05/18/04 — Local groups rally on Brown anniversary

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Local groups rally on Brown anniversary

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 18, 2004 2:01 PM

The 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Supreme Court decision to end segregation was celebrated Monday night, along with a challenge to continue the legacy.

A public rally, held at Greenleaf Christian Church and attended by an estimated 200 people, was hosted by Concerned Clergy and the Wayne chapter of the NAACP. It was billed as a "celebration, commemoration and call to action."

The Rev. Dr. William Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, said the case was proof that change does not always come overnight. He said it was first argued in 1952, re-argued in 1953, then won in 1954.

Sylvia Barnes, president of the Wayne County branch of the NAACP, said that segregation was wrong then and continues to be wrong today. She said the issue will not go away unless people make a stand.

"This is an election year," she said, "a very important election year. Right here in Wayne County, we need to make history with the election.

"We need to elect people that are going to stand even if they have to stand by themselves ... people that will call wrong, 'wrong,' and right, 'right,' even if they have to stand alone."

Barber said, "I can't believe we have Christians on the boards that are allowing segregation to exist. If you plan to go to Heaven, there will be no segregation; there's only one Heaven."

"The silence, apathy and unwillingness to change the current system by the school board is offensive," he added.

He read from a list of 20 "facts you need to know when you meet people who want to know." He suggested the board make policy changes to end the system segregation that currently exists.

Barber said that segregation in the county is "multi-leveled" and extends from physical segregation to that of buildings, budgets, personnel and performance. He said it is reflected in where the construction money is being spent and in the achievement gaps between black and white students.

He agreed that community schools and smaller classes are needed but that community should first be defined as all of Wayne County. He said existing buildings should be used and upgraded and suggested redistricting and strategically building new schools through a plan that is fair and fiscally responsible.

"Could this problem have been solved 10 years ago?" he asked. "Yes. Ten years ago the state school board gave us a plan that would have addressed most of these issues."

He said the plan was never presented to the public and believes it was deliberately suppressed and not revealed until his group did so recently.

"What we need is not necessarily a new study but a new school board or new leadership, which will implement what has already been proposed," he said.

He also said it is a lie that the housing patterns in the city have contributed to the segregation problem.

"The problem," he said, "is deliberate action taken by the school board over the years to shrink the city attendance zone.

"Each time new schools are built, selective parts of the city attendance area are redistricted to pull certain populations into schools just outside the city. This shrinks the attendance zone."

The Rev. Dr. Mazie Ferguson, great niece of Mary McCloud Bethune who formed one of the first black schools, was the featured guest speaker at the worship service. She is a pastor and a lawyer.

"Who would have known that 50 years after segregation was abolished, this is what we would be looking at?" she said. "We're in a crisis, and the prognosis is not good."

She told the audience that "Jesus was an activist." She used the Bible story of when Jesus walked on water to illustrate the need for people to take action.

"There are no miracles in the boat," she said. "Miracles are done by water-walkers, not by those who stay in the boat.

"This time in history, we need miracles and we need water-walkers, not the people in the boat."