By Greg Childress
NC policy monitoring
At 90, Dr. Dudley Flood, an educational pioneer who helped North Carolina public schools integrate, easily remembers attending an all-black high school.
That was over 75 years ago in Little Winton, a town of less than 800 people in Hertford County.
“There was a microscope in my lab,” Flood said. “When I got to Central North Carolina University and we had a microscope, I didn’t know how to adjust it. I hadn’t gotten dumber. I just hadn’t been exposed to it.
Flood graduated from NC Central in 1954, the year the United States Supreme Court ruled that the racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.
He would become a teacher and school principal before joining the North Carolina Department of Public Education, where he worked for 21 years. He was one of a handful of black professionals in the department that oversees the state’s public schools.
necessary, but no panacea
At Winton, he recalls tough but caring teachers and administrators who ensured that students received the best possible education under less than ideal circumstances, as they did their best to cover up the shortcomings of lab equipment (and more) at CS Brown High School.
Despite teachers’ best efforts, black students in separate schools received a lower education than their white city counterparts in better funded schools, Flood said.
He doesn’t flinch when asked if black students were better off in all-black schools, as some integration critics insist.
“No, we didn’t have a better education,” Flood said emphatically. “We got better treatment and more care. We had teachers who took us beyond what the curriculum was. I was one of those teachers, so I know.
Flood’s comments came last month on the day he received the prestigious North Carolina Award for his historic work to integrate the state’s public schools.
The award is the state’s highest civilian honor. The General Assembly established it in 1961 to recognize significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine arts, literature, public service, and science. Flood was this year’s “public service” laureate [
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Flood and his Department of Public Instruction colleague, the late Gene Causby, traveled the state to unite communities divided, sometimes bitterly, over integrating public schools.
It was a tough assignment that met with resistance from whites unwilling to change, and sometimes Black parents distrustful of plans to close Black schools and bus their children to all-white schools.
“There was no other way to integrate our society except through schools,” Flood explained. “There is no other institution through which you could do that because all the other institutions are voluntary. But if you’re in North Carolina, you have to go to school.”
The federal government also held a stick; the 1964 Civil Rights Act gave it the power to withhold federal funding to school districts that refused to desegregate.
Hyde County was a particularly difficult assignment for Flood. There was a school boycott for a full year, and Flood and Causby were sent to the rural county in the northeast part of the state to get students back in schools.
A community meeting was held that resulted in integrated schools reopening the following school year.
Flood spoke at the county’s next high school graduation. The title of his remarks was “Different Does Not Mean Deficient,” a theme he continues to use in his work.
“They went back to school,” Flood said. “Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan. I don’t even want credit for that. I was just one of many players, but they went back to school and the students resumed learning.”
Decades after Causby and Flood worked to integrate North Carolina’s schools, they remain largely segregated by race and ethnicity – a trend that has grown more pronounced in recent decades as federal courts have retreated from past orders that directed local districts to balance schools racially.
The Economic Policy Institute published a report  last year which found that black children nationwide are five times more likely than white children to attend schools strongly separated by race and ethnicity.
Despite these developments, Blacks of older generations often have positive memories of caring teachers, opportunities to lead, and a sense of community that they often appreciated in the all-Black schools they attended.
And even today, younger generations of black people claim they are better off because they attended predominantly black schools, citing many of the reasons as being the generations before them.
“My culture has always been celebrated and cultivated, not just tolerated,” Toyia Williams said in an online discussion hosted by the Black Parents Connect Durham Facebook group. “I did not have to assimilate to try to integrate myself, I did not have to face the insidious effects of racist micro-attacks. The list is lengthened increasingly.”
The integration goals were laudable, Williams told Policy Watch.
“They [Black parents] wanted better facilities and resources for our children, ”she said. “However, I am not sure I would agree that the opportunity cost was worth the lasting impact and trauma suffered by many students.”
remains the key
Flood has kept a close eye on the Leandro School funding lawsuit that began more than 25 years ago, noting that lawmakers have had little support for the disparities uncovered by the lawsuit.
He said progressives in the Democratic and Republican parties have started to see the value in improving the educational outcomes of all children.
“Now that has changed because they realized that if you raise the level [of academic achievement] all ships will float higher, ”said Flood. “They are a little more serious about it.”
The lawsuit was brought by five school districts in low-income counties who argued that their districts did not have enough money to provide children with a quality education.
In 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it ruled that every child has the right to a “solid basic education” which includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals. and equitable access to resources.
Senior Judge David Lee, who is currently overseeing the trial, recently ordered lawmakers to transfer $ 1.7 billion from state reserves  to fund a consultant’s study recommendations to begin meeting the state’s constitutional mandate to provide students with the opportunity for a solid basic education.
Flood warns that money is only one of many factors needed to improve academic performance in public schools across the state.
“You also need human support,” he said.
He said quality teachers for the state’s 1.5 million schoolchildren are essential to their success.
“If you asked me right away to open a school and let me choose people who really care about children, who have good abilities, and ask me if I want those people or if I want more money? , I would take people, ”Flood said.
Adequate funding is important, he added.
“It can help you attract quality people to work for you because they don’t have to have a second and third job,” Flood said.
Create a “possibility”
These days, Flood remains busy with his work at the Dudley Flood Center for Educational Equity and Opportunity which he co-founded to address issues of systemic racism and advocate for structural changes in policy and practice to build a equitable education system. The center is part of the Public Schools Forum of North Carolina (PSFNC).
“It took the courage and dedication of Dr. Flood and his colleague, Gene Causby, to do the groundwork of uniting divided communities to integrate our public schools,” Wolf said.
As he looks back on his teaching career and working to enter the state’s public schools, Flood has few regrets.
“The whole idea of dismantling a dual school system was to create opportunities,” he said. “People’s disappointment [in integration] Did they think it was supposed to be a cure. It was not designed to be a cure; it was designed to be a possibility. It was the opening of a door. Now, whether you crossed quickly, dragged your feet, or chose not to cross at all, I don’t take much responsibility for that. Opening the door was my role and Gene’s [Causby] role, and we did, and I have no doubt about it.