The 70 year war against public schools

Published May 23, 2024

By Gary Pearce


After 70 years, North Carolina’s school segregationists are nearing their cherished goal: destroying the public schools and replacing them with racially segregated private schools.

And you, the taxpayer, are paying for it.

On May 17, 1954, 70 years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional.

Across the South, and in North Carolina, racist resisters rose up.

Through the 1950s, two leaders of the battle against desegregation here were I. Beverly Lake (photo), an assistant attorney general, and Tom Ellis, a Raleigh lawyer who served as counsel to a statewide study commission.

Their solution: Close the public schools and give taxpayers’ money to all-white private schools.

Lake ran for governor in 1960 and 1964 on a platform opposing integration.

When he was introduced at rallies as “I. Beverly Lake,” the emcee would say, “I don’t know what the ‘I’ stands for, but it sure ain’t integration.”

In 1960, Lake lost to Terry Sanford, who ran on a platform of improving public schools – and raising teacher pay.

Lake later served on the state Supreme Court from 1965-1978.

Ellis would go on to be the political mastermind behind Jesse Helms, who fought against civil rights and spewed racist venom in the United States Senate for 30 years.

But they lost the battle over public schools, thanks to governors who believed in the schools – Democrats Sanford, Jim Hunt, Mike Easley and Bev Perdue and Republicans Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin.

Today, the political heirs to Lake, Ellis and Helms – today’s Republican Party – are using their gerrymandered legislative super-majority to achieve the old racists’ goal.

They’re taking taxpayers’ money away from public schools and spending it on vouchers for private schools – schools that aren’t required to meet any standards or hire certified teachers, but are allowed to reject children who are Black, Brown, Muslim or have special needs. Or for any reason they choose.

North Carolina became a great state – and left Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina in the dust – because, under Democratic and Republican governors, we put our faith and our money in our public schools.

We made it our goal to educate every single child and give them a chance in life.

Not just white children. Not just children of well-to-do families.

Every child.

Now, Republican legislators are stealing the future from 1.3 million students who go to public schools.

This is not just an issue for the 2024 election.

It’s a 70 years’ war.

It’s a war for the next 70 years of these students’ lives.

Democrats must fight it – and win it.

For every child in North Carolina.