Archives for category: Civil Rights

Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld reports here that a Democratic legislator has proposed a bill that prevents voucher schools from discriminating against students, staff, or families based on their religion, race, sexual orientation, or disability.

Bill Phillis of Ohio has proposed that religious schools that get vouchers should be subject to the same laws and regulations as public schools and should be required to report their finances and take the same state tests as other publicly funded schools.

Will legislators in Ohio and Indiana tolerate any restrictions on voucher schools?

Will they too be required to be accountable in exchange for getting public money?

Or will the public be forced to pay for schools that discriminate and schools that indoctrinate their students into their religious world-view?

 

Wornie Reed explains why Martin Luther King, Jr., is beloved today, despite the fact that he was reviled during his lifetime. He was a provocateur and a “rabble rouser” when he was alive, but over time the radicalism of his message was washed away (“whitewashed). Wornie Reed is Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Virginia Tech.

Professor Reed writes:

Two decades after his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr., was highly regarded. His favorability rating was 76 percent among white Americans. By then, of course, we had the national holiday established in his name, quite a change from 1966, two years before his death, when his favorability rating among white Americans was only 28 percent.  We should remember that while he lived and worked, the majority of white America reviled Martin Luther King.

Whites framed their malice toward King as something other than racism. They did not oppose MLK because he struggled for black freedom and equality. Rather they detested him—they said—because he was a rabble-rouser, a Communist, and a lawbreaker. J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, called him the most dangerous man in America, and there was rejoicing at his death.

Millions of white Americans hated Martin Luther King. All over the country, many celebrated his death.

Young whites, absorbing the hatred of their parents, also celebrated. Archives in the library at the University of Memphis tell the story of a Memphis-area high school class. The teacher asked his students to write about their responses to King’s assassination. Most of the students responded with satisfaction or jubilation. One student described his immediate reaction to King’s murder: “I thought it was one of the greatest feats of Americanism I have ever heard of.” Another explained that because of King’s death, the country would be “better off in the long run.”

Here at Virginia Tech, where I currently teach, some students were saddened by King’s assassination, while others were not. There was a demonstration against lowering the American flag “for a nigger.”

 Now they love him. What happened? What caused the change of heart among whites? One thing, of course, was his death. Although there was a significant amount of celebration at his assassination, with him no longer around, there was less hatred toward him, but not enough for a positive favorability rating.

 Undoubtedly the whitewashing of Martin Luther King did the trick. King, the rabble-rouser, who got arrested 30 times, has been scrubbed clean. Now he is depicted as a dreamer, something opposite of the activist he was. He is widely viewed as a person who mildly promoted peace – no activism, no strife, no confrontations, no defying unjust laws.

So what? You may ask. What difference does it make that now whites love MLK where previously they hated him. It matters a lot. They love the person they made him, in death—a peace-loving dreamer. If we follow this person, we do nothing. We hope for better relations. We dream of a better day, thinking that time will erase the oppression. That is what we did for decades. For some 40 years—from the mid-1970s to the mid-2010s–there was no national black movement. During this time, racial progress came to a grinding halt, possibly going backward.

It is way past time to bring back our deceased icon, the real Martin Luther King, the man who was leading the Poor People’s Campaign when he was struck down, the man who vowed to close down the Nation’s Capitol if the government did not heed our demand to eliminate poverty and hunger in this wealthy nation, the man who continued this effort in the face of death. If we bring back the memory of this MLK, we may be inspired to do what he asked us to do when he would no longer be with us, “Continue this movement. Do this work.”

Blogger and retired D.C. teacher G. F. Brandenburg reminds us that Dr. King was not always popular. White racists in the south and the north hated his advocacy for equal rights for black people. Followers of Malcolm X thought he was weak-kneed. Even supposedly liberal whites thought he went too far when he announced that he would lead a campaign against poverty. When he spoke out against the war in Vietnam, President Lyndon B. Johnson was furious, and many editorialists and even other civil rights leaders distanced themselves from him. They thought that Dr. King was wrong to offend the President and wrong to link his stand on civil rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam.

