RALEIGH – Nineteen protesters, including the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, were arrested Tuesday in Raleigh at a school board meeting. 

Their arrests were the most numerous yet in a series of disputes that began to boil over during the spring, when a 5-4 majority on the Wake County School Board announced plans to dismantle its system for insuring socio-economic diversity at its 161 campuses. Barber and other opponents charge that the new Board majority is attempting to “resegregate” the schools.

In a nonpartisan election last fall which drew only 8 percent of the electorate, suburban districts favored candidates who promised a return to “neighborhood schools.” Researchers have recently discovered that business and Republican figures, including county GOP chairman Claude Pope, financed the new majority’s election campaigns.

Board member John Tedesco, generally regarded as the “architect” of repeal, added heat to the controversy when he keynoted a Tea Party rally in April.

The region’s progressive forces are led by Barber and the white pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Nancy Petty. Their efforts got an important boost over the weekend when the 12 bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination declared their support.

The A.M.E. bishops appeared at a rally of some 1,500 diversity supporters in steaming heat Tuesday morning, just south of the state capitol on Fayetteville St., where in 1963 more than 70 college students were jailed at sit-ins in dime-store diners and cafeterias.

Representatives of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, and the North Carolina Council of Churches also voiced endorsements from their organizations at the rally.

At about 2:30 p.m., several dozen protestors took seats at a regular meeting of the school board, while others were shuffled into an overflow room.  An additional 100, unable to gain entry, demonstrated outside. Police arrested Barber and Petty, who were banned from the premises after a June 15 protest, shortly after they set foot on the grounds. The balance of the arrests were made indoors two hours later, after diversity supporters began chanting “Forward, Ever! Backward, Never!”

At the morning rally, Barber declared that the diversity movement will “use every means of non-violent action” to halt repeal plans, but its leaders have not disclosed whether they will call for a student boycott of the schools, whose regular session opens next month.