Adam Sanchez (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City. He is an editor of Rethinking Schools magazine and a Zinn Education Project teacher leader with a focus on the Teach Reconstruction campaign.
From the urban rebellions to the salute at the Olympics, commemorations of 1968 — a pivotal year of Black Power — have appeared in news headlines throughout this anniversary year. Yet 2018 also marks the 150th anniversary of 1868 — the height of Black Power during Reconstruction.
Given that the billionaire Charles Koch has poured millions of dollars into eliminating the minimum wage and paid sick leave for workers, and that in 2015 he had the gall to compare his ultra-conservative mission to the anti-slavery movement, he’s probably the last person you’d want educating young people about slavery. Yet the history-teaching wing of the Koch brothers empire is seeking to promote an alternate narrative to slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.
By Adam Sanchez
Earlier this week, Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, stated on Fox News that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was an “honorable man” who fought “for his state” and that “the lack of an ability to compromise . . . on both sides" led to the Civil War.
Every day seems to bring new horrors as the U.S. president’s racist rhetoric and policies have provided an increasingly encouraging environment for attacks on Black people and other communities of color. The acquittal of yet another police officer accused of murdering a Black man in St. Louis, the raging battle across the country over whether symbols of slavery should be removed from public spaces, and the formation of a “Commission on Election Integrity” to further suppress voting by people of color are just a few of the recent reminders that racism is as American as apple pie. In moments like these, it’s worth remembering a time in U.S. history when Black lives mattered.
As a history teacher, there are times when the past reasserts itself with such force that you have to put aside your plans and address the moment. Charlottesville is one of those times. The image of white supremacists openly marching in defense of a Confederate general, viciously beating and murdering those who are protesting their racism — is an image we hoped had died with Jim Crow. That this image is not a relic of the past, is a reality that teachers and students must face.
Fifty years ago this week, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chairperson Stokely Carmichael made the famous call for “Black Power.” Carmichael’s speech came in the midst of the “March Against Fear,” a walk from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to encourage African Americans to use their newly won right to vote. But while almost every middle and high school student learns about the Civil Rights Movement, they rarely learn about this march—or the related struggles that continued long after the Voting Rights Act.