Celebrating Education’s Place in Civil Rights

Fifty years after the March on Washington, President Barack Obama and dozens of other dignitaries paid tribute on Wednesday to Martin Luther King Jr., and those who participated in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it does not bend on its own,” Obama said in an echo of King’s words. “To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency.”

From the beginning of his term, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has maintained that education is the civil rights issue of our time, and several speakers during the celebration echoed this sentiment, including President Obama who described those who marched five decades ago:

And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, the voting rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes.

President Obama speakingOn the courage to work together:

We can stand together for good jobs and just wages. With that courage, we can stand together for the right to health care in the richest nation on earth for every person. With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit and prepares them for the world that awaits them. With that courage, we can feed the hungry and house the homeless and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise.

America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we’ll get back up. That’s how a movement happens. That’s how history bends. That’s how, when somebody is faint of heart, somebody else brings them along and says, come on, we’re marching.

President Bill Clinton noted that there is still work to be done to realize King’s Dream:

We cannot be disheartened by the forces of resistance to building a modern economy of good jobs and rising incomes or to rebuilding our education system to give our children a common core of knowledge necessary to ensure success or to give Americans of all ages access to affordable college and training programs. And we thank the president for his efforts in those regards.

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus:

Dr. King advocated for an America where everyone would be afforded their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; a nation where there would be equal protection under the law; and a country where every person’s right to vote is protected. He dreamed of an America where every child has access to quality schools and an education that prepares them for their future. And he dreamed that we, as a nation, would walk together on the swift path towards justice.

Following his speech, President Obama spoke with Gwen Ifill on PBS NewsHour and said that he would continue to move forward on his economic agenda — including early childhood education — as a way forward in the struggle for equal rights.  “I want to get early childhood education done because we know that’s the single most important thing we can do to increase upward mobility and opportunity for disadvantaged kids,” he said.  “And, if Congress isn’t willing to pass a law, then I’ll start meeting with mayors, and we’ll start meeting with governors, and we’ll start meeting with non-for-profits and philanthropies.”

Earlier in the week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed students and civil rights leaders at the School Without Walls in Washington, D.C., and to students nationwide via live stream. He discussed education as the “civil rights issue of our time” and the progress the country has made toward providing all students an opportunity to succeed through high-quality education.

Read his speech or watch the video.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

1 Comment

  1. If Education is the new civil rights issue of our times what is the fight all about? Freedoms and liberties was the goal & objective of the first incarnation of the US spawned human justice movement. But, to maintain such a contest on a championship level, shouldn’t there be a worthy contender like public intransigence of dealing with the 150 year old issue of compensating the descendants of chattel slavery? Absolutely, those poorly performing inner city schools around the nation, can now have the motivation to excell! Tackling Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic, on a successful levels means that there will be articulate proposals from our young seeking the Jubilee of $100K per family or individual!

    Therefore, I believe it’s the concern of compassion that should lead to the resolution. Moral Reconciliation along with the natural forces of revival & reform of
    our national clergy and expressions from the students in the elementary & secondary levels along with the sentiments of their parents about how poverty causes learning difficulties at home and at school. Truly, as the CBC, has advocated for years that there needs to be a more massive vision of economic redistribution so that poverty can be eliminated in America. Simply stated, there’s a need for reparations of the 40,000,000 or so African Americans who reside in the United States of America and the increased spending at an exponential level would jumpstart the national economy into “override” for several decades! Education of youngsters who pick up and maintain the call for Reparations of African Americans. Surely, such a ministry of compassion, would be guided by a joint campaign of local school districts and neighborhood churches fostering forums envisioned in H.R. 40 as first introduced by Congressman John Conyers (D) of Michigan exactly 25 years ago.

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