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
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.
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
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
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
"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.
Nationally, 39 percent of African-American students attend
intensely segregated schools, where at least 90 percent are students
of color, according to an analysis of 2007 data by the Civil Rights
Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. And it's no
longer simply a black-white issue: Forty percent of Latinos are in
such schools as well.
In North Carolina, 18 percent of black students and 13 percent of
Latino students attended these intensely segregated schools in 2008.
"Resegregation is a national trend [that has been building] for
over a decade," says John C. Brittain, a law professor at the
University of the District of Columbia.
Among the reasons: white families moving out of central cities or
removing their children from the public schools there; school
districts being released from court-ordered plans, or abandoning
voluntary plans, to promote integration after the 1954 Brown v.
Board of Education decision; and a series of Supreme Court decisions
since the early 1990s that have limited the tools districts can use
The most recent Supreme Court case came in 2007 and struck down
integration plans in Seattle and Jefferson County, Ky. …