Civil Rights veterans pen open letter to teachers

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Open Letter from Civil Rights Movement Veterans to Teachers:

We’ve Seen This Before and We Stand With You

We who fought and struggled to win voting rights for all Americans during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s stand now to fight against the new wave of voting-rights suppression and voter nullification laws that are being promulgated across the land. And we who marched for equality and endured jail for Freedom rise now to fight against this new wave of teacher-intimidation and thought-suppression laws being enacted in Republican-controlled states to distort and deny the violent realities of racism and white-supremacy in American life and history.

We who resisted the laws of segregation by sitting at “White Only” lunch counters, and organized voter registration campaigns among those historically denied the right to vote, stand now in support of those teachers and professors who today defy this new form of McCarthyism by pledging to continue writing, speaking, and teaching about systemic racism, structural inequality, and institutionalized white-supremacy past and present. These teachers continue to teach the truth.

We who were young just the day before yesterday recall our teachers being fired because they dared to support and join the NAACP in defiance of laws enacted by white-ruled governments in the South. And we came of age in an era when college professors, community leaders, union organizers and famous entertainers were shamed and pilloried in the press, hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and dismissed from their positions because they criticized segregation, or advocated racial equality, or spoke in favor of anti-lynching laws, or the United Nations or the New Deal, or signed a petition against atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons.

From our lived experience we know how bigots, bullies, and demagogues use scare-words to stoke fear, hatred, and division for their personal gain, and how politicians use bogeyman-terminology to confuse and distract their constituents, and smear organizations who call upon America to “Live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all people are created equal.” Yesterday, their targets were the NAACP, SNCC, SCLC, and CORE. Today they are taking aim at organizations such as the 1619 Project, the Zinn Education Project, Black Lives Matter at School, Learning for Justice, Teaching for Change, and also teachers throughout this nation who want their students to better understand the history behind the economic and social disparities so evident in their communities … and the ways every day Americans have long fought to make America live up to its ideals.

But the ideas that these demagogues decry so stridently are not new. Civil rights advocates, civil libertarians—and courageous teachers—have been discussing these same ideas for generations. We know this because we still hold living memories of the words spoken by Septima Clark, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, John Lewis, James Forman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Harriette Moore, James Farmer, Vincent Harding, Howard Zinn, Bob Moses, and so many others. All forthrightly organized against the systemic, structural, and institutional racism that has shaped American history and crippled American lives for generations.

To all the courageous teachers who won’t back down from teaching their students the truth, we stand with you. We know you risk much in this struggle—with threats to your jobs, safety, and your right to teach the truth—just as so many in generations past risked their lives and livelihoods in the long struggle for democracy. But … together we will win, because we must. Future generations depend on our standing strong … together!

For further information:
Contact: The SNCC Legacy Project – Judy Richardson, Board Member
Email address: info@SNCCLegacyProject.org

Contact: The Civil Rights Movement Archive – Bruce Hartford
Email address: webspinner@crmvet.org