#TeachTruth About Constitution Day

State legislatures across the country are passing laws that force educators to teach a fairy tale version of the U.S. Constitution.

For example, in Texas, House Bill 3979, which went into effect Sept. 1, 2021, requires that teachers tell students that slavery and racism represented “betrayals of, failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality . . .” The state of Texas — and many others — now require teachers to lie to students.

In fact, Black lives did not matter to the rich white men who met in 1787 to write the U.S. Constitution. About 40 percent of them were enslavers — including George Washington and James Madison, the so-called father of the Constitution. Although this document never mentions “slaves” or “slavery” — or race — the men assembled in Philadelphia made sure to hammer slavery into the foundation of the country they were building.

At a Georgia #TeachTruth teach-in, Decatur High School graduation coach Jennifer Young invited people to write on the sidewalk. Young said, “What we would love for you to do is cover the sidewalk with whatever you learned today, because that’s not being taught in your school and it can be taught in the Square. The reason we are using chalk today is because this is just like history. If we’re not careful, it can all get washed away.” Photo by Dean Hesse.

The kidnapping and forced transport of enslaved human beings from abroad would be continued until at least 1808. (And even then, the internal slave trade would continue to be legal.) Anyone fleeing slavery and subsequently apprehended “shall be delivered upon claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

No. The U.S. Constitution was a document of oppression for enslaved people. But in more and more states, it is against the law for students to learn this from the curriculum.

On this Constitution Day, let’s commit ourselves to teach the truth. Let’s look deeply and critically at how this document may have offered a republican form of government for some, but denied humanity to others, and contributed to the system of white supremacy we still need to dismantle.

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