Press Release from Rep. Shelly Willingham, NC House District 23: Some Nash County Commissioners’ Actions Will Re-Segregate Local Schools

For Immediate Release

April 27, 2015

Some Nash County Commissioners’ Actions Will Re-Segregate Local Schools

By Rep. Shelly Willingham, NC House District 23; Plaintiff in the lawsuit leading to the merger, member of the Rocky Mount City School Board during the merger and member of Merger Plan Task Force.

“Nash County Commissioners conveniently fail to mention that the merger of the Nash Rocky Mount Schools was a part of the settlement of a 1989 federal court school desegregation lawsuit”, emphasizes Rep. Shelly Willingham, one of the plaintiffs in The Rocky Mount City Board of Education, Shelly Willingham, Merland Wright (on behalf of their children), et. al. (class action- Citizens for Equality and Educational Justice) vs. the Nash County Board of Education and the Rocky Mount City Board of Education (89-336-CIV-5-F) in the US District Court for the Eastern District of NC- Raleigh Division in 1989. According to Rep. Willingham, the suit was filed because of the increasing segregation of the Rocky Mount City School System, the refusal by the Nash County School system after desegregation to release its White students to attend Rocky Mount City Schools, the longstanding controversy over school district and city boundaries since the 1970’s and Nash County decisions regarding capital expenditures and school locations designed to increase White flight from the Rocky Mount City Schools.

“The lawsuit included charges that Nash County never fully desegregated its schools in the 1970’s leaving historically Black schools with many empty seats while building new schools and adding new classrooms in predominantly White areas; as Rocky Mount desegregated its schools in the 1970’s, Nash county changed its previous policy of releasing city annexed areas into the Rocky Mount School system which effectively froze the City of Rocky School lines and supported the strategy of White flight of Rocky Mount citizens from the City of Rocky Mount Schools to the county schools while they still lived within the city limits causing increased segregation in the Rocky Mount Schools” , says Rep. Willingham.

Willingham who was on the Merger Task Force shares that the merger proposal that became the centerpiece of the settlement through SB612 (1992) was entitled “Together by Choice” – a commitment to quality education, qualify of life and economic development in Rocky Mount and both counties. Willingham emphasizes: “It is notable that the proponents of dismantling the Nash Rocky Mount School System have not mentioned the lawsuit and the merger as the settlement. Whether it’s their overt intention or not, they are using the justification of disparities in capital funding and county wealth as a basis to re-segregate the system and re-draw the lines to exclude the predominantly Black and lower wealth families of Edgecombe/Rocky Mount along the railroad boundary that they know brings a history of friction that signifies both racial and economic differences. In addition, they are attempting to de-legitimize the role of Rocky Mount citizens in funding education as if our city school system was not the major party in this merger. Rocky Mount citizens, Edgecombe and Nash, have always been in the education business — the leading advocates for and funders of quality education in this region for generations.”

According to Rep. Willingham, Nash County is again reneging on its settlement of this lawsuit and pushing actions to render Edgecombe County and Rocky Mount a racial and economic wasteland. He poses these critical questions: “What families will want to move to or remain in Edgecombe Rocky Mount when their children cannot go to high school in their own city or to the best school facilities and programs? How is it fair for Nash County to benefit from the generations of investment Edgecombe County/Rocky Mount citizens have made in the school facilities that they will retain and that have helped build up their wealth and the sales taxes and city tax benefits and amenities they enjoy from the City of Rocky Mount that Edgecombe County citizens equally contribute to? How is it just that they can just banish these Edgecombe families from their own public investments to the adjoining county system as if they were selling slaves on a plantation?”

“There is no discussion of the impact of this forced racial and geographical re-stigmatization on the quality of education and life in both counties – affecting every one of all races and locations. This re-packaging of “county-line merger” is the same old re-segregation and divisiveness dressed up in new clothes. They are not just splitting a school system but the entire City of Rocky Mount. As a responsible public official throughout my career, I am willing to work to address any legitimate public education issues that need to be resolved; however, I will fight this county-line merger/re-segregation proposal with all my might. It time for us to bring back the Citizens for Equality and Educational Justice and the “Together by Choice” Movement from 1990.” : says Willingham.