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

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegWhat a Biden administration should look like Conservative operatives Wohl, Burkman charged in Ohio over false robocalls LGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress 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 WarrenWarren has expressed interest in being Biden's Treasury secretary: report The Democrats' 50 state strategy never reached rural America What a Biden administration should look like MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersTlaib, Ocasio-Cortez offer bill to create national public banking system Cutting defense spending by 10 percent would debilitate America's military The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Election night could be a bit messy MORE (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll Ivanka Trump raises million in a week for father's campaign On The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election MORE (D), though he has faced criticism from others in the race over his record with black voters.