Column: Education Censored is Opportunity Lost

Reflections in the Wake of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

My ignorance about systemic racism has been profound. George Floyd’s murder forced me, forced many of us, literally, painfully, to look and delve into what history books have skirted or left unsaid.

I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, a white child raised in a comfortable cocoon. The harsh realities of discrimination were distant or, in some cases, close to home. Many fathers of my generation served in World War II and benefited from the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the G.I. Bill. It provided a means for veterans to receive low-cost mortgages and loans toward tuition and businesses. The act gave those who had served and sacrificed to save the world from fascism (yes, they were “antifa”) a foundation for achievement upon which succeeding generations could build.

Returning Black veterans were routinely and systematically denied those benefits. Did you know this? I did not.

The platforms of the major political parties have essentially reversed, and in the forties, it was the Republican party that supported Civil Rights while the Southern Democrats sought to undercut or diminish the impact of those efforts. While the intent of the G.I. Bill was to serve all veterans, the Democrats successfully pushed for state control over benefit allocation.

In the Jim Crow South, local banks and agencies refused to extend loans to veterans of color, and colleges and universities would not accept them. In essence, the bill heightened racial disparity; in a cruel game of Chutes and Ladders, white soldiers climbed the ladder offered, while blacks were shuttled toward the chute.

Property ownership and education set the roots for advancement, security, and respect that was largely denied people of color. The practice of redlining excluded them from desirable neighborhoods and better schools. Voting restrictions prevented fair representation. The injustice and violence of discrimination received widespread scrutiny when the public at large became witness through photography and TV coverage.

Like Darnella Frazier’s cell phone video of George Floyd’s murder, TV coverage in 1963 forced public knowledge of the “Bloody Sunday” assault on peaceful protesters at the Edmund Pettus Bridge near Selma, Ala. The ensuing outcry led President Lyndon B. Johnson to promote the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. One wishes the horrific image of young Emmett Till’s maimed face would force passage of an anti-lynching bill, but shamefully, as recently as 2020, that has stalled.

In the past nine years, lawsuits and Supreme Court rulings have weakened the Voting Rights Act’s protections, enabling 20 states to pass significant restrictions. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2022, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, too, failed to pass. At a rally in Phoenix, Ariz. last Saturday, Martin Luther King III said of 13-year-old Yolanda Renee King, “Our daughter has less rights around voting than she had when she was born.”

Since last year, in Easton and around the country, indignant denials of systemic racism have rung forth, signs proclaiming “MLK yes, CRT no” blossoming like lilies in a funeral parlor. Enigmatic by design, the message seems a no-brainer: if Doctor King gets a thumbs up, surely the CRT no-vote must make sense…?

Dr. King earned his place in that pithy sign-byte with the quote, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” CRT opponents portray this as King’s wish for color-blindness rather than his dream of America’s evolution toward the equality and freedoms guaranteed to all, regardless of color, in our founding documents.

As Joshua Adams notes, “King was clear on the persistence of systemic racism through law and unjust order. If critics of CRT want to ground their criticism in good faith, MLK is not someone who lends credibility to their argument. Misappropriating the Civil Rights icon reveals a great deal of dangerous cynicism.”

America is the Declaration of Independence, D-Day, the League of Nations, and the moon landing. We are also slavery, Jim Crow laws, gerrymandering, redlining, and voter suppression. As surely as manacles bound the enslaved, a censored education limits the country’s aspirations. A conscience informed through an honest education that does not censor historical truths is the prod and path forward for individuals and a nation. We must grant our young people that breadth of knowledge and trust they use it well.

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