We admire Dr. King today because he dared to take a stand on what mattered, even if it upset the powerful. You cannot comfort the powerful and the afflicted simultaneously. At some point, you must take a stand. You can’t claim to be on the side of “the kids,” at the same time that you oppose raising taxes for the public services that the kids and their families need. As the saying goes, a hero comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Dr. King never bowed to his critics.

Brandenburg writes:

When King spoke against the American war in Vietnam and against segregation and discrimination in Northern states, he drew a lot of sharp attacks, even from the NYT:

‘The New York Times editorial board lambasted King for linking the war in Vietnam to the struggles of civil rights and poverty alleviation in the United States, saying it was “too facile a connection” and that he was doing a “disservice” to both causes. It concluded that there “are no simple answers to the war in Vietnam or to racial injustice in this country.” The Washington Post editorial board said King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country and his people.” A political cartoon in the Kansas City Star depicted the civil rights movement as a young black girl crying and begging for her drunk father King, who is consuming the contents of a bottle labeled “Anti-Vietnam.”

‘In all, 168 newspapers denounced him the next day. Johnson ended his formal relationship with King. “What is that goddamned nigger preacher doing to me?” Johnson reportedly remarked after the Riverside speech. “We gave him the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we gave him the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we gave him the war on poverty. What more does he want?”

‘The African-American establishment, fearful of Johnson’s reaction, also distanced itself from King.

‘The NAACP under the leadership of Roy Wilkins refused to oppose the war and explicitly condemned the effort to link the peace and civil rights movements. Whitney Young, the leader of the National Urban League, warned that “Johnson needs a consensus. If we are not with him on Vietnam, then he is not going to be with us on civil rights.”

On this day, we remember the life and work of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is inspiring to read his speeches, and I urge you to do so.

Today you will hear politicians praise his legacy even while they betray that same legacy.

Dr. King was a champion of the weak and powerless. He fought for the rights and dignity of Black Americans, and he was a champion for all Americans whose basic needs had been ignored and whose rights had been trampled upon.

These days, one is likely to hear wealthy and powerful people claim that they are “leading the civil rights issue of our time” by pushing to eliminate public schools; Dr. King never, never opposed public schools. He wanted them to be desegregated and he wanted them to provide equality of educational opportunity to all children, so that every child had the ability to develop to his or her full potential. It is jarring indeed to hear Donald Trump declare (as he did in his first State of the Union Address) that “school choice” is the “civil rights issue of our time.” No, it is not. Dr. King never said that. His words should not be appropriated by billionaires, hedge fund managers, and those oppose Dr. King’s fight to eliminate poverty.

Steven Singer wrote this post about Dr. King’s education philosophy.

He writes:

When we think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we usually think of the towering figure of the Civil Rights Movement who gave the “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963.

However, as a teacher, I find myself turning to something he wrote in 1947 when he was just an 18-year-old student at Morehouse College.

While finishing his undergraduate studies in sociology, he published an essay in the student paper called “The Purpose of Education.”

Two sections immediately jump off the page. The first is this:

“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.”

So for King it wasn’t enough for schools to teach facts. It wasn’t enough to teach skills, math, writing, reading, history and science. The schools are also responsible for teaching children character – how to be good people, how to get along with each other.

It’s a worthy goal.

Singer goes on to analyze the kind of school–public, private, or charter–that is likeliest to achieve Dr. King’s goals.

 

 

Alan Singer posts here a brilliant speech that he delivered about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. the civil rights movement, and Dr. King’s continuing legacy today. He reminds us that the issues that Dr. King addressed are still unresolved: racism, poverty, war, violence. He points out that when Dr.King was assassinated, he was helping low-wage sanitation workers in Memphis to organize a union to improve their wages, working conditions, and lives. The next time you hear a billionaire or right-winger claim that school choice is “the civil rights issue of our time,” ask him or her (or yourself) whether they are also fighting as Dr. King did to end racism, poverty, war, and violence.

Speaking recently at the Uniondale, New York, public library, Singer said (and this is an excerpt),

The traditional myth about the Civil Rights Movement, the one that is taught in schools and promoted by politicians and the national media, is that Rosa Parks sat down, Martin Luther King stood up, and somehow the whole world changed. But the real story is that the Civil Rights Movement was a mass democratic movement to expand human equality and guarantee citizenship rights for Black Americans. It was definitely not a smooth climb to progress. Between roughly 1955 and 1968 it had peaks that enervated people and valleys that were demoralizing. Part of the genius of Dr. King was his ability to help people “keep on keeping on” when hope for the future seemed its bleakest.

