The Civil Rights Act of 1964 stands among the most revolutionary laws in U.S. history. Critics of a new and growing “racial justice” movement say we don’t enforce it, live by it or respect it.
The law’s tumultuous passage epitomizes the old comparison of legislatures and sausage factories. Leading Democrats filibustered the bill while others fought for it. Key Republicans helped pass it. President Lyndon B. Johnson — a southern Democrat notorious for his frequent use of the N-word in the White House — signed it into law. The result of a messy process helped make the United States the envy of the world.
The law has helped our economy flourish and made this country a favored destination of every oppressed ethnic, racial and religious minority demographic around the globe. It codified the vision stated by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who dreamed of a world in which white and Black children held hands and all were judged on the content of their characters without regard to ethnic identities, religious identity or skin color.
The basics of the law are simple. It outlaws “discrimination” by governments, public schools and places of public accommodation on a basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Updates forbid institutionalized discrimination on a basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
The law’s intent may explain why so many Americans around the country were shocked by the widely distributed photo outside a Denver Public School promoting a “Families of Color Playground Night” on Dec. 8. The same school district recently implemented an “equity policy” to focus students’ attention on “implicit bias” and “equitable” outcomes based on race instead of character, skills and accomplishments.
The Civil Rights Act may explain why a handful of parents with children at a Colorado Springs-area school took umbrage when a sociology teacher told a student he could not speak about the Ku Klux Klan because he was white. The teacher quickly apologized and contextualized the comment.
The Civil Rights Act may explain why parents in Colorado’s Douglas County School District stormed a school board meeting to oppose a “No Place for Hate” curriculum that defines racism as “the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.”
The Civil Rights Act may explain why Republican Glenn Youngkin this year became the governor of Virginia, a heavily Democratic state, mostly by standing up for parents concerned about school instructions that tell Black children they are helpless victims of privileged white children.
Whether taught under course names that include “equity,” “critical race” or other fuzzy verbiage, parents all over the country are hearing from their children about teachers emphasizing oppression of Blacks by white children of privilege. The National Education Association last year passed a resolution encouraging instruction of critical race theory in K-12 public schools. The theory, designed for adult graduate students in law schools, tells children their country is inherently and intractably racist and, perhaps by default, Black children will always be at an unfair disadvantage to their white peers.
Former state Sen. Ed Jones, a Republican who represented a Colorado Springs district, finds disturbing the “Families of Color Night” and the movement toward teaching children their country is racist.
Jones knows racism through experience and said elite white educators are moving us in the wrong direction.
“I’m in my eightieth year, and I lived through state-sponsored discrimination in Mississippi in the ’40s and ’50s, long before Dr. King’s beautiful ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and the Civil Rights Act,” said Jones, who grew up banned from restaurants, used separate entrances to places of public accommodation and drank from Blacks-only drinking fountains.
“I understand what it’s like to be Black when I served my country and Blacks were still discriminated against in the military,” Jones said.
Jones describes experiencing an “extraordinary” transformation brought about by civil rights activists, the Civil Rights Act, similar state and local laws and cultural enlightenment. He moved to Colorado Springs in 1963 and said it felt like “the most racist city in the country” in a state that seemed more racist than Mississippi. Denver’s international airport was named “Stapleton” after a former Denver mayor who was elected as a ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. Jones could live in only a few segregated parts of Colorado Springs.
Later, Jones saw the country embrace the Christian-based, anti-discrimination message of the Rev. King with an alacrity like the recent and successful LGBTQ rights movement. The mostly white city that prohibited him from living among whites would later elect him as a county commissioner and senator.
“The ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was the most awesome thing I have ever heard,” Jones recalls. “Rev. King said what he preached and what he lived by. He helped make this the greatest country in the world, and today we must somehow get all Americans to understand this has become the greatest country in the world because Dr. King united us. He would be appalled by telling today’s Black children they are oppressed and white children are oppressors. We are united together as one like no other place on this planet because we learned from our past and improved.”
Jones said the election of President Joe Biden, a former ally of segregationists and a close friend of former Klan recruiter and Sen. Robert K. Byrd, has fueled a new trend toward racial segregation. It is cleverly hidden, he said, in “equity” and “critical race” curriculum in schools. He said the “Families of Color Night” playground event is a joke and a remnant of segregation.
