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

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegExclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II Chasten Buttigieg jokes about his husband biking home from work 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 WarrenExclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package On The Money: Democrats scramble to save minimum wage hike | Personal incomes rise, inflation stays low after stimulus burst MORE (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Biden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot MORE (D), though he has faced criticism from others in the race over his record with black voters.