/ race

Kansas senator and nephew of famed author Alex Haley: Why hide our nation’s historical ‘Roots?’

Kansas Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, is the nephew of Alex Haley, author of the book “Roots.” (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Forty-five years ago this month, the televised miniseries “Roots,” based on a book written by Alex Haley, uncle of Kansas State Senator David Haley (D-Kansas City), premiered. The series reintroduced this nation to a tortured history it has tried to forget.

Few people in America have a more interesting vantage point on critical race theory — or just race — than Sen. Haley and his family.

“Roots,” which depicted the Haley family’s direct lineage, remains one of the most-watched programs in network broadcast history. It traces the journey of the family’s ancestor, Kunta Kinte, from capture in West Africa, his harsh transportation across the Atlantic and sale into a lifetime of American slavery. It beamed countless barbarities experienced by people whose lives were so lived because of their race into millions of homes.

Sen. Haley said through this lens, he has viewed the sometimes hysterical debate about critical race theory as a marketing torch igniting fears in a particular voting bloc. Purveyors of these tactics know they work. Americans rarely disappoint racial fear peddlers.

Sen. Haley said he chooses to remember, however, how our country watched his family history unfold over those eight nights. Perhaps for the first time in 100 years, Americans began wrestling with the hidden-away horrors of dividing a society by color. This wasn’t simply his family’s story, but our national story: America’s true history.

“We need this unifying spirit now,” Sen. Haley said. “We’re losing our sense of empathy as a nation.”

“Roots” by Alex Haley

Deep learning often happens in discomfort. We heal only after fully acknowledging our history and addressing its legacy. But no one supporting this crusade against honesty in education will address just how our students will be able to study Kansas history.

Sen. Haley had important questions about the classroom repercussions of dodging discussions about America’s racial past. He wondered, for example, if prohibitions against racial content would mean teachers couldn’t discuss slavery.

“Without slavery, what does Kansas as a ‘free state’ even mean?” Sen. Haley asked.

He asked if students could read “The Learning Tree,” Gordon Parks’ epic work, and discuss the violent racism that drove him from Fort Scott and kept him estranged from the state until late in his life?

And what about literary icon Langston Hughes, who lived in Lawrence? What does the Harlem Renaissance or “New Negro Movement” mean without racial discussions?

Could students discuss John Brown and “Bleeding Kansas?” You know, the guy immortalized in a painting inside the Capitol. The one with the rifle and the Bible and the blazing eyes. Are we supposed to just walk by the mural and pretend we don’t know who he is?

Sen. Haley also questioned whether the people concerned about CRT would cancel recently departed Bob Dole.

“Sen. Dole knew race mattered,” Sen. Haley said. “We know this because of his support for Section 8(A) provisions, which set aside a portion of federal contracts for minority (and later women) business development.”

“I also have to wonder if ‘Roots’ itself could even be taught or viewed in classrooms,” he said.

“Roots” delivered transformative content into American homes. It transformed Sen. Haley, too. He’d just entered Morehouse College, and in a week, he “went from just another freshman to Kunta Kinte’s descendant.”

It also connected past to present. Black Americans endured and continue to endure disparities in median income, household wealth, life expectancy and more.

White Americans saw this, too, but they winced and looked away.

Some now propose the historical version of don’t ask, don’t tell, regarding our racial past. It’s a tacit admission that what Black Americans have suffered is so objectionable, it would demand immediate justice. The truth is so resounding, it can never be uttered.

Given this history, it is understandable, Sen. Haley said, that “Roots” stood a whisker away from the title “Before This Anger.” His Uncle Alex, however, wanted “Roots” to speak to the collective pride of Black Americans at how they’d survived such barbarity.

This fear of any racial discussion feels craven. Americans are supposed to face and overcome challenges, not hide from them. But that is what opponents of CRT propose. Deflect Native American history, hide Asian contributions and ignore our Latinx past. Deny any and all antecedent truths.

Many races and cultures helped build this great country.

Sen. Haley rightly asks if we want to send our students into an incredibly diverse society unaware of much of America’s history. Aspects of our history are ugly, but our beauty emerges from struggles against such ugliness.

We must choose.

We can continue filtering the past, picking and choosing through the grimy lens of incomplete history, or live up to America’s greatest aspirations of honesty and truth.

Mark McCormick is the former executive director of The Kansas African American Museum and a member of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, and a contributor to the Kansas Reflector, which first published this essay.

