Civil rights leaders blast Supreme Court at their doorstep

Civil rights leaders blast Supreme Court at their doorstep | The Hill

Civil rights leaders from around the nation gathered in Washington, D.C., Friday to protest book bans and rising attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), saying limitations on education were hurting teachers, students and democracy as a whole. 

Protesters with the Freedom to Learn rally marched from the Library of Congress to the Supreme Court. In addition to concerns on book bans and DEI, the rally also highlighted Supreme Court rulings on ending affirmative action in higher education and overturning Roe v. Wade. 

Kimberlé Crenshaw, co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, said the Supreme Court has “lost its way.”

“It’s gotten into the business of erasure,” Crenshaw said. “Diversity, equity and inclusion is the new moral panic of the nation. It’s the source, they say, of all that ails us. DEI is becoming the new N-word in American politics.” 

Since 2023, 85 bills in 28 states have been introduced to limit DEI policies, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Thirteen have become law, while 14 have final legislative approval. 

Meanwhile, during the 2022-23 school year, 153 districts across 33 states banned books, according to a report by PEN America. 

Many of the books are written by women, authors of color or LGBTQ authors and delve into topics including race, racism, sexuality and identity. Crenshaw, who has been credited with founding critical race theory, has had her work banned in schools around the country. Critical race theory is an academic framework evaluating U.S. history through the lens of racism that has become a political catch-all buzzword for any race-related teaching

“Attacks on our knowledge and our literature have reached unprecedented levels,” Crenshaw said Friday. “It prevents us from learning about our past to create a better, more inclusive future. We know education is the key to democratic inclusion.”

“We’ve got to fight for our right to learn. We’ve got to fight against the Achilles’s heel of our democracy, which is its racism and the ignorance about it. Without the freedom to learn, we cannot save our democracy,” she concluded.

Crenshaw has previously discussed with The Hill’s “The Switch Up” podcast the effect this has had on her.

survey conducted earlier this year by Pew Research Center found that 58 percent of teachers surveyed said their state government has too much influence over what is taught in schools. More than 40 percent said the political debates taking place in legislatures has had a negative impact on their ability to do their job.

Republican governors in particular, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have pushed legislation to limit what topics can be taught in schools and how they should be taught. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s victory in a 2021 election centered on the idea of parents’ rights in schools.

Since 2021, at least 18 states have imposed bans or restrictions on teaching topics of race and gender, according to a report by Education Week.

On Friday, advocates like Wisdom Cole, national director for the NAACP’s Youth and College Division, said the limitations are an attempt to whitewash history. 

“We stand on the steps where we argued in this very court to ensure that our children could sit in the seats at the very universities that they are now protesting,” he said. “Pay attention as the highest court in the land moves further away from the people so they can line their pockets with money from profiteers that don’t want to see us rise above.”

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said these limitations are the rebirth of Jim Crow and a slap in the face to the decision of Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

“Some people have the gall and the nerve to seek to repeal, undercut and undermine those historic victories. We owe obligations to our ancestors,” he said. “And hell yes, we will be woke, because it’s better to be woke than to be asleep.”

Many at Friday’s rally wore shirts depicting a young Ruby Bridges being escorted out of school by security officials, an homage to one of the first Black students to attend an all-white school and the vitriol she faced to attain her education. 

Gwendolynn Hines, a freshman at Morgan State University, said she attended Friday’s rally in part to honor Bridges. 

“Ruby Bridges set the path for us, and we’re going to stay on that path to ensure that we can still follow through on our education and that generations to come can still get an education, too,” said Hines, 19.

Those opposed to DEI policies argue they are divisive, force children to look at each other’s differences, and make certain students feel uncomfortable. Defenders of book bans have argued books that delve into slavery and racism are traumatizing and depict violence, while those on sexuality and identity are inappropriate and pornographic. 

Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, said this rhetoric is a cover for white supremacy. 

“First they passed laws to prohibit Black people from reading. Now they are passing laws to prohibit people from reading about what they did,” she said. “We know about being uncomfortable as Black people. These anti-woke laws and policies are anti-us. They are anti-Black. They are anti-Latino. They are anti-Asian Pacific Islander. They are anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-LGBTQ and especially anti-trans. They are anti-majority. They are anti-democracy.”

She then blasted the Supreme Court for its decision on affirmative action, telling those gathered that the decision will leave many Black students from obtaining higher education. 

“We must connect the dots to the bans on books, to anti-CRT to anti-LGBTQ to the attacks on reproductive freedom,” Browne Dianis said. “We must attach it to voter suppression. Because they want to silence us. They want to make sure that we are erased. But the majority is rising and they will lose.”


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