As we recognize Black History Month at Green Dot Public Schools, we can focus on how the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s played out on public school campuses throughout the South. The battle then focused on ending racial segregation and discrimination of African Americans – much as it still does today. To put African American and white children in the same classrooms was considered a radical act!
Even as our nation has advanced toward better opportunities for all citizens, far too many inequities still remain. Organizations like Stand for Children continue advocating for better and equal education for all children. We continue this work knowing that successes from the Civil Rights Movement were the result of partnerships and community organizing as well as the leadership of a few important individuals.
What follows is a letter from Cardell Orrin, Memphis Director at Stand for Children Tennessee. Stand for Children is just one of our partners who share our passion for creating an equal opportunity for all children to have a quality, public education.
The place was Memphis and the year was 1969 – barely a year since we had lost Martin Luther King Jr.
The Memphis City Schools Board of Education and top-level administration had zero African American members, despite the fact that the district’s students were primarily African American.
Local NAACP leaders challenged this injustice by supporting a group of young, black men — called the Mobilizers — to go out and organize students in the schools. The goal? Organize students to walk out of school every Monday to put economic pressure on the school system and gain representation on the school board.
At their height, “Black Mondays”– as they came to be called — saw 68,000 students and 800 teachers stand up for their community by staying home from school in protest. The school board agreed to appoint two (non-voting) African Americans to the board, and soon state law would allow for actual representation on the board. Those African American school board members would be instrumental in appointing the first African American superintendent and helping to elect the first elected black mayor of Memphis.
I know this story because my father, Cardell Jackson, was a Mobilizer. But you won’t read about him and his compatriots who led that charge in most history books. The role they played is all but forgotten except by a few. But these lost threads of history weave into the fabric of our civil rights struggles of today – they are the elements of change in the long arc of justice.