Black women — now and then — lead a recalcitrant America toward justice

Though words are my primary business, I never underestimate the power of images, especially when they so clearly represent different chapters of the same old story — one that’s frustrating, exhilarating and powerful.

What was Gloria Richardson thinking, as she seems to casually push aside the bayonet-tipped firearm wielded by a National Guardsman attempting to control civil rights demonstrators in Cambridge in my home state of Maryland in 1963? Maybe the same ideas she expressed to The Washington Post last year in the wake of protests after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police office: “Racism is ingrained in this country. This goes on and on,” she said. “We marched until the governor called martial law. That’s when you get their attention. Otherwise, you’re going to keep protesting the same things another 100 years from now.”

Richardson may not have been as well known as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Rep. John Lewis, but she was “born a leader,” as her granddaughter told The Associated Press. Richardson was right there on the stage at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, though her speech was cut short after her first “hello,” perhaps for fear of what she would say next. “Before I could say another word, an NAACP official took the mic away,” Richardson once recalled.

The icon of the movement, who was a 40-year-old mother of two when she initiated and led a SNCC affiliate, the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee, died recently at the age of 99.

In photos taken just last week, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, can be seen unapologetically carrying on the spirit of Richardson, marching to maintain hard-earned voting rights now threatened by a rash of voting restrictions across the nation. Two bills to strengthen voting rights, heirs to the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the U.S. Supreme Court seems intent on dismantling, are hitting roadblocks in Congress, from Republicans using the filibuster and Democrats hesitant to meddle with it.

But Beatty and the women and men who protested on July 15 no doubt remember that Richardson and activists faced legal obstacles as well as death threats and countered it all with more activism.

The education gap

Slavery, Jim Crow laws and COVID-19 all have contributed to a yawning gap between white public school students and students of color. While the 1950s Supreme Court decision known as Brown v. Board of Education was supposed to correct “separate but equal,” there is still a long way to go before public schools can talk about equity. Mary C. Curtis talks with Terra Wallin of the Education Trust to understand how we arrived at this moment and how the nation’s public schools can do better.

Statues come down, while barriers to truth are erected

In Charlottesville, Va., where a Unite the Right gathering of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Lost Cause devotees and other angry history deniers left destruction and death in their path in 2017, there was a different scene this past weekend.

The city removed statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, memorials to those who fought on the losing side of a Civil War to maintain the brutal and murderous institution of slavery. They were erected as monuments to white supremacy, not in the 1860s but the 1920s, a Jim Crow threat to Black citizens to “know their place.”

Now, as then, there are those opposed to this bit of progress, with arguments that removing the stone idols would mean erasing history, which is ridiculous since that history will never disappear from books, museums and tall tales handed down by the “never forget” brigade.

Ironically, many of these same folks would be only too glad to forget what really happened, during that bloody Civil War and in the 100 years after — the ingenious laws and policies that continue to reverberate through everything from health care to housing.

Trump’s gifts to journalists of color

By Jerry Ceppos

When I asked 24 top Washington journalists to write about their experiences covering the Trump Administration, I knew that I’d get some surprises.

For example, McKay Coppins of The Atlantic wrote about the terror campaign that Trump unleashed after disliking a story: “The sheer volume of the smear campaign was impressive. Scrolling down Breitbart’s home page yielded seven different stories related to my betrayal of ‘Mr. Trump.’’’

Mark Leibovich of The New York Times remembered President Trump hounding him for a profile in the Times Magazine. After it appeared, Trump told him, “You treated me very badly.”

Quint Forgey, a young reporter at POLITICO, asked, “Was it always like this?”

But the essays that bothered me most were from journalists of color.

Local News Roundup: Budget Spat Between CMS, County Resolved; Hannah-Jones Turns Down UNC, Delta Variant Becomes Dominant

On the Local News Roundup: the budget impasse between Mecklenburg County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has been resolved. CMS will get the $56 million in retained funds — and more.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones rejects UNC Chapel Hill’s delayed offer of tenure after a weekslong debate. The Chapel Hill alum opts to teach at Howard University, instead.

