The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday December 4th

Desegregation Advocates Speak Out

UNC holds school segregation conference.

Williams spoke at a conference called "The Resegregation of Southern Schools?" sponsored primarily by the UNC Center for Civil Rights and the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

The conference, which began with a media day Thursday and ended with a full day of sessions Friday, brought together educators and scholars from around the nation.

Topics covered at the sessions included how segregation affects academic achievement, how court decisions have impacted education and if "private choice," or vouchers, hurts public education.

Williams, who formerly worked at The Washington Post and is an analyst for Fox News Channel in addition to NPR, commended the attendees for taking action against resegregation.

He focused much of his speech on former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, about whom Williams wrote a 2000 biography.

He noted Marshall's achievements in desegregating U.S. schools, including arguing Brown v. Board of Education, a Supreme Court case that deemed legal segregation unconstitutional, before he became a justice.

"If Justice Marshall were here today, he would look at (the attendees) as his heirs," Williams said.

A key to working toward a solution is getting the public to understand both that schools in the South are becoming resegregated and that the trend is detrimental to primary and secondary education, Williams said.

He said educators must be proactive in ensuring that all students receive a quality education.

"We're not going to warehouse students or write them off for being born the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood."

Jack Boger, UNC law professor and deputy director of UNC School of Law's Center for Civil Rights, said it is critical to address the problem immediately. "It's a crucial public issue right now," Boger said.

Boger said recent court decisions that bar school districts from implementing policies solely to integrate schools will only hurt students. He noted last year's rulings by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that ordered the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System to cease busing students to schools, an effort made to make the schools more diverse.

He said that without policies such as busing, minority students will only be further isolated.

Boger said that minority students are disproportionately poor and that studies have shown that these poverty-stricken students are more likely to have trouble in school, he said.

In a report provided to The Daily Tar Heel, Boger writes that "academic performances in North Carolina's 'high poverty' schools typically fall well below those among students in more affluent student bodies."

"If you concentrate underperforming students, everybody starts to do worse." Boger said at the conference. "The worst thing you can do is mass poor students together."

The conference was the first sponsored by UNC's civil rights center and has been in the works since October, Boger said.

Organizers said more than 500 people were in attendance, while only 200 were expected.

The last session of the day featured several scholars who shared ways to counteract the slowing of desegregation. Christopher Edley Jr., a co-director of Harvard's Civil Rights Project, said advocates for integration must learn to show the public the benefit for desegregating schools. "The problem is generating the moral and political consensus," Edley said.

In his speech, Williams said that to solve the problem, advocates cannot end their efforts.

"I don't think we have an excuse for not doing anything to make a difference in this critical moment in American history."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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