Race Relations Center Prompts Location Debate
GREENSBORO, N.C. — A proposed university race relations center designed to promote understanding and equality has prompted debate over whether a University of North Carolina system campus should house such a program. Legislators last year proposed giving $500,000 toward building the Martin Luther King Race Relations Center at North Carolina State University. Instead, the General Assembly asked the university’s Board of Governors to recommend a home for the center. The board decided to set up a task force to find an appropriate place for the center and an appropriate relationship between the center and the university. But supporters and critics are unclear whether a university is the best place for the center. The center “is more activism and advocacy than scholarship,” board member Ray Farris said when the plans first came before the board. Activism and advocacy aren’t the business of universities, Farris says. The university’s job is different. “I’m not saying good or bad,” Farris says, “but it’s different.” Bruce Lightner, the other co-chairman, says anyone who doesn’t understand the center’s aims hasn’t read the material made available to the Board of Governors. He describes the facility as “a scholarly research center coupled with training and outreach.” One reason North Carolina State was proposed as a home for the King Center is the proximity of UNC-based institutes that deal with African American history, culture and issues. N.C. State has its African-American Cultural Center, N.C. Central University has the Institute for Minority Issues and UNC-Chapel Hill has the Institute for African-American Research and the Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center. A historically Black campus could become the center’s home, says Dumas Harshaw, a pastor of historically Black First Baptist Church in Raleigh and co-chairman of the King committee. But the best arrangement would be involvement with universities throughout the state without physical ties to any particular campus, he says. The center is the vision of the Raleigh-based Martin Luther King Committee, which was created to honor the slain civil rights leader. The King committee estimates it will take $700,000 to get the center started, not counting construction costs. Committee leaders hope to get about 25 percent of the center’s operating budget from state and local government, with the rest coming from outside sources. “We tried to diminish the role of government…so the center will have the freedom to operate and to critique all the institutions in society,” Harshaw says.
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