Tackling South's Racism

September 7, 1998

UNC Tackling South's Racism

Brainstorming on how to eradicate racism and poverty before the new millennium will be the mission of Orange County gatherings Thursday (Sept. 10) and Sept. 17 and 24 at New Hope Church Elementary School, north of Chapel Hill on New Hope Church Road.

The public is invited to the three community dialogues, each 6:30- 9:30p.m., comprising "Unfinished Business: Overcoming Racism, Poverty and Inequality in the South." The Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will lead the conference.

Speakers will include former UNC President William C. Friday and Eddie Lawrence, director of the N.C. Human Relations Commission, on Sept. 10; UNC-CH Student Body President Reyna Walters on Sept. 17; and Maria Palmer, pastor of Iglesia Unida de Cristo (United Church of Christ) in Chapel Hill on Sept. 24.

The center is spearheading similar dialogues in 20 other Southern communities including Jacksonville, Fla., Atlanta, New Orleans and Memphis, said project coordinator Donna Buzzard of the center.

All aim to feed ideas and documents to a region-wide summit Nov. 14-16 in Birmingham. There, some 500 scholars and leaders - including some from the local dialogues - will generate an agenda to be shared with policy-makers, academics and leaders across the South.

"For all our progress over the last 30 years, we still are plagued by persistent problems with race relations," said Dr. James Leloudis, UNC-CH associate professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of the American South. "We still have the highest concentration of poverty in the country, one of the lowest rates of high school completion and some of the highest rates of illiteracy. The burden of these problems continues to fall disproportionately on African Americans." For the South to progress economically and realize its full promise, it must tackle these problems, Leloudis said: "We can't stand by and allow so many of our neighbors to suffer the injuries of racism, poverty and inequality."

The current dialogues follow up on the first "Unfinished Business" conference last fall at UNC-CH. Groups involved in the Orange County dialogue invited more than 1,000 university faculty and staff and community members to attend. Participants will include representatives of low-income housing, shelters for the homeless, high school students and faculty and all regions of the county, she said. Among their conference tasks will be writing papers exploring the issues and compiling a roster of local people who can spur positive change.

Last year, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund of Jacksonville, Fla., gave the center $250,000 for the conferences. The fund supports causes that were dear to the late duPont, a member of a prominent Delaware family. Conference cosponsors will be UNC-CH's Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center, the Orange County Dispute Settlement Center, the Orange County Human Relations Commission, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, the Carrboro Baha'i community, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Residents' Council, the South Orange Black Caucus and the NAACP of Northern Orange County.


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