While some individual activists clearly stood out during the Civil Rights Movement, it involved hundreds of thousands of people, including many White people, who could not abide the U.S. history of racial oppression dating back to slavery days. It is worth noting that a disproportionate number of whites involved in the Civil Rights movement were Jews, many with ties to Long Island. In the 1960s, the Great Neck Committee for Human Rights sponsored an anti-discrimination pledge signed by over 1,000 people who promised not to discriminate against any racial or ethnic groups if they rented or sold their homes. They also picketed local landlords accused of racial bias. The Human Rights Committee and Great Neck synagogues hosted Dr. King as a speaker and raised funds for his campaigns on multiple occasions.

King and Parks played crucial and symbolic roles in the Civil Rights Movement, but so did Thurgood Marshall, Myles Horton, Fanny Lou Hammer, Ella Baker, A. Philip Randolph, Walther Reuther, Medger Evers, John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, Pete Seeger, Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson, as well as activists who were critics of racial integration and non-violent civil disobedience such as Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers.

The stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King have been sanitized to rob them of their radicalism and power. Rosa Parks was not a little old lady who sat down in the White only section of a bus because she was tired. She was only 42 when she refused to change her seat and made history. In addition, Parks was a trained organizer, a graduate of the Highlander School where she studied civil disobedience and social movements, and a leader of the Montgomery, Alabama NAACP. Rosa Parks made a conscious choice to break an unjust law in order to provoke a response and promote a movement for social change. 

Martin Luther King challenged the war in Vietnam, U.S. imperialism, and laws that victimized working people and the poor, not just racial discrimination. When he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, he was helping organize a sanitation workers union. If Dr. King had not be assassinated, but had lived to become an old radical activist who constantly questioned American policy, I suspect he would never have become so venerated. It is better for a country to have heroes who are dead, because they cannot make embarrassing statements opposing continuing injustice and unnecessary wars.

The African American Civil Rights Movement probably ended with the assassination of Dr. King in April 1968 and the abandonment of Great Society social programs by the Democratic Party, but social inequality continues. What kind of country is it when young Black men are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system than in college, inner city youth unemployment at the best of times hovers in the high double-digits, and children who already have internet access at home are the ones most likely to have it in school? What kind of country is it when families seeking refuge from war, crime, and climate disruption are barred entry to the United States or put in holding pens at the border? These are among the reasons I am recruiting everyone to a movement for social justice. These are the things that would have infuriated Martin Luther King.

I promised I would share excerpts from four of Dr. King’s speeches. Everyone has the phrases and speeches that they remember best. Most Americans are familiar with the 1963 “I have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and the 1968 “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis just before he died. These are four other speeches that still resonate with me the most today.

The first speech I reference is one for local Uniondale, Long Island, and Hofstra pride. In 1965, Dr. King was honored and spoke at the Hofstra University graduation. It was less than one year after he received the Nobel Peace Prize and three years before his assassination. In the speech Dr. King argued “mankind’s survival is dependent on man’s ability to solve the problems of racial injustice, poverty and war” and that the “solution of these problems is . . . dependent upon man squaring his moral progress with his scientific progress, and learning the practical art of living in harmony.” I have no doubt that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, demands for gun control, climate activism, and calls for the impeachment of Donald Trump. 

In his Hofstra speech, Dr. King told graduates, families, and faculty, “we have built machines that think, and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. We have built gigantic bridges to span the seas, and gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies . . . We have been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains . . . Yet in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, something basic is missing. That is a sort of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish. But we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

Read the rest of this powerful speech by Professor Singer about Dr. King’s relevance for us today.

 

 

A gem from Garrison Keillor’s daily website “A Writer’s Almanac”:

 

Today is the birthday of women’s rights reformer Lucretia (Coffin) Mott, born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, in 1793. She went to public school in Boston for two years, and then, when she was 13, she enrolled in a Quaker boarding school near Poughkeepsie, New York. After two years there, she was hired on as an assistant, and then a teacher. She quit when she found out that she was being paid less than half of what the male teachers all made, simply because she was a woman; the experience sparked her first interest in women’s rights. In 1811, she married fellow teacher James Mott, and the newlyweds moved to Philadelphia. Ten years later, she became a minister in the Society of Friends, as the Quaker church was called, and she was a popular public speaker on matters of religion and social reform.