From the battle to preserve American democracy to charter school chaos: The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Experts say Black lawmakers are sure to lose seats under new NC legislative maps

2. Former Three Rivers principal describes chaos at charter school, which state plans to close

7. The inflation blame game: Five important facts to keep in mind

The subject of inflation has been on many tongues in the public policy world of late – especially as Republican politicians comb every nook and cranny of the news cycle for topics with which to launch broadsides at the Biden administration.

In November, North Carolina Congressman Ted Budd – a candidate for Richard Burr’s soon-to-be-available U.S. Senate seat – introduced a snarky bill that would “require all personnel in the Biden White House to complete a financial literacy course focused on inflation.”

More recently, Sen. Thom Tillis has echoed this familiar conservative refrain by issuing a statement blaming the surge in prices over the past year on the Biden administration’s “out-of-control spending.”

Not surprisingly, both attacks are, in the immortal words of the iconic baseball commentator Bob Uecker in the film “Major League,” “just a bit outside.” [Read more…]

8. MLK Day numbers: The battle to preserve American democracy

9. Weekly Radio Interviews and Daily Commentaries:

Click here for the latest podcasts from PW Director Rob Schofield.

10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:


Signe Waller and Dr. Marty Nathan, both widowed in 1979 Greensboro Massacre, died last week

Two activists widowed in the 1979 Greensboro Massacre died last week after a lifetime of social justice work.

Signe Waller Foxworth and Dr. Marty Nathan both lost their husbands in the 1979 confrontation between Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and members of the Communist Workers Party. In their separate ways, both women continued to fight for their beliefs for the rest of their lives.

Waller died Friday at 84. Nathan, 70, was working as a doctor in Northampton, Massachussetts when she died November 30.

Their husbands — Dr. Jim Waller and Dr. Michael Nathan — were killed by white supremacists. The historical marker at the corner of Willow and McConnell Roads sums up the terrible day that shook both women in just 25 words.

“Greensboro Massacre — Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazi Party members, on Nov. 3, 1979, shot and killed five Communist Workers Party members one-tenth mile north.”

Even that brief acknowledgement of the tragedy and how it would be characterized — remained a hotly-debated political controversy when the marker was finally approved in 2015.

In 2017 the Greensboro City Council voted to issue an apology for the massacre. That apology was actually issued last year, more than 40 years after the tragedy.

The News & Record’s Nancy McLaughlin wrote about Nathan’s work after her husband’s killing.

From that story:

Widowed at age 28 with an infant daughter, she used the money from the lawsuit against the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and the Greensboro police for the wrongful death of Dr. Michael Nathan to start the Greensboro Justice Fund, which over the next 20 years gave away $500,000 as grants to small groups fighting for civil rights and social justice in the South.

In an interview before the 40th anniversary of what is now called the Greensboro Massacre, she said the travesty of that day lingers on. Five people died and 10 were injured during the shootings and no one was ever convicted of the deaths. She said the confrontation would fuel the white supremacist movement, notably Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally that took place in 2017.

“I wish that they had been put in prison because of all the young men that they have inspired over the years,” Nathan told the News & Record in 2019, “and I would include in that the Charlottesville Klan and other white supremacists.”

The paper’s Jennifer Fernandez spoke with community members, including Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen, about Waller and Nathan after Waller’s death on Friday.

“They did the work. Every. Single. Day,” Thigpen said.

He described Waller Foxworth as “always community-minded,” and someone who “sought to stand for meaningful things and on behalf of those who had little power.”

“She lived every day to try to create meaning,” Thigpen said.

Her work on social justice and equity for all inspired others, said Joyce Johnson, who is co-executive director of the Beloved Community Center with her husband, the Rev. Nelson Johnson.

They had long been friends with Waller Foxworth.

“She was a person of great purpose and commitment,” Joyce Johnson said

But she was more than just the persona portrayed in the media, the Johnsons said. Waller Foxworth was a loving wife and mother, a gracious host, an excellent teacher and an intellectual who loved to read and talk about books. She loved to cook and had a flair for the arts.

She also wrote a book, ”Love and Revolution,” about Nov. 3, 1979, and its aftermath.

She was a fighter up until the end, according to the Johnsons. Although she had been ill, Waller Foxworth stood through the annual memorial service on Nov. 3 instead of sitting. And she chose to have surgery, believing there was still work for her to do.

“She was tenacious in her commitment and beliefs of justice for all people,” Nelson Johnson said.

