Immigration and the Changing Politics of Place in the New South

This project is a case study of the Chapel Hill school district as it was in the process of redrawing its attendance boundaries for, among other things, enrolling students in a newly re-opened historically African American school. The reopening of this school was an important moment for African Americans in Chapel Hill, particularly those who lived in the Northside neighborhood, whose children had been bussed out of the neighborhood for decades to balance enrollment at predominantly white schools throughout the area. In the debate that ensued, the loudest voice of opposition somewhat surprisingly came from recent Asian immigrants who clustered in a neighborhood slated to be redistricted to the new Northside Elementary School.

The research raises questions how the politics of race and immigration factored into the debates about the new school and its attendance boundaries. Using in-depth interviews with affected residents and school officials as well as archival research on district-wide public debates, newspaper accounts, and literature from the organizing efforts to oppose the new school’s attendance boundaries, the project follows the debate from its origins to its resolution. The research proposes to show how its central concerns fit into a larger framework of changing demographics of the New South, and particularly how these demographics shifts are raising new questions about the presumptions behind educational policies that were and still remain prefaced on a black-white paradigm. Instead this research suggests a new politics of race and education in the South, which complicates the ways in which school policy understands and address issues of diversity and equity in a rapidly diversifying region.

The research was funded by the Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity and Department of City and Regional Planning at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.