RALEIGH In an attempt to draw parallels with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., a pair of local activists issued a letter today explaining why they were willing to be arrested to oppose the end of Wake County’s school diversity policy.
In the letter, the Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP, and the Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, write that their actions were decided to force the community to confront the issues now facing the school system. They were among four people arrested for disrupting last week’s school board meeting.
Their letter is a direct play on Rev. King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which he wrote in 1963 after being arrested for protesting municipal segregation in Birmingham. Ala. King argued in the letter that direct action through non-violent demonstrations were needed to combat segregation.
“In the best American traditions, from Henry David Thoreau to Ella Baker to Martin Luther King, Jr., we recognize the necessary place of civil disobedience: breaking a small and unjust law in order to protect a larger and broadly significant law,” Barber and Petty write.
Their letter is called “Thoughts While we were Being Handcuffed, and Processed at the Wake County Jail on June 15 after Engaging in an Act of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience.”
Supporters of Wake’s diversity policy have repeatedly tried to link their fight with that of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. They’ve argued that the school board majority’s elimination of the socioeconomic diversity policy will lead to racial resegregation of Wake’s schools.
“Our actions are a call to the community,” Barber and Petty write. “There is a tragedy unfolding in Wake County, but it is not confined to Wake County. What is happening in Wake County is a national issue.”
Opponents of the board majority have held mass protests, engaged in acts of civil disobedience and sung civil rights era songs at school board meetings and rallies. Tim Tyson, a Duke University historian and author who was among those arrested at last week’s board meeting, has repeatedly tried to tie the call for neighborhood schools with George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama.
Barber announced Monday a mass demonstration in Raleigh on July 20 to coincide with that day’s school board meeting. . . .