While we were traveling about the country there was a lot happening in the national dialogue about Critical Race Theory. Much of this dialogue is conducted by those with little to no understanding of history. Many couldn’t identify the three branches of government, much less define Critical Race Theory.
I grew up in Georgia in the years prior and following integration. I grew up in Georgia during the time when racist Lester Maddox was governor; when George Wallace was governor of Alabama and making bids for president. I grew up in Georgia during a time when pastors and good people alike praised these men for their willingness to “keep the races separate.” I grew in Georgia during a time when it took federal law for white schools to open their doors to black kids.
I grew up literally across the river from Alabama among a people who routinely expressed disdain for Blacks. We did not learn the history of black people but we were taught to form a lot of opinions about black people – most of them demeaning and hateful.
All of them racist.
My friend Jane, who now lives in the town where I grew up, says that all whites should declare themselves racist, then consider the question of just how racist are we, and what are we doing to overcome that?
I have friends in that same town who still refer to blacks as “them people” or “those people.” They embrace the notion articulated by Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge: “The South loves good negroes who know their place – and their place is at the black door.”
They might consider Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. good negroes now given their historical significance, but they rant about those who took to the streets following the murder of George Floyd Jr. and Ahmaud Arbery.
These same folks are silent about the Insurrection, a time when enraged white people sought to overthrow the government. If they say anything at all it is to defend or deny the actions of their fellow Republicans.
Here are the names of Blacks I never learned growing up in Georgia:
- Fredrick Douglass
- Sojourner Truth
- Harriett Tubman
- Dr. W.E.B. DuBois
- Claudette Colvin
- Wilma Rudolph
- Mary McCloud Bethune
- Fannie Lou Hammer
- Shirley Chisholm
- Robert Abbott
- Richard Allen
Growing up I was never taught the literature or history of Blacks. Instead, I was taught all the racist tropes touted by Klan members, tropes repeated and embraced by people I loved.
But if aging offers us anything, it is the opportunity to learn, to grow, to think beyond the racist tropes of our ignorance.
So Tim and I traveled to Montgomery to spend time at the Equal Justice Initiative’s Museum and Memorial, and to Selma, to walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge and to reflect upon why we need Critical Race Theory taught in every school in America.
If you can walk through that museum and not weep or have your heart broken over the wrongs whites in this country have inflicted and continue to inflict upon Blacks in America, you meet the qualification for Klan status.
Much growth has taken place in my hometown and in my own heart on these matters. Thankfully.
Yet, there remains much work to be done – in my heart and in my hometown.
There is a line of demarcation between the haves and the have nots in Columbus, Georgia. North Columbus is primarily white. South Columbus primarily black. For much of my growing up years I lived in South Columbus, as one of the town’s poorer whites. In high school, I became a border child, living on the edge of North Columbus.
Today, in Oregon, I live in a community that is 89 percent white and only 1.5 percent Black. Many of Oregon’s founders were transplants from the South. The Oregon Constitution of 1857 banned slavery but also banned Blacks from living in the state. I have neighbors who continue to fly Confederate flags.
Racism is an American export that has made a lot of white men and women rich throughout this country’s history and continues to enrich today’s Republicans.
Can we really call it an education if the only thing we teach children is the rich white man’s worldview?
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Will Jesus Buy Me a DoubleWide? ‘Cause I need more room for my plasma TV (Zondervan).