She was active in the abolitionist movement when she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton on a ship to London; both were on their way to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. They were attending as delegates, but found that the convention would not let them speak because they were women; they were even seated in a separate area, behind a curtain. The two women resolved then and there to organize a convention for women’s rights as soon as they returned home. It took eight years, but eventually they did: the Seneca Falls (New York) Convention of 1848.

Mott wrote, “The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, because in the degradation of women, the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case called Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that will determine whether the United States–or any state–may still respect a separation of church and state.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s choice of two far-right Justices to the Supreme Court, this case might well be decided in a way that removes all prohibitions on the use of public funds for religious schools.

The facts of the case are these: Like many states, Montana’s state constitution forbids the funding of religious schools. The Montana legislature passed a tax credit program that funds vouchers for religious schools. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the law violated the state constitution. Now, the case is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many states have such prohibitions (and in some of them, like Indiana and Florida, the state courts decided to ignore the explicit language of the state constitution and allow vouchers for religious schools on the claim that the money goes to the family not the religious school that actually gets the public money). The typical attack on state bans on funding religious schools is that such prohibitions are “Blaine amendments,” adopted in the late 19th century at the height of anti-Catholic bigotry; because they were passed in a spirit of bigotry, the argument goes, they should be struck down.

In Montana, the prohibition on funding religious schools is not a Blaine amendment. It was the product of a Montana state constitutional convention in 1972.

Advocates of vouchers will nonetheless make the same argument, ignoring the facts.

Will the Supreme Court care? Or will it placate demands for religious “freedom” by preventing states from keeping public money only in public schools?

If the Espinoza case is decided against Montana, we can anticipate public funding of evangelical Christian schools, Catholic schools, Yeshivas, and Madrassas, as well as the schools of every imaginable sect and religious group.

Somehow this does not seem to be what the Founders had in mind when they created this nation more than 200 years ago. They were not anti-religion, but they did not want religious tests for office or any religious establishment of religion with public funds.

Here is an amicus brief in the Espinoza case written by “Public Funds Public Schools,” a collaboration of legal organizations that support civil rights and civil liberties, the Education Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the SPLC Action Fund, and Munger, Tolles, and Olson LLP.

 

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump spoke of his commitment to protect the rights of LGBT people.

He lied.

ProPublica released a report documenting the Trump administration’s step-by-step dismantling of federal protections of LGBT persons–in the military, in public housing, in schools, in health care, and in enforcement of civil rights in the courts.

Politico Morning Education reports that the Trump administration has joined a court case on the side of a Christian school in Maryland that was removed from the state’s voucher program because it discriminates against LGBT students and teachers.

This is not surprising. The DeVos family has funded anti-gay organizations and state referenda for many years. The Trump administration takes the view that if religious organizations discriminate, that is no one’s business, even though they are receiving public funds. Thus, DeVos and Trump carve an exemption in civil rights law. It is okay to discriminate against persons if your discrimination actions stem from sincere religious beliefs. Where will this end? Gay students and teachers today, black students and women tomorrow. The civil rights protections that have been a sturdy bulwark against bigotry since 1964 are being picked apart, one group at a time. The federal government has embarked on a religious campaign to eviscerate civil rights protections, and this campaign begins with the least numerous, least popular group: Gays. So long as a school sincerely believes that gay students and teachers are loathsome, the state and federal government will not stand in the way of their discriminatory acts.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION BACKS CHRISTIAN SCHOOL’S LAWSUIT OVER VOUCHERS: The departments of Justice and Education on Tuesday sided with a private Christian school that’s fighting Maryland’s decision to kick it out of a state voucher program over its anti-LGBTQ views. The Trump administration filed a “statement of interest ” backing the federal lawsuit filed by Bethel Christian Academy, which accuses Maryland education officials of unconstitutionally discriminating against the school based on its religious beliefs.

— Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said in a statement that the Constitution protects religious schools from being forced “to choose between abandoning or betraying their faith and participating in public programs.”

— Robert S. Eitel, a top adviser to Secretary Betsy DeVos, said in a statement that “Americans do not give up their religious liberty protections simply because they may participate in a government program or interact with a state government.” He added that the Education Department “cannot sit on its hands as the First Amendment rights of Bethel Christian Academy are violated.”

— Maryland education officials have previously said they were trying to prevent taxpayer money from flowing to institutions that discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation, which is prohibited under the rules of the voucher program.

— A main point of contention is whether the language in the school’s handbook that doesn’t accept same-sex marriage or opposes transgender people complies with the state’s nondiscrimination requirement. The school says it doesn’t consider sexual orientation in its admissions process.

— A federal judge ruled earlier this month that the lawsuit, which is being brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom, could move forward. The judge ruled the school had presented a “plausible” case that the state had “unjustly conflated the school’s religious beliefs with discriminatory behavior.”

Karen Lewis is the inspiration for today’s teacher’s strikes.

She is one of a kind.

She is a hero, a woman of courage, character, integrity, intellect, and steel.

The Chicago Teachers Union just released this video tribute to Karen.

Karen is a product of the Chicago Public Schools. She went to elite Ivy League colleges, first to Mount Holyoke, then transferred to Dartmouth College, where she was the only African American female in the class of 1974.

Karen returned to Chicago and became a chemistry teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, where she taught for 22 years.

In 2010, an upstart group of unionists called the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) ousted the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union and elected Karen Lewis as its president. The new leadership cut its own salaries and began building relationships with community organizations and parents.

The city’s political and financial elite rewrote state law in hopes of preventing the union from striking. Assisted by Jonah Edelman of the turncoat “Stand for Children,” the city’s financial elite hired the state’s top lobbyists (so that none would be available to help the union), raised millions of dollars (outspending the unions), and passed a state law saying that teachers could not strike unless they had the approval of 75% of their members. They thought this was an impossible threshold. Jonah Edelman, seated alongside James Schine Crown, one of Chicago’s wealthiest financiers, boasted of their feat at the Aspen Institute in 2011. Surrounded by their union-hating peers from other cities at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Edelman said “If It Could Happen Here, It Could Happen Anywhere,” meaning that with enough financial and political clout, unions could be crushed. (The event was transcribed by Parents Across America and blogger Fred Klonsky copied the video before the Aspen Institute took it down). Edelman subsequently apologized for his candid remarks, but Stand for Children has continued to act as a proxy for philanthrocapitalists. (The Aspen video and Edelman’s apology is here on Fred Klonsky’s blog).

Needless to say, the elites were shocked when Karen Lewis and her team called for authorization to strike and won the support of more than 90% of the union’s membership.

In 2012, the union struck for 10 days and won important concessions, including protections for teachers laid off when Rahm Emanuel closed schools, prevention of merit pay (which she knew has failed everywhere), and changes in the teacher evaluation system. The union had carefully built relationships with parents and communities, and the strike received broad public support.

In 2014, Karen Lewis was urged to challenge Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 mayoral election. She set up an exploratory committee, and early polls showed she was likely to win. But in the fall of 2014, Karen was afflicted with a cancerous brain tumor. She was 61 years old. She stepped down as president of the CTU. She is cared for by her devoted husband, John Lewis, who was a physical education teacher in the Chicago Public Schools.

Karen Lewis exemplified courage, fearlessness, Resistance, leadership, and concern for teachers and children.

Every teacher who took the bold step of striking to improve the conditions of teaching and learning in their school  stands on the shoulders of Karen Lewis. Every teacher and parent who wears Red for Ed is in the debt of this great woman.

She is our hero. She should be the hero of everyone who cares about the rights of children and the eventual triumph of the common good.

Watch here to see Karen Lewis before her illness, speaking at the first annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Austin Texas on March 1, 2024. Her speech was preceded by that of John Kuhn, superintendent of a school district in Texas. Karen starts speaking about the 14-minute mark. Both are worth watching.

I interviewed Karen Lewis at the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Chicago in 2015. You can see it here. 

And this is my account of how I met Karen for the first time and why I love her.

She inspires me every day. I miss her very much.