Racial Issues From the Past Still Fester

By Lewis W. Diuguid, Columnist
Kansas City Star, Tuesday, February 16, 1999
� Copyright 1999 The Kansas City Star


Two civil rights videos that Dennis Bobbitt showed recently in his American government class seemed to move only two persons -- him and me.

To the Washington High School seniors, the NAACP's Supreme Court victory in the 1954 case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka was stale history. So were states rights issues and the Ku Klux Klan.

But Bobbitt had me share with the students the racist e-mail I regularly get. I also let them know of the hate calls I've received because of columns I've written on our poor state of race relations. Those multimedia messages were enough for the students to see that the textbook issues in American government that Bobbitt teaches are still a problem.

Helping to make the past relevant was a task I was happy to take on for the Class of 1999 at Washington High School in Kansas City, Kan. I've been studying with the seniors since they were freshmen to learn what it's like to be a teen and teacher today.

America's painful sores of racism have scarred each century of this nation's past and threaten to ooze into the new millennium. One civil rights video showed black-and-white footage of Klan rallies.

It told how white supremacist groups had grown so much in popularity at the turn of the century that even Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black and President Warren G. Harding were once Klan members.

That prompted me on another day in class to share a recent article from The Kansas City Star on the Council of Conservative Citizens. Bobbitt read the story to the students.

In it, GOP Chairman Jim Nicholson appealed to Republicans to resign from the council because of that group's "racist views." Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, and Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican, have been criticized for speaking at council meetings.

The Council of Conservative Citizens has been called racist because writers on the St. Louis-based group's Web site suggest the white race is under siege. The council's scribes ridicule slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and tout Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as history's greatest American. The council doesn't see itself as racist. Yet it opposes interracial marriage, prefers a separation of the races and wants "to preserve a `white' America."

I told the students such "moral authority" groups are trying to remake their image just as Confederate flag bumper stickers today say "Heritage, Not Hate." These are important Black History Month issues.

Bobbitt wrote "ethnocentrism" on the board. That word is part of America's history. He and I also said such power and control issues constantly test our government and Constitution, which keep majority rule from trampling minority rights.

The 1990s additions I made to the lessons in Bobbitt's class provoked a lot of comments from students. Nannette Young said racism and ethnocentrism make no sense. Royce Ann Jackson, April Wilson and Shanell Downs questioned why walls exist among races when everyone enjoys others' culture. LeAnna Watson, Jennifer Rogers and Jeanine Hegwood agreed. LeAnna said the problem is ignorance.

The answer has got to be education for students at Washington High School and the rest of America if peace is ever to have a chance.