North Carolina is back in the news for GOP attempts to reverse the progress that the state has made over the past 50 years. This time, a Bloomberg article highlights attempts to re-segregate our public schools. The GOP is considering ways to breakup county-wide school districts that successfully integrated schools into smaller districts.
I can’t tell if Republicans are ignorant of our history or contemptuous of it. I suspect it’s some of both. On the one hand, the influx of people from outside the region don’t remember or haven’t heard about the struggles we went through breaking down the barriers of Jim Crow. But on the other hand, the modern GOP in North Carolina was built on a foundation of segregationists who opposed integration or ending Jim Crow. The rise of Donald Trump has exposed how many are still around and how little they’ve evolved.
The policies Republicans are proposing look remarkably like the policies conservative Democrats used to oppose Brown v. The Board of Educationin the 1950s and sixties. The so-called school choice policies closely resemble the Pearsall Plan that would offer white families vouchers if they wanted to attend private schools to avoid having their children attend integrated schools. Setting up multiple school districts within counties will divide them along geographical lines that will almost certainly split them racially, too.
The language Republicans use is even similar to what the segregationists used in the middle of the 20thcentury. To avoid integration, North Carolina had what they called freedom of choice plans which allowed families to choose which school to attend. Today the GOP calls its voucher and charter programs “school choice.” I wonder if Republicans will claim the new school districts are separate but equal?
Republicans will claim their plans offer more flexibility to families and reflect the progress we’ve made in race relations. They’re fooling themselves. We’ve certainly made progress, but not nearly enough to believe, as Chief Justice John Roberts apparently does, that we’ve achieved anything near a color-blind society. Reversing the policies that have made progress threatens to reverse the progress itself.
Desegregation of schools has worked in North Carolina. It’s attracted industry to the state, built our reputation as a welcoming place and helped right the wrongs of our past. But its work is not done here. Re-segregation will continue to damage our reputation just like Amendment One, HB2, extreme gerrymandering, and voter suppression.