State of Exclusion: Profile on Davidson County
Following last year’s State of Exclusion report, in March the UNC Center for Civil Rights released a profile on Lenoir County, the first in a series of in-depth examinations of exclusion and the legacy of racial segregation in individual counties. Today we are releasing the second profile in that series on Davidson County. This release, the study on Lenoir County, and last year’s statewide report, are all available at www.uncinclusionproject.org. Profiles of additional counties will follow in the coming weeks, each highlighting particular aspects of that county’s history, ongoing impacts of exclusion, and progress toward full inclusion of all residents.
Between the Charlotte and Triad metropolitan areas, Davidson County is divided between its mostly white rural population and the more concentrated African American populations in the cities of Lexington and Thomasville. This report focuses on the impact of racial segregation on affordable housing, public education, political representation, and utility service. Almost all subsidized housing in Davidson County is clustered in Lexington and Thomasville, with very little subsidized housing available anywhere else in the county. One effect of clustering subsidized housing in already concentrated areas of poverty and non-white population is to exclude African Americans, Latinos, and low wealth residents from neighborhoods of higher opportunity that have greater access to employment, higher median incomes, and better educational opportunities. This county-wide pattern of exclusion perpetuates racial segregation and frustrates the purposes of the Fair Housing Act.
According to a recent study by the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, Davidson County has the second most racially segregated schools in North Carolina, trailing only Halifax County. Not by coincidence, Davidson and Halifax are each home to three separate school districts, a county school district and two city school districts. Thomasville City Schools and Lexington City Schools are very small districts, both of which are even more racially isolated and higher in poverty than the towns themselves. Academic achievement in the city schools significantly lags behind the county school district which is much larger, wealthier, and whiter. While per pupil funding is higher in the city schools, the difference does not overcome the negative educational effects of poverty and racial isolation.
Political representation directly reflects the exclusion in the county in housing and education. Only Thomasville and Lexington have non-white elected representatives. Thomasville elects seven city councilors and a mayor, all at-large. Two of the Thomasville councilors are African American, a higher percentage of representation than the town’s African American population. Lexington has eight city councilors and a mayor. Six of the councilors are elected from districts; two councilors and the mayor are elected at-large. Two of Lexington’s city councilors are African American, representing the two districts that are majority African American. As Lexington is almost 30% African American, they are slightly underrepresented on the city council, probably due to the two at-large seats. All other elected officials in the county are white. The county has seven commissioners elected at-large. All are white men, five of whom are over 60. The Davidson County School Board is also all white, elected at-large but with residency districts. The towns of Midway, Wallburg, and Denton also have all-white city councils, all elected at-large.
The deep divides in Lexington County suggest solutions that sound simple, but will not be easy. Limited and geographically concentrated access to affordable housing, school districts that are divided by race and class, and the complete lack of any non-white representation in county government are critical issues, and they share a common root of residential segregation. Proposing solutions is much simpler than building the political will to challenge these entrenched divides and power structures.
The information in this profile of Davidson County can only come alive through dialogue with the affected communities. The Center for Civil Rights hopes to hear from residents, advocates, and community leaders as we continue to uncover the history and scope of exclusion. Our goal is to provide communities, advocates, and policy makers with an understanding of the shared causes of the overlapping challenges facing excluded communities, identify data on the seriousness of the issues, and suggest where additional information is needed. The first phase of this project was a statewide analysis and the publication of the State of Exclusion report. The results were startling, especially with respect to educational disparities and environmental justice issues, but ultimately the report raised more questions than provided answers. The Inclusion Project of the UNC Center for Civil Rights now continues this work with these profiles of individual counties. Look for information on other counties this spring.