Opinion/Tackach: Racial history is American history

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Teaching Race

James Tackach, of Narragansett, is a professor of English at Roger Williams University. Critical race theory has become a poisonous term for some Americans. They want to banish the term from our national vocabulary and especially ban its use in K-12 schools. Fine, erase this divisive term from our national vocabulary, but we do need to teach students about American racial history in our schools.

Students need to learn that:

Their nation was once occupied by Native Americans. British and European settlers established residency during the 1600s, and through war and migration pushed the native tribes off their native lands.

In 1619, the first of many slave ships arrived on America’s East Coast. The captured Africans aboard those ships became enslaved for life.

The United States became an independent nation in 1776. Its founding charter declared that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The author of those words, Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves and fathered slave children. Slavery survived after the American Revolution.

A national abolitionist movement began during the 1830s led by both whites like William Lloyd Garrison and freed slaves like Frederick Douglass.

The 1857 Supreme Court decision Dred Scott v. Sandford stated that Black Americans, free or enslaved, were not citizens.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, he pledged only to limit the spread of American slavery, not to abolish it. But several slave states withdrew from the Union, and the Civil War began. Midway through the war, President Lincoln issued an Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in the rebellious states and invited Black men to serve in the Union army. More than 200,000 enlisted, a crucial supply of manpower at a pivotal point in the conflict.

The Union won the war. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution outlawed slavery. Two subsequent amendments gave Black Americans citizenship with “equal protection of the law” and voting rights.

Racial discrimination and segregation endured. An 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, allowed segregation in public places such as train cars, restaurants, and hotels.

During World War II, Japanese Americans were taken from their homes and forced into internment camps for the duration of the war. A Supreme Court decision sanctioned the policy. Japanese Americans fought against the Nazis during the war.

After World War II, a civil rights effort commenced. In 1947, Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby integrated Major League Baseball. President Harry Truman integrated the U.S. armed forces, which had been segregated since the Civil War. The movement gained momentum during the 1950s. Its heroes included Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

A 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, outlawed segregated public schools. The lawyer who successfully argued that case, Thurgood Marshall, became the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice.

During the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner, signed important civil rights legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed segregation in public places such as parks, hotels, and restaurants, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

During the 1960s, race riots erupted in Watts, California; Newark, New Jersey; and other cities.

In 2008, a Black candidate, Barack Obama, was elected President of the United States. During his campaign, there was an effort to derail his candidacy by spreading the lie that he was born in Kenya, which would make him ineligible for the American presidency. Donald Trump supported this effort.

Certainly there is more American racial history to convey to students than is listed here. High school students also need to read Black authors — Frederick Douglass, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison. Would covering these events and authors constitute teaching critical race theory? Perhaps. But maybe studying race is just studying American history.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Opinion/Tackach: Racial history is American history