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Duke prof arrested at protest

Timothy Tyson, visiting professor of American Christianity and southern culture, was arrested for trespassing at a Wake County school board meeting Tuesday night.
Timothy Tyson, visiting professor of American Christianity and southern culture, was arrested for trespassing at a Wake County school board meeting Tuesday night.

Professor and author Timothy Tyson and two other North Carolina NAACP members were arrested for trespassing at a Wake County School Board meeting Tuesday night.

Tyson, a visiting professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture and author of “Blood Done Sign My Name,” state NAACP President William Barber, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church Pastor Nancy Petty and Mary Williams, assistant professor to Tyson, were taken into custody for refusing to turn over the podium to board members, an act of civil disobedience. They were charged with second-degree trespassing, according to the Raleigh police report.

“As it happens, [Barber, Petty, Williams, and I] are all members of the NAACP, but we came together... out of concern for public schools of North Carolina, which are rapidly being re-segregated,” Tyson said in an interview with The Chronicle.

Tyson and the other protestors linked arms, sang songs and sat in board members’ seats, disrupting the Tuesday meeting for about an hour before being led out in handcuffs by Wake County police.

“If the anti-diversity coalition of the school board thinks I’m a pain in the neck wait ‘till they meet my mama who taught fourth grade for 40 years and knows what to do with people who don’t do their homework,” Tyson said in a Wednesday interview with WRAL.

Barber said his organization decided to stage its sit-in after the school board refused to allot it a 45-minute presentation period. Although school board Chair Ron Margiotta said he followed the board’s time limit protocol by offering Barber 45 minutes at a private meeting with the vice chair and the president of the board, Barber said he requested a public dialogue.

“Last night, it was quite evident [they] wanted to be arrested,” Margiotta said.

What has Tyson and other members of the North Carolina NAACP staging a 1960s-style sit-in is the school board’s plan to eliminate the existing busing for diversity system. The busing system was adopted by the district in 2000 in an effort to increase socioeconomic diversity in Wake County public schools, and it became a model for other school systems. The board plans to replace the current practice with a return to a neighborhood zoning system.

Margiotta said the plan, which would go into effect for the 2012-2013 school year, will give parents options when choosing their child’s school.

But Tyson and other members of the North Carolina NAACP noted that many in favor of neighborhood schools may not realize the racial implications of the new zoning system, as neighborhoods tend to be divided not only by income level but also by race.

Duke does not have an official position on the Wake County school board’s move but is supportive of Tyson’s use of civil disobedience, said David Jarmul, associate vice president for news and communications.

Tyson said he has also received supporting messages from his Duke students.

“Professor Tyson is highly regarded here at Duke for his work as a faculty member, and he has a very prominent book [“Blood Done Sign My Name”],” Jarmul said. “We believe strongly in academic freedom and in free speech. It’s just a fundamental part of what we are as a University,” he added.

Tyson and members of the NAACP said they are also concerned about the possible political and financial motivations behind the mostly-Republican school board’s decision.

Del Burns, superintendent of Wake County public schools, also accused the school board of engaging in political partisanship. Burns resigned in February partly due to disagreements with the school board majority’s new zoning plan, according to a recent (Raleigh) News & Observer article.

Margiotta confirmed that all five school board members in favor of the zoning plan are Republicans, while the other four are Democrats. Margiotta denied, however, that partisanship influenced the board’s decision.

Tyson also noted that Margiotta’s position on the Board of Trustees for Thales Academy, a private chain of schools in North Carolina, might suggest that he is not fully invested in the success of public schools.

Margiotta denied allegations of ulterior motives, however, expressing distaste for the basis of the state NAACP’s claims.

“That’s something I tend to resent: people using politics or race as an influencing factor,” Margiotta said.

The board’s response to the NAACP’s protest was another offense, Barber said Wednesday morning at a press conference at the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

The North Carolina NAACP is planning several workshops on how to effectively enact civil disobedience. Tyson will teach one of these classes.

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