February 3, 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When passed in 1870, the 15th Amendment extended voting rights to all American men “regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”—a move that initiated an experiment in interracial democracy that continues into the present. Yet the voting rights that were formally extended to black men were quickly curtailed by interests that opposed black enfranchisement, setting the stage for an ongoing battle to ensure that all Americans can participate in the political process regardless of race, gender, and other dimensions of identity. This 150th anniversary is an occasion to assess the continuing threats to voting rights today, the stakes of those threats, and how we can challenge them.
Before the US presidential election, Eric Liu wrote in a recent article in the Atlantic, “Whatever the outcome on Election Day, more than 40 percent of American voters will feel despondent, disgusted, and betrayed.” As we face this reality together, we have a chance to learn from the pivotal dilemmas and choices of our nation’s past as we pick up the pieces from the exhausting 2016 election cycle. We can look to the aftermath of the Civil War—another period of deep division within the US—to better understand how we got to this current divisive moment filled with vitriolic rhetoric.
In the United States, Presidents’ Day is celebrated Monday. The national holiday offers an opportunity for valuable discussion in the classroom about the importance—and the fragility—of democracy now and throughout history. Here are four Facing History and Ourselves resources that can help you plan an exciting lesson.
It can be so very difficult to discuss race with our children.
The conversation is particularly complex when it's about some of our nation's not-so-proud moments.Rather than face such moments head-on, sometimes we instead seek to protect our children (and even ourselves) from the pain and shame of the past, and so we often gloss over physical, emotional, and psychological suffering in history to get to a more palatable, less troubling version of those events. Moments like 1965 in Selma, Alabama, too quickly become "the victory of voting rights" rather than the painful history of a tired, yet determined, African American community that stood toe-to-toe against those who used terror, intimidation, and unjust laws to deny them opportunity to freely exercise the right to vote.
There are so many moments throughout history whose untold and overlooked stories make them much more fascinating than the versions that are typically taught or talked about in the classroom. The 1965 civil rights march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery is one of those stories.