Reflections on Juneteenth: Jim Crow, Ron DeSantis and Betsy DeVos

I didn’t mean to do it. Some call it a “resting bitch face.”1 I did it today when someone said, “Well, I didn’t learn about that in school.” So, if you didn’t learn about, it didn’t happen? Oh good lawd, ignorance is truly bliss.

Anti-literacy laws made it illegal for enslaved and free people of color to read or write. Southern slave states enacted anti-literacy laws between 1740 and 1834, prohibiting anyone from teaching enslaved and free people of color to read or write.

The last of these laws were legally abolished in 1867 after members of the free black community of Norfolk, Virginia petitioned the federal government to abolish the laws in June of 1865. The petition happens to coincide with “Juneteenth.” The emancipation proclamation freed enslaved peoples in January of 1863. Texas refused to acknowledge the emancipation proclamation. Texas has the largest African American population because enslavers in other states moved their slaves there. Texas fought two years until April of 1865 with the final surrender of confederate forces. Texas still refused freedom to the enslaved. It wasn’t until the union forces informed African Americans they were free on June 19, 1865; hence Juneteenth.

The period after the civil war and before Jim Crow was reconstruction where a total of 17 African Americans served in the United States Congress. Unfortunately this was too much for the confederacy and ushered in a period of Jim Crow laws. “Jim Crow” is a derogatory term for a black man. Southern states that formally comprised the confederacy set about making laws to create racial segregation that established African Americans as lower class citizens. One of these laws included a literacy test to vote. It sounded like a full proof way to suppress the black vote given the previous anti literacy laws. Except, a majority of white people were illiterate. This is where the term “grandfathered” came in. If your grandfather could vote, then you can vote. Enter “resting bitch face” again. I explain why grandfathered is an acceptable term. “Oh, but that’s not how I meant it.” Oh good lawd, now that you know, don’t use the term.

Let the discomfort begin. “Oh, but that was back int he 1880’s.” But, these Jim Crow laws lingered. In the 70’s I started off in a segregated elementary school and went to an integrated middle school. The “whites” were angry and protested. I mean capitol rioters angry. 100 years after the civil war, after the emancipation proclamation, there was visceral resistance to integration. As students, we were cool. However, it wasn’t long before there was a work around to integration, private schools. This brings us to 2020. 

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of education under ex President Donal Trump, pushed for private schools to get federal funding equivalent to public schools along with federal tax credits for tuition. The Supreme court ruled in her favor. Hence, private school created to avoid integration are now partially funded by taxpayers taking away money from public schools. Yes,  parents still have to pay, in some cases, significant tuition and these schools do not “ban” non whites. However, the minorities in these institutions are few and the parents get a tax break. The argument is, the public schools are not good, better teachers, better education. However, what would it look like if the public funding for all schools were equitable.

This week, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship. The fans then proudly proclaimed, “we did it, we won, dubs forever baby.” A great example of how people who really had nothing to do with the win take credit. Sorry to break it to y’all, but wearing your lucky underwear, doing your pregame routine and yelling at the screen in a sports bar had nothing to do with the win. But, it’s cool. We won. We’re a team. Ironically, In the US, we’re proud of our history of democracy, we chant USA because we’re proud. But, do we also take credit for the not so good? The enslavement of African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans, the slaughter of Native Americans, the immigration ban for Chinese? Well, it’s a hard no for the state of Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 7 into law on April 22, 2022. This bill bans any instruction where:

A person’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily  determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex.

Hence, you’ve now come full circle to the start. Just because something isn’t taught, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. My primary education in the 60’s and 70’s had no mention of World War I or World War II. But, we did have bomb drills in school in which we were taught to duck and cover. This Juneteenth week I value literacy, the power of the written word, the places today where is it illegal for women or minorities to have the ability to read and write and I in my soul celebrate the abolition of anti literacy laws. Consider the goal of primary education this week. What  should determine the curriculum?

1Resting bitch face, also known as RBF, or bitchy resting face (BRF), is a facial expression that unintentionally appears like a person is angry, annoyed, …

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