History’s impact on education

Published 6:33pm Monday, June 10, 2013

Former President Harry Truman once said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” Truman understood that we must understand our history if we want to move forward. As it happens, this week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most important moments in state history: former Gov. George Wallace’s famous “stand in the schoolhouse door.”

On June 11th, 1963, Wallace made national news when he stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium on the campus of the University of Alabama to prevent three black students from registering for classes. Wallace made a campaign promise to fight integration. But in the end, Wallace stepped aside. This moment dramatically changed our state for the better.

In years since, several prominent African Americans have attended and graduated from the University of Alabama. From men who made football history, like Ozzie Newsome Jr. to Olympic gold medalist Lillie Leatherwood, and businessmen like Donald Watkins, there have been many notable African Americans to graduate from Alabama. And because of integration, schools like Auburn University also began accepting African Americans who have made a significant impact on our state such as Bo Jackson, Grammy Award-winning artist Lionel Richie and Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer.

Before she died, Vivian Malone Jones stated that she hoped history would remember June 11th, 1963 as a day when the doors were opened rather than an attempt to close. And that is the lesson that I fear our legislative leaders in Montgomery have forgotten. Heroes like Vivian Malone Jones, Dave McGlathery and James Hood, took stands that made it possible for every child to have a chance at a quality education. But today, children – white and black – are seeing their opportunities slip away because their public schools are under attack from legislature.

The Republican Supermajority that now controls Montgomery has spent the past years ramming through an anti-education agenda. Because of this agenda, we have lost much of the success that educators have achieved in the classroom. As a state representative, I believe it is especially important for elected officials to know our history. But it seems clear that the Republican Supermajority is not interested in these lessons.

So let’s take a moment this week to think about what Vivian Malone Jones wanted us to learn. Let’s remember our history of opening doors instead of closing them. And let’s recommit ourselves to the concept of giving every child in Alabama a chance to have the opportunity to achieve their dreams through hard work and education.

 

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