I can’t tell you how surprised I was that to read that the Norfolk City Council has appointed a majority black school board. Everyone quoted in the article tried to downplay the significance of this:
Fraim said race was not discussed in the closed session. “Race might be an issue for some, but it wasn’t for us,” he said.
“I think we’ve gotten to a point in our civic life in Norfolk where race is becoming less of an issue – at least I hope we’ve come to that point.
City Councilman Anthony L. Burtfoot, a graduate of Lake Taylor High School, shrugged when asked about the historic nature of Tuesday’s vote.
“I don’t want to get caught up in the racial aspect of this,” he said. “I want to concentrate on just the mere fact we’ve got good people.
“It shouldn’t be about the color. It should be about qualifications.”
Cassandra Newby-Alexander, associate professor of history at Norfolk State University, said the new majority shows the city’s desire to reflect the school population.
“Norfolk, I think, is transforming itself in many ways,” she said, “and the powers that be are more aware, sensitive and proactive in addressing concerns and imbalances.”
Former School Board Chairwoman Lucy Wilson echoed Fraim’s message that race is becoming less of an issue.
“It doesn’t matter to me so much that the School Board is predominately black or white as long as they’re committed to doing the best for Norfolk schoolchildren,” she said.
Methinks they protest too much. Even though the police chief, city manager and school superintendent are all black, the decision-makers – the ones who hire the police chief, the city manager and the school superintendent – have always had a white majority. The city itself is approximately 48% white, 44% black, and the remainder being a smattering of a number of races. A good look at Norfolk’s painful school integration history can be found here. According to the 2004-2005 Division Report, the Norfolk school system has some 37,000 students, of which more than 69% are black.
Just as it was historic back in 1996 when it was admitted that all appointed boards reflected the same racial makeup of council – a rule we all knew about but no one ever voiced – it is historic today that council has chosen to appoint a majority black school board, throwing out that old rule. And it is fitting that this comes on the eve of our new council taking its seats with a 5-3 white majority. I hope this is the beginning of Norfolk judging those worthy to serve on the content of their resumes, not the color of their skin.