By James W. Thomasson
With recent strife in the House of Representatives and the ongoing struggle to deal with the nation’s economic debt, moving our discussions of American education and democracy from World War II to the Korean War is a challenge. This is further complicated by recent (now resolved) German objections to supplying American and German tanks (both kept in Germany) to Ukraine in fear of inviting Russia into a nuclear conflict. It’s no surprise that so many Americans are asking “who’s on whose side?”, especially now that Russia has invaded Ukraine. Russia is likely to feel challenged to face NATO and SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization), both of which are also challenges for China. Of all this, as you know, Dear Readers, we face at the time when we have just celebrated the national holiday dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the question of “civil” rights (and “wrong”) looms, especially in light of Florida Governor DeSantis wanting to restrict students’ access to racially divisive literature and conversation. Well, let’s get busy! But, before we get involved in military warfare again, let’s take some time to deal with the “civil” war, more of a social and educational kind. As we do so, also keep in mind newly emerging educational issues in relation to AI, such as CHAT (“bpt”, “beware of penetrating translutions!”) As you know, other than those early Southeast American “Natives” Asian, nobody here is from here. We are an “immigrant nation” meaning everyone here “came” here or are descended from someone or those who came here. “Thomasson” comes from Norway; “DeSantis” comes from “where?”. Well, on May 17, 1954, Congress and the Supreme Court addressed the broad “civil rights” issue, ironically prompted everywhere by the delusions of the CIA and the multiple collisions between the United States and the Soviet Union. [Yes, dear readers, we will get back to our military warring next time.] While we last turned to MLK Jr. “Day” after dealing with multiple “modern” changes, in the background loomed the 1896 US Supreme Court case titled “Plessy v. Ferguson,” in which the court upheld as constitutional the ruling that all favored “separate, but equal” facilities and housing for blacks. Public facilities, including transportation, schools, restaurants, hotels, and other public facilities, especially bathrooms, were strictly segregated everywhere in the country, but especially “in the South”.
While we have discussed earlier in our series the ongoing torment and suffering inflicted by the Ku Klux Klan and other similar groups, it was clear to Black “citizens” of the United States that other forces were needed to advance their cause for equality. Thus, in the mid-1930s, a group responding to that cause emerged, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP began its journey by filing multiple lawsuits against segregated school districts. Ironically, these first cases, when they finally came before the Supreme Court, met with the expected result: because the “tangible” situations for blacks and whites were “equal”, those same laws providing for segregated schools were “Constitutional”.
More than thirty years later all these reflections came to a head. In a well-rounded discussion the NAACP, with a group of lawyers led by Thurgood Marshall, presented a clear and well-supported case in the Supreme Court on the humiliating, debilitating, even traumatizing effects of racial segregation. Their argument had a social impact and a strong legal dimension which confused the Court, which could only conclude that segregated school systems were obviously “unequal”, but could not articulate the reasons as there were confounding factors involved who were not willing to point out . Time would tell! Finally, on May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court in a truly “landmark” decision in a case called “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka”—ironically Kansas, not Richmond, Atlanta, Savanna—issued guidelines that they were to be used to desegregate the nation’s school districts. As one might expect, this successful NAACP outcome encouraged thousands of blacks, particularly in the South, to raise their voices against all those other laws and cultural traditions that violated their “civilized” rights as “free citizens,” and with that, the modern “civil rights movement” was born, barely honored in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his compatriots.
If I may get personal for a moment, dear readers, let me remind you of the story I told at the beginning of the “Education and American Democracy” series about how I got into trouble for busking in Middleburg, Virginia, with little John Henry, the young black boy from Sleepy Hollow, who was supposed to work for free for one of the wealthy families in the neighborhood. Well, that was 1947. While visiting Virginia in 1955 to help an uncle move from Nokesville to Manassas, I asked my uncle to drop by Middleburg for old times’ sake. There on the corner from my father’s gas station was John Henry, who apparently worked there after school. I made my uncle stop for a moment while I said goodbye. John Henry gave me a big hug, saying “thank you, thank you!” When I got back to the car, my uncle blurted out “you hugged a black guy”!
All right, let’s go back to 1954 and make the “socially” segregated and diminished citizens of the “Land of the Free” equal citizens. It’s only been 7 months and 15 days since Rosa Parks, a Black resident of Montgomery, Alabama, hopped on a bus to get home from work. She was tired and sat up front, which was usually only available to whites. The police had been alerted and when a white man came aboard, she refused to give up her seat. At that point she was arrested, taken to jail, and America watched, read, and listened to the year-long bus boycott that greeted Martin Luther King, Jr. when he came to Montgomery and took charge of the movement to defend non-violent actions to achieve racial equality. It was his leadership that administered the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, moving away from violent acts and protests to ensure “civil rights”. Through that whole process we slowly learned the lesson that cost him his life on our behalf!
With that, dear readers, we return to that other kind of warfare, awaiting the day when we can confront DeSantis and others who threaten the role of “education” in its important function of ensuring true Democracy.