Blog | Center for Civil Rights

NC Supreme Court Hears Argument on Eugenics Appeals

Elizabeth Haddix, Virginia Ingram, Mark Dorosin
On February 13, the NC Supreme Court heard oral argument in appeals brought on behalf of three individuals who were forcibly sterilized by the State under North Carolina's forty-year eugenics program.  In 2015, the Industrial Commission denied their claims for compensation based solely on the fact that they died before June 30, 2013.  The eugenics compensation program was established to "make restitution for the injustices suffered" by the State's violation of one of the most fundamental human rights--the right to privacy of one's body and to bear children.  With the help of the UNC Center for Civil Rights and pro bono attorney Ed Pressley, t​he victims' heirs appealed to the Court of Appeals as required by the Eugenics Compensation Act and other statutory provisions, arguing that the arbitrary cutoff date violates their rights to equal protection under the North Carolina Constitution. 

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Posted by Elizabeth M. Haddix on Wed. February 15, 2017 10:30 AM
Categories: Pro Bono, Sterilization

EPA: "Deep Concern" Over Discriminatory Impacts of Industrial Hog Operations in North Carolina

On January 12th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) a letter expressing “deep concern” that the State has failed to adequately regulate more than 2,220 industrial hog operations concentrated in eastern North Carolina.  The News and Observer first reported on EPA's letter to DEQ Wednesday afternoon.

EPA’s “Letter of Concern” was sent to DEQ as part an ongoing investigation into a federal civil rights complaint filed in September 2014 by the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH), and Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc., under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Current state law allows industrial hog operations to store swine waste in open-air pits, called “lagoons,” before spraying the feces and urine onto fields.  In North Carolina, African American, Latino, and Native American residents are disproportionately more likely to live in close proximity to these industrial facilities and be forced to contend with the impacts of these outdated waste management practices.

In October 2016, community members from eastern North Carolina travelled to Washington, D.C. and urged EPA officials to visit the region to experience firsthand the impacts that industrial hog operations have on communities of color.  EPA’s twelve-page letter to DEQ comes two months after agency officials completed their trip to eastern North Carolina and gathered testimony from more than 80 residents living near industrial swine facilities.

EPA’s letter advises DEQ to take immediate steps to address the discriminatory impacts of the State’s failure to adequately regulate these industrial hog operations.  The letter notes that available, alternative waste management technologies would reduce pollution and odor caused by the current use of lagoon and sprayfield systems.  EPA officials also express “grave concern” over the hostility and intimidation that community members who have brought complaints to DEQ have subsequently faced from representatives of the pork industry.


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Posted by Brent J. Ducharme on Thu. January 19, 2017 10:15 AM
Categories: Environmental Justice, Race Discrimination

Walnut Tree Community Denied Annexation by Walnut Cove Town Commissioners

On Tuesday, January 10th, the Walnut Cove Town Board of Commissioners denied an annexation petition filed by residents of Walnut Tree, a predominantly African American community adjacent to the majority white town in southeastern Stokes County.  The town board denied Walnut Tree’s petition by a 3-2 vote, with the board’s three white members voting against annexation.

Walnut Tree residents filed their petition under North Carolina’s voluntary annexation statute, which was amended by the General Assembly in 2011 to provide historically excluded, low-wealth communities with greater opportunity to seek annexation into neighboring municipalities.  These excluded communities, where a majority of residents are often African American, are unable to vote in municipal elections and frequently lack equal access to water and sewer, emergency services, and other municipal services.

The Walnut Tree subdivision was developed in the early 1970’s, with mortgages offered by the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) as part of an effort to encourage rural economic development and African American homeownership in the South.  Many of Walnut Tree’s first homeowners previously lived in rental housing within Walnut Cove’s town limits, and moved into their new homes with the understanding that they would soon be included in the municipality.  However, the Walnut Cove town board has denied multiple annexation petitions filed by Walnut Tree residents since the 1990’s.  Meanwhile, the town has annexed several predominantly white areas in the past twenty-five years.

The above map shows the town of Walnut Cove
The above map shows the town of Walnut Cove's municipal boundaries as of the 1990, 2000, and 2010 Censuses. The map also includes racial demographic data.

