MLK's Legacy Under Siege in Texas

| Mon Jan. 18, 2010 5:57 PM EST

Quiz: According to the Texas State School Board, the civil rights movement was...

a) Much ado about nothing

b) Effected by a benevolent white majority

c) Actually during the 1870s

d) All of the above

According to TPM and the Washington Monthly, the Texas state school board is working to correct a number of perceived innacuracies in a historical narrative that the board claims has been corrupted by liberals. The standards up for discussion include the usual points—safeguards against the outright teaching of evolution; an emphasis on America as a Christian nation—as well as a mandate that books must devote significant space to Phyllis Schlafly, Newt Gingrich, and the Moral Majority. You know, the Founders.

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But those changes seem like small potatoes, though, once you see what the board thinks about the civil rights movement.

Barton and Peter Marshall initially tried to purge the standards of key figures of the civil rights era, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall, though they were forced to back down amid a deafening public uproar. They have since resorted to a more subtle tack; while they concede that people like Martin Luther King Jr. deserve a place in history, they argue that they shouldn’t be given credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As Barton put it, “Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society.”

Their solution has been to deemphasize the significance of the '50s and '60s, and instead highlight the (Republican) Reconstruction South as the pinnacle of the civil rights movement. Which makes a lot of sense, if you discard the fact that 1) during Reconstruction, roving bands of white-hooded militants roamed the countryside, and 2) The South descended into an Apartheid-like state for the next 80-odd years.

As Nikki Gloudeman points out, the battle for Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy has been long and arduous. The mistake would be to think it's over.

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