RALEIGH, N.C. – The country’s most prominent civil rights group has come to Raleigh to draw attention to what it calls a growing erosion of the gains made since a 1954 Supreme Court decision made segregated schools illegal.
Using Wake County’s ongoing debate over school diversity as a backdrop, the NAACP is holding a national conference on education in Raleigh to argue that schools around the country are, in essence, returning to Jim Crow-era patterns of segregation.
“Resegregation is on the rise,” said the Rev. William Barber, chairman of the state NAACP chapter. “The rates now are worse than in the 1970s.”
Wake County has been the scene of acrimonious dispute since the school board voted to scrap a decade-old policy that used busing to achieve socio-economic balance in public schools. The NAACP and other groups have staged protests and marches and filed a federal civil rights complaint. Barber is among several who have been arrested in demonstrations against the end of the policy.
“School boards across this country are rolling back the clock to the time before Brown vs. Board of Education,” NAACP national president Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement. Jealous was scheduled to address to the conference Friday.
But that sentiment is out of touch with both the reality of public education and recent Supreme Court rulings, according to Roger Clegg, president of the Falls Church, Va.-based Center for Equal Opportunity.
A 2007 decision by the court found that school districts can’t pursue integration policies by using students’ race as a basis, which Clegg argues is what busing for diversity amounts to.
“Even if you think there’s something desirable about having a politically correct racial and ethnic mix, it doesn’t justify the enormous costs of engaging in racial discrimination,” he said.
Clegg also challenges the claim that schools are becoming more segregated, arguing that falling percentages of white students matches the declining number of whites in the population overall.
The term “segregation” doesn’t refer to demographic change, but to legal policies explicitly designed to keep people of different races separated from each other, Clegg said.
“If you use that definition, not only is there no resegregation in the United States, there is not a single segregated school in the United States,” he said.