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Buttigieg: 'I was slow to realize' South Bend schools were not integrated

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegHigh-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress Buttigieg: Bipartisan deal on infrastructure 'strongly preferred' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm MORE (D) said Sunday during a campaign stop in North Carolina that he had wrongly assumed in the past that desegregation had been successful in his county's schools.

Buttigieg, one of the top-tier candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, said at the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro that he was previously under the "illusion" that public schools in St. Joseph County were largely integrated before learning that most minority students in the county were confined to one school district: South Bend's community school district, which is independent from the city itself.

"I have to confess that I was slow to realize — I worked for years under the illusion that our schools in my city were integrated ... But what I slowly realized ... if you looked at the county, almost all of the diversity of our youths was in a single school district," he said in an interview with Rev. William Barber III, a prominent civil rights activist.

His comments on the issue come as Buttigieg has worked to improve his poll numbers among African American voters, a key demographic that will decide several delegate-rich Southern states during the Democratic primary including South Carolina, the third contest of the primary season.

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The mayor recently announced a program to incentivize integration of local school districts on the basis of race and economic background backed by a $500 million grant fund.

Buttigieg has registered single-digit support among black voters in the state in the past, raising concerns about his campaign's viability in states with diverse electorates.

His campaign has surged to striking distance of top contenders for the nomination including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Democratic senators press PhRMA over COVID-19 lobbying efforts  Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersOVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Democratic senators press PhRMA over COVID-19 lobbying efforts  MORE (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Poll: Majority back blanket student loan forgiveness MORE (D), though he has faced criticism from others in the race over his record with black voters.