State of Exclusion: Profile on Jones County
Trenton, the smallest town in sparsely populated Jones County is not known for much, but made headlines in 1999 for a civil rights struggle to annex excluded communities. This latest report documents the progress and persistent obstacles to racial integration in Trenton and across the county. With this installment, the UNC Center for Civil Rights continues its series of county level profiles on the legacy of racial segregation. Building on last year's statewide State of Exclusion report, this series includes reports on Lenoir, Davidson, and Moore counties; all are 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.
Neighboring the majority-white towns of Pollocksville and Trenton are African American communities that are partially or entirely excluded from the town limits, lacking the ability to vote in municipal elections and in some cases deprived of needed services like water and sewer. Since the 1990’s portions of these communities have gotten roads paved, received water and sewer service, and even been annexed into municipal limits. This report documents the progress made and the work left to be done for full equality and inclusion.
Disparities tied to racial segregation also exist between elementary schools in Jones County. With one district and only four elementary schools in a county with geographically balanced racial distribution and no private schools, student assignment policies could easily maximize racial balance and student performance. Instead, large educational disparities exist between majority white and majority African American schools only a few miles apart.
Remedying these inequities requires meaningful political representation for African Americans on the school board, town councils, and county commissioners. Partly because Jones County was never covered by Section Five of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, all county officers are elected at large and are all white, with the exception of one school board member, in a county that is one-third African American. Representation on the Trenton and Pollocksville town commissioners is also disproportionately white.
The information in this profile of Jones 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. The 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, suggest where additional information is needed, and help begin the dialogue on addressing these institutionalized impacts. The first phase of this project was a statewide analysis culminating in 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 summer.