Some of the surviving members of the Little Rock Nine– the brave group of African American students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957 while facing down violent threats from white segregationists– are publicly criticizing the Arkansas Department of Education.
The state recently imposed restrictions on Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies. While Arkansas is not prohibiting students from enrolling in the class, the department has warned that the credits would not count towards their graduation requirements.
The education department “has argued that since the course is still being piloted, it’s unclear whether it runs afoul of a state law signed by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in March banning the teaching of ‘critical race theory,’” (CRT).
As ESSENCE has previously reported, CRT has become the touchstone of Republican talking points, with conservatives deeming the term all-encompassing with respect to teaching about race. While CRT bans have been enacted throughout the country, much of the policy language against it has been vague. However, it is still contributing to the elimination of African American history courses.
Civil rights activist and Little Rock Nine member Elizabeth Eckford said, “I think the attempts to erase history is working for the Republican Party,” adding, “They have some boogeyman that [is] really popular with their supporters.”
Fellow Little Rock Nine member Terrence Roberts stated “All nine of us suffered physically and emotionally,” and he recognizes that there are those who refuse to confront the realities of our nation’s history. “..[T]hose who once harangued them as children don’t want the evidence displayed,” writer Bracey Harris at NBCNews observes.
“At a ‘bare minimum’…there shouldn’t be ‘laws restricting their ability to learn, or what they could learn,’” Roberts told the outlet, who sadly isn’t surprised by this latest turn of events. “I know there are voices pushing back…The question is, will they be successful?” he continued.
Just last Thursday Gov. Sanders told Fox News “she wanted schools to focus on ‘the basics of teaching math, of teaching reading, writing and American history… We cannot perpetuate a lie to our students and push this propaganda leftist agenda teaching our kids to hate America and hate one another.’”
Not all schools are bowing down, and six schools have stated they are going to continue offering and teaching the course. According to Business Insider, “In the North Little Rock and Jacksonville North Pulaski school districts, officials announced that the course would count as a ‘local elective’ instead.”
NAACP director of Education Innovation and Research Ivory Toldson spoke with five members of the Little Rock Nine and relayed “that they see the criticism of the AP course ‘as a broader attack on Black history.’”
“These are the larger issues I wish they would talk about as they go on defense about this issue,” Toldson continued, saying, “They really should be setting forth the plan to make sure all Black students in Arkansas have equal access to a quality education.”