State lawmaker: Jim Crow has no place in North Carolina’s constitution

Image: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

NC must remove stain of white supremacy from its governing document

The North Carolina constitution contains an alarming provision from a dark period in our history: a literacy test requirement to keep Black voters from the ballot box.

I am determined to finally repeal it.

In 1899, the North Carolina legislature amended the state constitution with measures to steal and suppress Black political power. The literacy test, one of many tactics, required every person of color who wanted to exercise their freedom to vote to be able to read and write any section of the constitution in English. A “grandfather clause” protected white voters by stating that anyone who had been eligible to vote (or had an eligible ancestor) under 1867 state law was exempted from this test.

Politicians added the literacy test to our state constitution in the immediate aftermath of the 1898 Wilmington massacre, where white supremacists overthrew Black elected officials and murdered hundreds of Black North Carolinians. Lawmakers of the era were determined to preserve white political, social, and economic dominance in North Carolina. Their fingerprints are still on our constitution.

The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy tests and made North Carolina’s law unenforceable, but we have never managed to remove this stain from our core governing document. In 1970, North Carolinians voted against removing the literacy test from the state Constitution. In 2013 and 2019, bills to allow voters to vote for a literacy test repeal gained traction in the legislature but never passed.

We are reigniting this effort in the North Carolina General Assembly. Change is long overdue.

The General Assembly must give North Carolina voters another chance to repeal the literacy test at the ballot box. My bipartisan bill, House Bill 337, would ask voters whether to repeal the literacy test section of the Constitution on the November 2022 ballot. The bill has overwhelming support from lawmakers of both parties and must remain a top priority this legislative session. It is an insult to Black, brown, and Indigenous North Carolinians to maintain this provision and to defer the matter year after year.

North Carolina is one of few states with a literacy test still enshrined in state law, along with Delaware, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Wyoming. Alabama lawmakers are actively reviewing and redrafting their 1901 Constitution – written with the express intent to establish a white supremacist state – including removing a poll tax provision. As our region and nation grapple with past and present racism in our communities and institutions, North Carolina must not fail to act. We must join our neighbors and signal our commitment to democracy, civil rights, and the freedom to vote for all North Carolinians – no matter what we look like or who we vote for.

In the last year, North Carolina communities took action to remove at least twenty-four Confederate monuments throughout the state, and countless politicians and Fortune 500 companies declared their commitment to protecting Black lives. We should reinforce that commitment by removing the literacy test from the state Constitution. We have had decades to right this wrong. Now is the time.

Representative Terry Brown is the State Representative for House District 92 in Mecklenburg County.

Veteran journalist: I read “The 1619 Project.” Critics need to calm down.

“The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” is displayed at a New York City bookstore on November 17, 2021. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

You’d have to be completely out of the political loop—and I suspect you aren’t, if you are reading this—to not have heard of “The 1619 Project” and the brouhaha surrounding it.

A publication of journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times, “1619” first appeared in an August 2019 issue of the New York Times Magazine. In May 2020, Hannah-Jones was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her opening essay.

It was in 1619 that African slaves were first brought to America—the year before the Mayflower arrived—and the dust jacket of the expanded book version of the project refers to it as “a new origin story.” 1619, writes Hannah-Jones, is when the real story of America began, not 1776 when the American Revolution began.

I managed to miss out on reading the original version in the Times and I may not have maintained interest in it were it not for former President Donald Trump. Trump introduced many people to the project in September 2020, when he lumped it in with critical race theory, an academic concept many Americans had never heard of before. He called both “a crusade against American history . . . toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together, will destroy our country.”

I’m one of the people who had never heard of critical race theory before and now that I’m familiar with it, I feel confident telling you that your kids in public school aren’t going to get schooled in it. While “The 1619 Project” has developed a curriculum that can be taught in schools, I also feel confident that wasn’t going to happen in many public schools even before the legislatures in Tennessee and some other states passed laws earlier this year banning the instruction of critical race theory. [Editor’s note: North Carolina lawmakers passed a similar bill, but it was successfully vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper.]

But I like a challenge and there’s nothing like the president of the United States calling writing “toxic” to make me want to check it out. I bought the book as soon as I could, read it as fast as possible and now I’m here to review it.

There’s been so much Sturm und Drang over “The 1619 Project” from right wing groups like “Moms For Liberty” and Trump supporters, I was surprised the book didn’t arrive with a big “Trigger warning!” sticker on it. I went into the book with an open mind, frankly expecting to be surprised by historical revelations.

I wasn’t surprised, as much of the book seems to be common sense, but I learned a hell of a lot. Read more

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