Education and Civil Rights, 50 Years After the March on Washington

I’ve often said that education is the civil rights issue of our time. I’m not the first to say it. But what does that mean?


A student at Schools Without Walls in Washington, D.C., listens to Secretary Duncan give remarks as part of the “50 Years of Struggle: Youth Driving Economics, Education and Social Change.”

Civil rights means having the same opportunities that other people do –regardless of what you look like, where you come from, or whom you love.

And in today’s world, to have real opportunity, you need a world-class education.

Fifty years after the March on Washington, how far has the struggle for young people’s civil rights come?

With Jim Crow segregation ended and an African-American president speaking tomorrow at the 50th anniversary of the March, our progress is undeniable.

Yet in a time when so many young people don’t enjoy rights as basic as safety from violence, and when so many children lack the educational opportunities they deserve, there is a lot of work still ahead of us. The vision that electrified the country in 1963 – the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and the other leaders of the March – remains ahead of us. And it will take struggle to get there – a struggle our  young people must lead.

Today, I had the privilege of speaking to students and civil rights leaders at the School Without Walls in Washington, D.C., about the state of civil rights for our young people. At the event, hosted by the King Center and Discovery Education, I urged the students to join a heroic struggle that began long before they were born.

You can read the speech here and watch it here.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education


  1. I am 63 years old….I remember segregation ….at the age of 2 falling out a window on my head, on concrete should of died but I didn’t. So all my life I have been disabled. In school treated as a freak I could not get the school work done, so I quit school to use my back instead of my brain. Today, now, many years latter the school is run not for education but to govern the family. Many kids are abused…but the Idea of education has been forgotten. I tried the college level, with a disability, got 4 years at 12 units a semester and because the school, run not by students but by a school union, has the power to stop your dream of being self supporting. Getting off welfair, public aid and any other form of help….Where are your rights? There are none! Oh yes if you have money you have all the rights you want.

  2. just a reminder of stories past i strongly suggest reading what was required in an 8th grade final exam in 1895. let us think creatively and remember that not every citizen needs/wants/is prepared to go to college. my suggestion = elementary school curriculum should be a full liberal arts education. high school delve deeper and offer alternative paths. we have gone downhill since 1895! let us show the way to go up that hill again!

  3. I heard that the DC office of Civil Rights is allowing 3 hours for training because of the 50th anniversary event. What does that mean? If we are in Education and we have a training day tomorrow, can we use these training hours if we would like to attend? Do you know anything about this?

  4. Investigate NYS department of education. For placing students into low performing schools. They violate NCLB. And are violating parental choice for their child’s education

  5. My sons typical 8th grader friend just commented saying they should teaching reading first so that later on we can be taught bigger words and have a better understanding. OUT OF THE MOUTH OF BABES

  6. Mr. Duncan, we all know an education is a civil right but when you enter the doors of any school District that right becomes theirs as to whether or not they will educate you. As a parent of a special needs child who is mainstreamed i find that once my child enters that school they can undermind the educational plan I have in place. I want my child to succeed, I want him to prevail BUT unless I sue them or sit in the classroom they won’t change a the way they educate. part of the educational system needs overhaul, many students have reading issues and its because reading takes a back seat to testing and learning how to beat the test. They give our kids the answers so they can pass the tests. My son is now in 8th grade and still can’t read. My grandaughter is in 1st and is struggling because the art of reading is not taught anymore. We assume a child will pick up reading naturally, this is a thinking that has proven many wrong. We need to get back to basics in reading, we need to teach these children how to read the first three years of school. Once reading and language are understood math and science will come.

    • Replying to Mr. TK

      In 2013 with millions of dollars put into the public school system. You would thing the children would be genius. The U.S. department of education doesn’t protected politicians,people with titles,people with money from making more money off our children.Everyone pockets are open… when you want to control people don’t educate them…..It all about my money …not books

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