House Bill 686 would require schools to teach about the Civil Rights Movement

By: - June 26, 2023 4:30 pm
A woman carrying books in a library

A Republican-sponsored bill would require instruction regarding the Civil Rights Movement to be a part of North Carolina middle school history classes, but critics say the proposal is an effort to paper over other legislation aimed at whitewashing U.S. history. Image: Adobe Stock

Last week, as state Republicans fast tracked a flurry of bills critics consider harmful to transgender youth, a bill requiring the Civil Rights Movement be taught in middle school and high school civics classes received bipartisan support and a favorable hearing in the House K-12 Education Committee.

House Bill 686 would amend current state law to require public schools to teach civil rights education as part of the middle school and citizenship education standard course of study and the high school course in Founding Principles of the United States of America and North Carolina: Civic Literacy course.

If HB 686 becomes law, students would learn about the Civil Rights Movement, the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the tactics and strategies of nonviolent resistance championed by King in response to the abuses Black Americans suffered under Jim Crow laws and the repeal of Jim Crow laws that followed civil rights legislation.

Rep. Jon Hardister

“This has been passed in eight other states,” said Sate Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), the bill’s primary sponsor.“Basically what it does is it would require the civil rights movement to be taught.”

As Newsline previously reported, Hardister, the House Majority Whip, is also a primary sponsor of House Bill 96, which would require students in UNC System Schools and community colleges to take a course on history and government regardless of their major.

HB 96 would require students to read seven documents in their entirety:

  •  The Constitution of the United States of America.
  •  The Declaration of Independence.
  •  At least five essays from the Federalist Papers.
  •  The Emancipation Proclamation.
  •  The Gettysburg Address.
  •  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
  •  The North Carolina State Constitution.

Critics of HB 96 say understanding U.S. and N.C. history is vital, but the course described in the bill and the readings to be mandated will not give students much context for the sometimes-rocky history of our nation.

“It’s a very specific view of American history and state history,” Dr. Jay Smith, a history professor at UNC-Chapel Hill told Newsline last month. “You could look at it as a sort of ‘greatest hits,’ if you only want to talk about certain moments from the American history in a very specific way.”

Reps. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) and Amos Quick (D-Guilford) are also primary sponsors of HB 686. The General Assembly would award the NC Department of Public Instruction $250,000 in nonrecurring funds to implement HB 686.

Quick said more money would be needed in subsequent years.

“There was some question about the amount of appropriation that was included in the bill,” Quick said. “What we’re looking for is the successful implementation of this program, and hopefully will be able to bring it back with much success and look for more appropriation.”

Rodney Pierce

Rodney D. Pierce, a middle school social studies teacher who helped write North Carolina’s new social studies standards called HB 686 a “half hearted, futile” attempt by the Republican majority to “shield themselves from accusations of anti-Black racism” after introducing House Bill 187 to restrict how educators talk about race and teach Black History.

The co-sponsorship of both bills by Blackwell and other Republicans is “laughable,” Pierce said.

“It’s dubious they’re even concerned with Black history being taught in North Carolina’s public schools, unless it’s the history or the time period they feel should be taught,” he said. “They look like they’re attempting to have it both ways, or play both sides of the fence. Please gentlemen, make up your minds.”

Pierce wondered how many teachers our curriculum developers were consulted before HB 686 was written and introduced. He said the bill gives the impression that the Civil Rights Movement started in 1954 with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and ended with King’s assassination and passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968.

“To limit a movement that is still ongoing to a 14-year peak is highly insulting and insensitive,” Pierce said.

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.