Angry white parents in the Hillwood neighborhood made racist comments while pressuring a school board member to end the busing of north Nashville's children to their schools, according to testimony Monday in federal court.
Won Choi, a political activist, testified about his conversations with Alan Coverstone, a school board member representing Hillwood at the time. Choi said he tried to persuade Coverstone to support delaying a new student assignment plan stopping cross-town busing. But Coverstone said "that would mean that he would no longer be a board member, that he would be voted out," Choi testified.
"I asked him if the support for the student assignment plan was that strong in his district. And he said that I wouldn't believe the type of conversation that he has to have with his constituents, that on several occasions he would have angry constituents who would come up to him using the n-word and other derogatory terms about African-American students that had to be bused to the Hillwood cluster. And a large portion of his constituents felt very strongly that those students from north Nashville should be back in north Nashville," Choi said.
Coverstone was elected to replace Marsha Warden as Hillwood's representative on the school board in 2008 only weeks after the student rezoning plan was approved. In July, he resigned to take a job with the district overseeing charter schools.
Choi also testified he talked with state Rep. Mike Turner, a Democrat from Old Hickory, about the rezoning plan. At the time, Choi was director of Tying Nashville Together, a group supporting public schools. Turner, chair of the state House Democrats' political caucus, was a member of the task force that recommended the plan.
"He at one point said that he believed that it was wrong to bus all those kids from the projects into the schools in the suburbs area," Choi testified. "As we were having this discussion, he became a little irritated and he said that at McGavock, where his daughter goes to school, that his daughter was assaulted by a black student from the projects and that this had bothered him quite a bit, and he said that he didn't believe that black kids from the projects should be bused into McGavock High School."
The trial of the NAACP-backed lawsuit is entering its second week before Judge John Nixon. The lawsuit asks Nixon to toss out the rezoning plan, which stopped the busing of hundreds of black children from north Nashville to Hillwood's schools. To win, the plaintiffs must prove race was a motivating factor for the school board in adopting the plan.