The head of the NAACP looked down from the podium at his group’s first national educational summit in three years, picked that tone that says “you all know what I mean” and uttered just two words: “Wake County.”
Then Benjamin Todd Jealous, who is the president and CEO of the group, made it clear that the Wake school board’s efforts to end diversity-based school assignment have made the county a front line for his group.
“It is not a mistake we are in Wake County,” he said. “We have watched desegregation roll for 20 years in this country, but when folks start getting bold about it, when they start putting it out on the street in clear terms, talking about our children as animals released from cages, resurrecting the rhetoric of none other than Barry Goldwater, then it’s time for the family to gather together, and it’s time for the family to go back out into the country and tell them what is going on.”
The meeting, held at the Raleigh Sheraton, drew more than 200 people from around the country. They came to talk broadly about education issues and also about what they see as huge steps backward in Wake and other places where desegregation is being reversed.
NAACP leaders said that a trend to return to neighborhood schools and reduce busing of students has pushed separation by race in U.S. schools to its highest level in four decades, with two-thirds of black and Latino students now assigned to schools having at least 90 percent minority enrollment.
Complaints by the NAACP have sparked probes into the school system. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is looking into an accusation that the school board is practicing racial discrimination through student assignment and other policies.
Also investigating the school system’s actions is the national accreditation group Advancing Excellence in Education Worldwide, which has the power to withdraw accreditation from Wake’s high schools. That could make it harder for students to gain admission to some universities and to receive financial aid for college.
Jealous vowed that the pressure won’t stop with the investigations.
“We ain’t going to let go of Wake County till Wake County admits that what it’s been doing for a long time is the right thing and that’s how it’s going to stay,” he said.