House Democrats push African-American history mandate following Charlottesville violence

 

Following last weekend's violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives are pushing for legislation requiring African-American history be taught in all public schools, saying education is key to eliminating racism.

"We all have to do a better job of getting to know each other and understand each other," said Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit, the lead sponsor of the bill. "But it starts in our schools in educating children properly so they're able to push back when they hear lies pushed forward about different races of people."

Her legislation, introduced in March, would require that students in all grade levels be taught about the history and contributions of African-Americans in the development of the U.S. and the world. She says the events in Charlottesville reinforce the need for such lessons.

A set of social studies content expectations created by the state of Michigan include lessons regarding slavery, the civil rights movement, the African continent and its people.

But Gay-Dagnogo said those lessons, as taught in schools, likely vary from district to district and don't provide a "clear understanding of the contributions that African Americans have made to this country and their involvement prior to slavery, post reconstruction and on."

"Even after the Civil Rights era, there's nothing that highlights the positivity and the accomplishments of African Americans in science and engineering and building this country," she said.

Hundreds of white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia, this weekend for a rally dubbed "Unite the Right," during which they protested plans by the city to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The event turned violent, with clashes between the white nationalists and counter protesters. One woman died and 19 were injured when a man with views sympathetic to Nazis plowed his car into a group of counter protesters, according to news reports.

Rep. Jeremy Moss, a co-sponsor of the bill, acknowledged that requiring a more robust education in African American history "is not going to drastically change race relations overnight."

But "it's a step in the right direction," he said.

"Decent Americans want to think that Nazis and the KKK are from an era of history that's long gone, but those bigots who rallied in Charlottesville were my age," said Moss, 31. "So something is happening here that we aren't teaching the next generation about the perils of white supremacy."

Moss said the bill would complement legislation, signed into law in 2016 by Gov. Rick Snyder, that required instruction on genocide in social studies curriculum for grades 8-12.

He and Gay-Dagnogo say they're hopeful a committee hearing will be held on their bill once the Legislature reconvenes in September. 

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