“Joe Biden is a racist and has inspired a form of modern racism designed to look like it is anti-racist,” Jones said. “I’ve been Black all my life, and for a lot of that time it was hell. Yet we have a president who says ‘I ain’t Black’ because I didn’t vote for him. That’s a white man telling a Black man how he must vote if he wants to remain Black. If that isn’t racist, I don’t know what is. With that and a lot of other racist comments, he has set this country in the wrong direction.”
Instead of teaching children they are oppressors or oppressed, Jones wants schools to teach students our racist history and how much we have achieved to overcome it. He wants teachers to tell nonwhite children they can achieve anything they want and are at no institutionalized disadvantage — as guaranteed by federal, state and local laws.
“They need to teach that all the kids are very important — Black, white, Asians, Hispanics. They all are looking up to teachers, and those teachers need to tell them what life is about, what America is about and how America became the least racist country in the world. They need to teach that we are all one race no matter what we look like, no matter how we speak.”
Attorney David Kopel, who has long taught at the University of Denver Strum College of Law and previously as an adjunct professor at NYU School of Law, questions whether classroom instruction and “families of color” events are legal under the Civil Rights Act and the Colorado Constitution.
“The text of the Civil Rights Act seems pretty clear,” Kopel said. “It presumably prohibits schools that receive federal aid, which means all public schools in Colorado, from discriminating on a basis of race. However, there is (U.S.) Supreme Court precedent that has been used to support race-based school admission preferences in higher education, presumably to undo past discrimination. So, in practice, the Civil Rights Act may not be as firm as the text might indicate. Though, telling a student not to speak on a subject because of his race would seem to be prohibited by the Civil Rights Act. I know of no precedence that would say otherwise.”
Kopel wrote the definitive book for lawyers on the Colorado Constitution and said “people of color” events promoted by the Denver Public School District are a clear violation of the state’s civil rights law. He cites a clause in the Colorado Constitution ratified in 1876 that says, “nor shall any distinction or classification of pupils be made on account of race or color.”
“It is sad to see people who think they are progressives basically saying the same things as the old segregationist lobby from the 1950s and ’60s,” Kopel said. “No matter how they try to package it, they are saying people are better off if we consider their race the most important defining aspect of a person. They are saying that Black and white children have inherent differences and that it is unfair to think Blacks should be required to think logically, be punctual and engage in any expectations these white progressives consider part of white culture and white privilege. It smacks of a new twist on historic racism.
“History shows that racial discrimination is so bad for all involved, Blacks and whites and everyone else, that we are better off to have firm rules against it in all circumstances.”
An author and former adjunct instructor of economics at the University of Phoenix-San Jose, Derrick Wilburn has begun lecturing about modern racism he considers a violation of established civil rights laws.
“Yes, the teaching of critical race theory violates the Civil Rights Act. So does a ‘people of color’ playground night,” said Wilburn, who is Black and resides in Colorado Springs.
“The left believes racism can flow in only one direction. So, reverse racism isn’t racism at all to them. To the left, which is pushing all these messages, you can’t be racist if you’re not in the white majority. They are wrong about that.”
Wilburn, who podcasts, plans a new game for listeners titled “1952 or 2022?” He will present genuine examples of racial segregation and discrimination, mostly from news accounts. Without describing which racial group is demonized or excluded, he’ll ask whether it’s an incident from this year or 1952.
“We’ll present this stuff, and most people will think this could not happen in 2022,” Wilburn explained. “Some of it will be from 1952, and some of it from 2022, but it will be difficult to distinguish without knowing the race that is targeted for discrimination. The point is, combating racism with racism is just plain racism.”
Wilburn quotes Stanford University fellow and economics professor Thomas Sowell asking whites to treat Blacks as “equal,” not “special.”
“What the left is determined to do now is treat Blacks as special, and that’s not helping us,” Wilburn said. “If a white student needs to earn 90% to get an ‘A’ on a test, and I need only an 88%, that’s not treating me as equal, but special, and in the long-term only hurting me.”
Wilburn agrees with Jones, saying Biden has a racist history and encourages racism cloaked as a concern for minorities.
“He says I’m not Black? What an insult. In other words, Blacks are not entitled to freedom of thought. They are not entitled to an independent will. There is an expectation among these people pushing CRT and other divisive agendas that Black people need to adhere to a particular way of thinking or there is something wrong with them. That is patently racist, but they can’t even see it.”
Wilburn, who’s working on a manuscript titled “Let racism die,” does not question the concept of “systemic” or “institutionalized” racism.
