50th Anniversary: What Will Texas Students Learn about the Civil Rights Movement?

by Dan Quinn

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That landmark legislation bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Its enactment came after decades of struggle by civil rights advocates in the face of virulent opposition — opposition that often resorted to brutality and even murder.

President Johnson didn’t sweep away bigotry and discrimination with the simple stroke of his pen on July 2, 1964. But his signature marked a key moment when the United States truly began to fulfill the promise of equality for all under the law.

Right-wing politicians and activists have spent decades trying to rewrite the history of the struggle for civil and equal rights in this country. One of those political activists — as we explain here and here — has been David Barton, the right’s favorite phony historian and head of Texas-based WallBuilders, which argues that separation of church and state is a myth. Barton has argued that conservatives — Republicans, in particular — were the real champions of civil rights.

It is absolutely true that white southern Democratic senators successfully led efforts to kill civil rights legislation for decades. But Barton ignores the conservative Republican senators who aided southern filibusters in opposition. And his distorted recounting of the civil rights movement also ignores the legions of conservative white southerners who swung from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in opposition to that movement — especially after enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Barton served as a so-called “expert adviser” when the State Board of Education revised social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools in 2009-10. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that certain state board members also have expressed similarly twisted views of our nation’s civil rights history.

On this anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, check out in the video clip above how Don McLeroy directed curriculum writers to address civil rights when they were drafting the new social studies standards. McLeroy had recently lost his seat as chairman but was still serving on the state board at the time. Note the puzzled — even stunned — look on the face of one of the curriculum writers as McLeroy suggests that women and racial minorities in America have white men to thank for granting them equal rights.

The State Board of Education is set this year to adopt new social studies textbooks based on the deeply flawed standards McLeroy helped pass back in 2010. The Texas Freedom Network will be closely monitoring this adoption and what the new textbooks teach students about civil rights and other important topics in American history. You will be hearing much more from us about this critical textbook adoption soon.

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