04/04/04 — Civil rights complaint to be filed

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Civil rights complaint to be filed

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 4, 2004 9:24 AM

A civil rights complaint will be filed on Monday by two Goldsboro groups, urging an investigation into practices by the Wayne County Board of Education.

Concerned Clergy and the local NAACP chapter allege that the school board engaged in politics and practices that have contributed to the segregation of the school system. The board's proposed $82.5 million bond plan also drew ire from both groups, who say the plan caters to outlying communities more than schools within the central Goldsboro area.

Representatives from both Concerned Clergy and the NAACP say they hope to avoid litigation, but are preparing to go that route if necessary.

In the complaint Barber read, it alleged that there has been disparate treatment of the Goldsboro city schools; parents have been intentionally omitted in the decision-making process of spending state and federal money that belonged to everyone for the benefit of a few; and concern that black children are performing significantly below their white peers at every level in the county schools.

Nearly 200 people gathered at a public forum Friday night at Antioch Baptist Church and were encouraged to sign the complaint that will be sent on Washington. Letters will also be sent to the governor, senators, state representatives, and the attorney general, enlisting their support.

The audience was predominantly black, with about two dozen white residents present. The only public officials in attendance were City Councilman Bob Waller and County Commissioner John Bell.

The school board was not represented, although Joe Hackett, who lost his bid for a school board seat against Rick Pridgen in 2002, said he plans to run this year against member-at-large Pete Gurley.

Rev. Dr. William Barber II of the Concerned Clergy made the case for the civil rights complaint. He said two studies done a decade ago, with progressive recommendations on how to alleviate racial imbalance across the county, have been virtually ignored.

Barber said he had taken one of the studies to the county commissioners and City Council last week and neither board had ever seen it.

"It was never implemented; it was never publicly debated," he said.

Barber said the proposed bond plan recently sent to the commissioners is wrong for a number of reasons, but especially for fostering segregation in the central and southern parts of the county.

He produced census maps from 2000 that showed where school-age children reside. He said the largest concentration of students was shown to be in the northern part of the county, yet the recommendations made for new schools were in the opposite direction. He cited an advertisement published in the newspaper this week that said there is room at all of the schools except Charles B. Aycock High School.

"If there's room," he began, only to be interrupted by an audience member who shouted out, "Why do you need more schools?"

Barber said that students in the central area are being hit with a triple whammy: total segregation, low student achievement, and little money.

"This is about the gutting of our city," he said.

"We're in a city with a world class Air Force base that defends freedom and promotes diversity. This could jeopardize the future of the base in this community because there are no new programs designed to foster that."

He said the proposed bond will financially tie the hands of the county for the next 21 years, and will "fund our own demise."

Barber said the civil rights complaint is a way to seek simple justice on behalf of the children. He said the liberal transfer policy has resulted in decreasing the number of white students attending the schools in a predominantly all-black area of the city.

Rev. Dr. Freddie Barnes, also of Concerned Clergy, recalled the Blue Ribbon Commission that had been introduced as a way to make positive changes. That proposal was ignored and resisted by leaders, he said.

"Where else are we to go? What else are we to do?" he asked.

"Perhaps it's out of our hands."

Sylvia Barnes, president of the Wayne County NAACP, asked for endorsement of the complaint, saying it is the right thing to do.

"We must support this," she said. "We should not be sitting here in the year 2004 talking about segregation in our schools, or segregation anywhere for that matter."

Ms. Barnes said the groups have sought legal counsel, but would prefer to avoid that if possible.

"We're getting ready and we're preparing ourselves that we'll file a suit if that's necessary," she said.
Rev. Barnes said he didn't want to see the matter litigated but at the same time, does not want to see the children slighted any more.

"It's not just 'my kids,'" he said, "because my kids are doing well. It's for our kids."

Ronald White, representing the N.C. state conference of branches of NAACP, said he was there to help with the struggle. He said that separate is not equal.

"Maybe your board people are separate and they're not treating us equal," he said. "We need to come together."

Rev. Dr. Kenneth Tate, pastor of Antioch and a member of the Concerned Clergy, posed three questions:

"Can we afford segregation in 2004? Are we in Wayne County and the Board of Education above the law? And will segregation and division encourage industry, will it help our economy, will it unite our community?" he asked.

"I believe with a resounding 'no' to all three of those questions, and we need not be afraid to stand up for what's right."