Michael Biesecker, News & Observer (Raleigh), March 1, 2009
Those working to dismantle the Wake schools’ assignment policy should expect a fight from the new chairman of the county board of commissioners.
For Harold H. Webb, 83, continuing the busing of students to achieve economic diversity is merely the continuation of a lifelong struggle for racial equality.
A former Tuskegee Airman and educator who traveled the state during the 1960s to help integrate local school systems, he knows firsthand why the policies many parents now find onerous were established a generation ago. He helped create them.
The inconvenience suffered by families with students shuffled between schools, he says, is subordinate to the greater good achieved by avoiding the clustering of poor, minority children in schools in their urban neighborhoods.
Joe Ciulla, an organizer for the Wake Schools Community Alliance and the parent of two students, said the alliance is not counting on Webb’s support in its quest to end the system’s reassignment policy. But he hopes Webb will keep an open mind.
Through his work helping to desegregate North Carolina’s schools, Webb got to know Jim Hunt. When Hunt became governor in 1977, he appointed Webb as the state personnel director. Webb, the first black to hold the position, served eight years, retiring from state government in 1985.
He stayed involved in Democratic politics, however. Webb was a key statewide organizer for John Edwards’ successful 1998 U.S. Senate campaign and helped run numerous local campaigns, including those of state Sen. Vernon Malone.
Webb has since won re-election twice, both times soundly defeating Republican candidate Venita Peyton. She said the iron grip on political power retained by aging veterans of the civil rights struggle such as Webb and Malone impedes the rise of younger blacks with fresh ideas.
In the most recent election, Democrats won a majority on the county board for the first time since 2002. At a ceremony in December, Webb was sworn in by his daughter, Kaye R. Webb, a lawyer. His wife of 50 years, Lucille Webb, was at his side.