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Posted by Brent J. Ducharme on Wed. January 18, 2017 5:33 PM
Categories: Annexation, Race Discrimination

The UNC Center for Civil Rights Commemorates the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday

In 2017, as our nation commemorates the birth of D. Martin Luther King, Jr., we stand on the precipice of the inauguration of a new president of the United States. Our country is walking an uncertain path, divided by race, class, and partisanship. We collectively tend to remember Dr. King as one whose dreams gently prodded the United States away from segregation and discrimination by appealing to a sympathetic majority of Americans who supported his agenda. We further like to think about his work as having been largely accomplished, as we live in a largely post-racial society. We at the UNC Center for Civil Rights acknowledge the profoundly significant progress we have made as a nation on issues of race. Yet we also recognize the persistence of structural inequality and stubborn racism that continues to define important aspects of American life.

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Posted by Theodore M. Shaw (Ted) on Tue. January 17, 2017 9:17 AM
Categories: General

The Missing Racial Context of "Energizing East": The Persistence of School Segregation in Duplin County

On December 8th, EdNC posted an article titled “Wallace Elementary: Growing greatness in Duplin County.”  The article is the second in EdNC’s Energizing East series, which highlights STEM education practices in counties across eastern North Carolina.  While teachers and administrators are engaged in important work to advance STEM education across the region, it is a disservice to the students, families, teachers, and administrators in those counties featured in this series to focus on these schools without providing the context of racial and economic segregation that exists in these districts.  It is even a greater disservice to ignore the fact that this persistent segregation is the direct result of decisions by local school boards, and undermines the educational outcomes these innovative programs are designed to improve.

There is no doubt that EdNC’s description of Wallace Elementary as a “hive of activity” is correct.  However, while the buzz in and around the school’s STEM lab is a testament to the commitment of teachers and administrators, they are working in the shadow of a “Schools Facility Plan” adopted by the Duplin County Board of Education in 2014 that exemplifies the school district’s decades-long refusal to address the racial segregation its own policies have created and maintained.


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Posted by Brent J. Ducharme on Wed. January 4, 2017 4:26 PM
Categories: Education, Segregation

Community Organizations File for Administrative Hearing on DEQ's Unanswered Citizen Complaints

On December 6, 2016, the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc., and Cape Fear River Watch (CFRW) filed a Petition for a Contested Case Hearing with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings.  The groups' petition alleges the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has continually failed to respond to credible citizen complaints of illegal activity at industrial hog operations.

NCEJN, Waterkeeper Alliance, and CFRW issued a joint press release after the petition was filed, highlighting the concentration of industrial hog operations in eastern North Carolina and the impact these facilities have on communities of color.  "African American, Latino, and Native American communities disproportionately bear the burden of living near industrial hog operations in Eastern North Carolina. NCDEQ has ignored our continued requests for adequate regulation and monitoring of this industry for years. Their continued failure to investigate complaints filed by members of NCEJN and other impacted community members adds insult to injury for people living with the stench and water contamination caused by swine CAFOs," said NCEJN co-director, Naeema Muhammad.


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Posted by Brent J. Ducharme on Wed. December 7, 2016 12:36 PM
Categories: Environmental Justice, Race Discrimination

Communities Impacted by CAFOs Ask EPA to Make A Finding of Discrimination By Year’s End

African American, Latino, and Native American residents of Eastern North Carolina are anxiously awaiting help from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in their decades-long struggle to resist the adverse impacts of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) disproportionately concentrated in their communities.  In September 2014, groups representing those residents, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH) and the NC Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), joined with Waterkeeper Alliance in filing a complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) with EPA’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  The complaint alleges that DEQ’s permitting and oversight of swine CAFOs has a racially discriminatory impact on black, Latino and American Indian North Carolinians. 

OCR began its investigation of the complaint in February 2015.  This past October, 20 impacted residents traveled to Washington DC to deliver a petition signed by over 95,000 people from across the country urging EPA investigators to come to eastern North Carolina  and see the impacts for themselves.  The residents met with OCR and with staff of North Carolina legislators, told them about the unbearable stench and pollution from the open pits of hog waste and the fields where the waste is sprayed; the infestation of buzzards, flies and other disease vectors; and the broad range of other ways these operations damage their health and ruin their quality of life.  In response, OCR investigators travelled to the state and observed firsthand the impacts on these communities in mid-November. Over the last two and a half years, the complainants, represented by the Center and Earthjustice, have provided OCR with reams of documents and data (including over a decade’s worth of scientific research led by recently deceased Dr. Steve Wing of UNC’s School of Public Health), as well as sworn declarations from many impacted residents, which support the complaint’s allegations.

