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

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa Hill.TV's Krystal Ball: Failure to embrace Sanders as nominee would 'destroy' Democratic Party 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 Ann WarrenBiden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — HHS has no plans to declare emergency over coronavirus | GOP senator calls for travel ban to stop outbreak | Warren releases plan to contain infectious diseases Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersNew campaign ad goes after Sanders by mentioning heart attack Biden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Steyer rebukes Biden for arguing with supporter he thought was Sanders voter MORE (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPerry delegation talking points stressed pushing Ukraine to deal with 'corruption' GOP senator airs anti-Biden ad in Iowa amid impeachment trial Biden photobombs live national news broadcast at one of his rallies MORE (D), though he has faced criticism from others in the race over his record with black voters.