaw University in Raleigh to participate in the NAACP’s annual march for justice, workers’ rights and educational equality. The march has been dubbed the “HK on J,” or “historic thousands on Jones Street.” By mid-day, that’s exactly what it was: Too many people to count snaking through downtown Raleigh toward the state legislative building.

This year, the march took on added importance. The policy of busing students to maintain economically and racially diverse schools in Wake County is under attack in favor of creating “neighborhood” schools. In the past, Wake, the largest county in the state, has been held up as an example of diversity. In fact, former Syracuse professor Gerald Grant wrote a book saying there are no bad schools in Raleigh. But a new school board with ties to the ultra-conservative Tea Party now threatens to resegregate the schools.

With that in mind, the people came Saturday morning to the historically black university where the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee was founded with their handmade signs and their will to make the school board take notice. The multi-ethnic, multi-racial group touted a host of issues, from access to higher education, illegal immigration, prison overcrowding, unemployment—the list goes on.

But what really brought the people out on this day is the situation with schools in Wake County. “I’ve got two kids in the school system now,” said Erica Byrd, who gave me her ‘school disintegration’ button. “I’ve been organizing with other parents, but we have grandparents who are involved and people who used to be students in these schools. There is a lot of solidarity.”

She and others believe that new members of the school board would like to create their own “neighborhood school” and then keep poor children out of them. “Parents like me want to protect the magnet schools,” she said. “We don’t want to see the public school system change.”

At the rally, Ben Jealous, president of the national NAACP, joined the Rev. William Barber II, president of the N.C. chapter. Together, the men energized the audience with their speeches.  Bus after bus arrived, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Virginia, and the crowds grew larger. Strangers greeted each other like old friends. Young helped old. More than 90 organizations sent representatives, and some traded notes and stories during the march, their conversations broken only by spontaneous chants. Underlying the sense of urgency, political opposition, fear and concern, was camaraderie—some might say love.

Duke history professor Tim Tyson said Wake County’s success at desegregating made it a target for those who want “private academies for the rich paid for by public money.”

But why North Carolina?

“Obama knocked a hole in the South [by winning North Carolina in 2008],” Tyson said. He explained Nixon’s Southern strategy, the coded language of “forced busing” and “neighborhood schools,” a term George Wallace used to justify segregation. Quite simply, “it is the language of the opposition to Brown v. Board of Education,” he said.

The Wake County school board’s actions have drawn national attention. The comic Stephen Colbert recently used his show to lampoon conservatives on the school board. Also, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has chided the school district for moving toward resegregation. More significantly, the department’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating. You can follow recent news stories about Wake County schools here and here.

Among the marchers, there was no doubt that the school board’s policies signaled a return to the days of Jim Crow. And nobody wanted to see that happen. “This is not the end, this is the beginning,” the Rev. Barber said. “There’s more work to be done when you leave here today. Forward together! Not one step back!”

Jackson is a writer for Teaching Tolerance. 

Comments

Among the marchers, where was

Submitted by Keith Moore on 16 February 2011 - 1:00am.

Among the marchers, where was no doubt that the school board's policies signaled a return to the days of Jim Crow? You know, when I wrote in an earlier post that blacks and others are being deliberately deceived about the racial situation in the country, another commentator castigated me for "blaming the victim." But the way that these marchers have been brainwashed into associating efforts to end forced busing with racial segregation and racism generally is precisely the sort of thing I was attempting to call out. Forced busing is not, and has never been, a program aimed to bring down Jim Crow and other racist laws. Forced busing is, was, and has always been a policy adopted by overreacting cities to force children to attend schools far away from their homes, against the wishes of their parents (white AND black parents) in the name of racial integration. It is a program depriving parents of any control over where their child attends school and in the decision ruling it constitutional, the Supreme Court effectively said that the government can exercise any sort of compulsion it pleases as long as it falls under the broad and vague heading of combating the segregation of schools recently declared illegal under Brown v. Board of Education.
The fact of the matter, as opposed to the starry-eyed race card-tinged fantasy, is that neighborhood schools are highly desirable to all races. They are the institution of the community; there is a shared feeling that "this is OUR school" and the community invests itself in that school and close around the concept of an educational institution that is uniquely "owned" by those who live around it. The school is not "that school" or "their school" or some school "over there" but the "school next door" where everyone knows you and participates with you. It is, in other words, an artifact of a community that invests its bond of brotherhood and friendship in the places where the community sends its children for education. It permits a civic pride and the pleasant friendly and fierce rivalry between "our school" and "their school" akin to the "civil war" games between schools like University of Oregon and Oregon State University. In many cities, prior to the invention of forced busing, community traditions had arisen around the neighborhood schools: there was some annual game that was a community event or some joint venture between certain schools that had always been done or some other long-running tradition that brought people together and instilled them with a feeling of sameness and comraderie that defied the artificial and pernicious separatism that Jim Crow laws were designed to create.
Forced busing is a pernicious evil almost as bad as Jim Crow. By indifferently destroying bonds of community and forcing parents to put their children in some distant school that they do not know and are not involved in, forced busing is the straight-limbed twin of Jim Crow, its outward appearance all handsomeness and warmth but inside, it is just as rotten as its twisted brother. Jim Crow sought to divide and separate the races to destroy nascent bonds of brotherhood by building boxes that the different races had to stay within; Forced Busing succeeded in dividing and separating the races to destroy nascent bonds of brotherhood by stealing their sense of community from them and shoving them into boxes based upon an arbitrary mix of skin color. Jim Crow was eventually conquered, first by good and principled men like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and then by politicians, primarily conservative Republicans, who hammered a stake through Jim Crow's cankered heart. Those same conservative Republicans who provided most of the votes for the Voting Rights Act now have a stake in hand and are seeking to kill Jim Crow's outwardly appealing brother... but unlike before, they have to fight the very people who will BENEFIT from their crusade and suffer slandering from the thoroughly deceived misinformed and the utterly malicious misanthropic. It is shameful that a website called Tolerance.org is fully behind efforts to smear people with the label of "racist" and "Jim Crow", people who are seeking to slay another one of racism's many monsters.

That was a good counter point

Submitted by craig ward on 17 February 2011 - 10:38am.

That was a good counter point people usually come together for a common good,but when forced they become suspecious even jealous which leads to confrontations and violence.