The community members are pleading with EPA to make a finding of discrimination before the end of 2016.


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Posted by Elizabeth M. Haddix on Thu. December 1, 2016 12:40 PM
Categories: Environmental Justice, Race Discrimination

A Sound Basic Education—Exhibit 1: Student Access to Certified, Well-Trained Teachers in Wayne County Public Schools

The above graph tracks educational outcomes and the use of substitute teachers in Wayne County Public Schools
The above graph tracks educational outcomes and the use of substitute teachers in Wayne County Public Schools' nine middle schools during the 2015-16 school year.

Almost 20 years ago, the North Carolina Supreme Court held in the landmark case of Leandro v. State that every child in our state has a constitutional right to “the opportunity for a sound basic education.” In defining a sound basic education, the Court looked at the educational resources that school districts make available to their students, including access to effective teachers. In the follow-up Leandro II decision, the Court re-emphasized the importance of quality teachers, holding that a sound basic education calls for “every classroom [to] be staffed with a competent, certified, well-trained teacher.”

Student access to certified, well-trained teachers often differs dramatically from school to school however—and far too often depends upon a school’s racial composition. In concluding that racially segregated schools “may fail to provide the full panoply of benefits that K-12 schools can offer,” the U.S. Department of Education’s Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity and Avoid Racial Isolation in Elementary and Secondary Schools specifically highlighted that segregated schools struggle to attract effective teachers and often have higher teacher turnover rates.

In the Wayne County Public Schools (WCPS) Central (Goldsboro High) attendance area, the connection between segregation and access to certified, well-trained teachers, is readily apparent. Wayne County serves an overall student population that is 34.9% African American. However, African American students represent between 87.5% and 92.6% of students in all Goldsboro area schools. During the 2014-15 school year, teachers with three years or less of experience accounted for 33.3% of teachers at Goldsboro High and 42.5% of teachers at Dillard Middle, the second- and third-highest percentages of such inexperienced teachers across WCPS. That same year, Central Attendance area schools accounted for three of the four highest teacher turnover rates in the district.


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Posted by Brent J. Ducharme on Thu. November 17, 2016 1:32 PM
Categories: Education, Leandro, Segregation

Looking at the Path Ahead

The long and contentious election season is over, and Donald J. Trump is the President-elect of the United States. The 2016 election will have profound results for our country and the world. Among the most important impacts will be the civil and constitutional rights of the citizens and people of the United States.

The UNC Center for Civil Rights is a non-partisan entity. Its mission is the advancement of civil rights in North Carolina, the south, and the nation, and the training of new generations of civil rights lawyers. While we are non-partisan, we are compelled to acknowledge the effects of partisan politics on civil rights. We did not create this reality, and if we could choose, there would be no partisan alignment on civil rights issues.


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Posted by Theodore M. Shaw (Ted) on Tue. November 15, 2016 4:49 PM
Categories: General, Race Discrimination

UNC Center for Civil Rights to Host Statewide Election Protection Hotline

Election Protection

On Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, the UNC School of Law will host a toll-free, non-partisan Election Protection hotline to answer voter questions from across North Carolina. Election Protection is a nationwide voter advocacy effort led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. Voters can contact the Election Protection hotline at 1.866.OUR.VOTE (1.866.687.8683) or 1.888.VE.Y.VOTA (1.888.839.8682) to report any problems they experience or witness at the polls, verify their registration status, or find their polling location.

The UNC Center for Civil Rights has hosted Election Protection’s North Carolina Election Day hotline since 2004. The North Carolina hotline is the only Election Protection call center that is staffed by law student volunteers. This year, over 80 law students have volunteered to staff the call center and field voter questions from individuals across the state. Lawyers and experts from the UNC Center for Civil Rights, Democracy NC, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice will be present to assist student volunteers with calls and any needed follow-up. Because of potential voter misinformation and confusion related to the recent litigation and judicial rulings regarding North Carolina’s controversial 2013 election law, and with the state in play as a crucial toss-up in the presidential election, call volume at the hotline is expected to be very heavy.

The Election Protection hotline is open now for early voting, and will remain active through the closing of the polls on Election Day.


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Posted by Brent J. Ducharme on Thu. November 3, 2016 4:33 PM
Categories: Voting Rights
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