Willie Richardson / January 15, 2020

Civil Rights: Civics Class From the Rearview Mirror

Public schools will never give our kids the full story of American history, but we can.

I recently picked my son up after school and asked him as I was driving, “So what happened at school today?” I stopped asking, “How was your day?” because we all know what he is going to say: “Good.” I digress. He said, “We talked about Civil Rights and Dr. King.” As Dr. Martin Luther King’s holiday approaches, public schools are “having the talk” in Related Arts. My son is in the second grade at a thriving public school, but I know the context of “public education” will never tell the whole story of American history. He went on to say from the backseat, “Daddy, my teacher said it was about white people not treating black people fairly.” I asked him, “Did they tell you what [white people] specifically or just white people?” He said, “White people.”

I have taught my seven-year-old to think critically so even when he replied he had a look on his face as to say, “But wait a minute.” I said, “Son, does it make sense to believe that all white people were against all black people?” He said, “No, daddy it doesn’t.” I explained to him that his teacher failed to mention the “white people” were all Democrats. I explained to him the context of politics and how Democrats blocked Civil Rights legislation in the 1950s. I asked my son, “Do you know what Civil Rights are?” He looked confused and said, “No, not really.” I explained to him that Civil Rights have nothing to do with skin color, but everything to do with being human. I said, “Civil Rights are being able to use the bathroom without one being labeled ‘Whites only.’ It is the right to vote or the right to go to the school you attend. It is basic American rights for all people.” I tried to keep the conversation on his level, but he wanted to hear more.

As we arrived home preparing for homework, dinner, and basketball practice, I told him that I would tell him more. He smiled big and said, “Good, because I want to hear more about Civil Rights! Daddy, you make it fun!”

The next conversation we talk about Dr. King and Civil Rights I will tell him about the time I sat next to a local Civil Rights Leader who was good friends with Rosa Parks. When I asked him, “Sir, what was Civil Rights really about?” He said, “It was about human inalienable rights; it had nothing to do with [color].” My son will be enthusiastic to know his dad spoke with a Civil Rights activist on the front lines during the 1960s.

I will also tell him that I spoke with a well-known and respected 60-something-year-old African-American man in Chattanooga. Then we had a conversation about the generation of today’s menace to society of black youth. I told him, “[They say] it’s due to the ongoing legacy of white supremacy and slavery.” However, before I could say anything else he stopped me in my tracks and said, “Hold up! Slavery isn’t the reason for all this. Now that’s just a lie! If it were slavery then why didn’t it affect [us] like this then? We didn’t run around shooting each other!” He went on to say, “Man we were trying to compete with white folks. We were told the next man put his pants on just like you and we competed with each other and them to achieve. We were striving to be better and if slavery did all this then we should have been doing the same thing your generation is doing. I don’t know what happened!”

I will tell my son how shocked I was to hear him say these things and teach him that excuses are “tools of incompetence used to build monuments of nothing.”

As a father, it is my duty to take advantage of teachable moments by connecting the dots so my children will grow up understanding the context of life, liberty, love, freedom, and the pursuit of education. Moral to the story; ask your child “So, what happened at school today?”

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