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Are American schools returning to segregation?

The Supreme Court launched the desegregation of schools with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Now, once diverse districts like Goldsboro, N.C., are reverting to segregation, concerning civil rights advocates.

By , Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / June 18, 2010

Black and white residents of Goldsboro, N.C., mingle at a farmers’ market. Natasha Hopkins (r.), a new resident, says the school district told her that the city’s schools were predominantly black and many parents preferred to drive their children to suburban schools. School segregation is a rising concern in the US.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor


Goldsboro, N.C.

Fronted by tall, proud columns, Goldsboro High in North Carolina was once a flourishing school reflecting the city's 50-50 black-white mix. But the nearly 100-year-old school has verged on academic failure in recent years.

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Particularly troubling to civil rights advocates, the student population has become racially and economically isolated – to the point that the high school is now a symbol of "resegregation" in America's classrooms.

In the central attendance zone for Wayne County's schools – a zone that includes Goldsboro High – 93 percent of the students are African-American, and 90 percent are low-income, according to county statistics. By contrast, another attendance zone in the county is 69 percent white, 41 percent low-income.

This past December, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed a civil rights complaint against the Wayne County Board of Education. Now, a federal investigation is under way to assess charges that the school board has maintained a segregated, high-poverty attendance area rife with educational inequities.

Earlier this month North Carolina Governor Beverly Purdue told members of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus that the state was "in a war" against school resegregation.

School-system officials blame both white and black flight for Goldsboro High School's educational slide.

Yet Wayne County is not an obvious setting for concerns about resegregation. Amid the pines and hog farms of eastern North Carolina, it's home to the racially diverse Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Black and white residents of Goldsboro mingle easily as they pick up tomatoes and collards at a small farmers' market.

The lack of integration at the high school surprised the Rev. William Barber II when he moved here in the early 1990s.

"If you can't get it right in Goldsboro ... you can't get it right anywhere in the country," says Dr. Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

The case is a test of how aggressively the Obama administration will pursue such complaints. As such, it could resonate well beyond Goldsboro.

"I'm hopeful that ... other school [districts] in the state and potentially around the country would see that it's no longer acceptable to allow the students in these high-poverty, racially identifiable schools to get a lesser-quality education [than] their white, middle- or upper-class peers," says Mark Dorosin, an adjunct law professor at the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.