Just when we start reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic, the highly contagious delta variant emerges as the dominant strain in the nation. Meanwhile, COVID-related hospitalization in Mecklenburg County are at all-time lows.

And Mecklenburg County health director Gibbie Harris announces she’s retiring at the end of the year.

Our roundtable of reporters fills us in on those stories and more.

Guests

Claire Donnelly, WFAE health reporter

Nick Ochsner, WBTV’s executive producer for investigations & chief investigative reporter

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for CQ Roll Call and host of its podcast “Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis,” and a senior leader with The OpEd Project.

Hunter Saenz, WCNC reporter

America’s cultural education also needs a ‘truth’ upgrade

When I visited Monticello, the home of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, it was certainly impressive. But there was so much information shared by the friendly tour guide about the great man’s genius that a lot was left out about just who was making the Virginia plantation turn a profit. Who was building the furniture and brewing the beer? Who was doing the planting?

When I asked the kindly woman for more details on the lived experiences of the enslaved men, women and children at Monticello, her attitude grew decidedly chilly. And when I asked about Sally Hemings, who bore Jefferson’s children, beginning when she was a young teen and Jefferson was in his 40s, well, the docent’s face lost what little color it had and her rehearsed spiel descended into an unintelligible word salad. Then she changed the subject.

Blessedly, if I were to visit Monticello today, there is an exhibit devoted to Hemings, acknowledging the woman, known in Jefferson’s time but disappeared or downplayed by histories, at least until historian Annette Gordon-Reed’s books and other scholarship fueled conversations that DNA testing confirmed.

It wasn’t just embarrassed guides at Monticello that misled for so long. Anyone relying on other cultural interpretations would have been clueless. In 2000, I wrote about a CBS offering, “Sally Hemings: An American Scandal,” which portrayed the relationship between a man of power and privilege and the woman he owned as straight out of a romance novel, complete with swelling chords and actor Sam Neill as Jefferson in a Fabio-style wig, locks blowing in a wind machine-generated breeze.

Disturbing, if a ratings grabber.

History, what is taught in the classroom, is vital if we are to understand the present. Right now, the country is embroiled in a contentious discussion over how much truth about systemic racism to allow in classrooms, with, unfortunately, little consideration of how and why promoting “fairy tale” history can damage schoolchildren of all ages and races.

But education extends past hours sitting at a school-room desk. Let’s face it, a lot of folks absorb what we see on TV or in the movies as kind of true. We half-listen to a museum guide without questioning the motives of the people who crafted monuments and museums that shape memories of the dead.

‘The intrinsic value of whiteness’

The country’s history of redlining, racially restrictive covenants, zoning regulations and more has embedded racism in its housing policies. Simply put, Black communities have been devalued through these policies. Untangling that legacy has proved difficult, especially when some politicians have resisted progress. Mary C. Curtis sits down with Andre M. Perry, author of “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities,” to discuss how we got here, what the Biden administration is trying to change and what can be done to dismantle housing discrimination.

Who is afraid of critical race theory?

Even as the U.S. will likely have a federal holiday to mark June 19th or Juneteenth — an important date not a part of many history books — battles over teaching race continue. After the murder of George Floyd, many sought to learn lessons that were absent in the traditional white-washed version of American history taught for generations.

But educating students about race — what some call critical race theory — has become another flashpoint in the culture wars pitting red against blue. Mary C. Curtis talks with education policy expert Jazmyne Owens of New America about why some states are trying to ban the teaching of systemic racism and what it will mean if they succeed.

USDA and Black farmers

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sits down with Mary C. Curtis to discuss Black farmers and the USDA plan to provide debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers through the March COVID-19 relief law.

That means Black farmers who have lost 90 percent of their land in the last century, in large part because of USDA policies, may receive compensation. The administration says equity is overdue and this is just the beginning. But many white farmers and banks have objections.

No true economic growth without true equality, Cecilia Rouse says

President Joe Biden tapped Cecilia Rouse to chair his Council of Economic Advisers and tasked her, the first Black woman to hold the job, with seeking to advance racial equity in his economic policies.

Rouse, previously the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and a member of President Barack Obama’s economic council, recently joined CQ Roll Call’s Equal Time podcast to discuss her plans.