“There are no longer systemically racist processes in our federal governing system,” Wilburn said. “Likewise, there are no policies in Bangor, Maine, or Billings, Montana, that oppress people of color. The problem, as I’m documenting, is in urban centers where we (Black people) tend to live. My data show that the systems that are treating Blacks in a racist matter are run entirely by Democrats, including the Black mayors of large cities.”
Wilburn believes fellow Blacks are slowly beginning to see how establishment Democratic-run city governments are hurting their communities. He uses data to show how urban school districts across the country are failing to teach Black students to read, write, add and subtract.
“Unfortunately, we in the Black community won’t hold them accountable,” Wilburn said. “Why? The easy answer is that emotional talking points about race always trump logic and reason. The emotional argument is racism. If it’s racism, why are Blacks most in trouble in urban areas run by Black Democratic politicians and school administrators?
“Because of emotion, they want to teach critical race theory. Meanwhile, children of color cannot even read. Republican politicians would be wise to tap into that emotion and see how it plays. CRT, diversity, equity, all of these buzz words? I’d be in favor of all of it if it were benefiting children of color, but it is not. Kids are doomed because of the ZIP codes they were born into, and that’s an atrocity.”
Denver attorney Penfield Tate, whose father was the first and only Black mayor of Boulder and the only Black mayor to ever serve as mayor of any Boulder County community, grew up as one of three Blacks in his Boulder middle school. A former practitioner of civil rights law, Tate disagrees with Jones, Wilburn and other critics of “families of color” events, critical race theory and “equity” studies.
“I’m not quite certain how anyone gets to the argument that teaching CRT or having a ‘family of color’ night somehow violates the Civil Rights Act. I don’t think it does,” said Tate, who also works as an award-winning journalist and TV commentator.
Growing up in Boulder, a city with a Black population of 0.9%, Tate was taught what he calls a greatly distorted view of American history. He sees CRT, “people of color” nights and other race-centric instructions and events as efforts to correct messages that American institutions have traditionally distorted to favor whites.
“I was taught that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America,” Tate said. “No, he did not. You can’t discover a place where people are already living. He exposed Europeans to it, but he did not discover it. That is the perspective by which history has been taught to me and others. In fact, the founders discovered people living in North America, enslaved them, killed them and took their land.”
Tate said the history taught in the nearly all-white Boulder school system was so bad his mother and a few other Black parents established a summer school to set the record straight for him and a handful of other students of color.
“Except for seeing football players, a lot of my classmates had never spoken with a Black person in their lives,” Tate explained. “Their world view was from textbooks and what teachers taught them and it was deceptive.”
In his mother’s summer school, Tate learned about the Black author, orator and presidential adviser Booker T. Washington. He learned about Black surgeon and medical innovator Charles Drew and other Blacks who had changed American history.
That, say the critics of CRT, is the kind of teaching Black children need more of. They need to know that Blacks have succeeded and improved this country in the face of all odds. Tate said they also need to know the ugly details.
‘We learned about Black inventions that were misappropriated or outright stolen by white members of the community,” Tate said. “Is that critical race theory? I don’t know, but I think the labels are unfortunate either way. I think we can all agree we want our kids to get educations grounded in facts. Sometimes the facts are favorable, and sometimes they are not. There are some who don’t want CRT taught because they’re opposed to having the truth told about things that make them uncomfortable. But discomfort is part of life. We cannot go around living in a fairy tale world just because you find certain facts unpleasant.”
The CRT and “equity” critics who spoke to The Gazette insist they want all children to learn about slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynchings and all other racial ugliness. They oppose lectures and texts that tell minorities they remain at an institutionalized disadvantage. They say the Civil Rights Act and other popular laws simply forbid those practices today and it is time to enforce them and move on. They find it offensive that some CRT advocates say Blacks cannot compete with whites.
“I get that argument,” Tate said. “Some who advocate for CRT go to an extreme, and some who oppose it go to an extreme.”
Yet, Tate does not agree that institutionalized racism — the type that favors whites — is something we left in the past by passing laws.
“If you look at a number of the issues that were driving the conversation as this country was founded, you cannot escape the dominant role slavery played at every critical juncture where there needed to be a compromise in how the Constitution was drafted,” Tate said. “Washington is the capital today, instead of Philadelphia, because the South wanted the capital to be south of the Mason Dixon Line. Compromises to protect slavery are the reason every state gets two senators. That’s because the South feared slaveholder rights would be diluted by how a majority of the country felt and would feel over time. So, you can see that a lot of these vestiges of racism have not been eradicated.”
Jones and Wilburn see no benefit in dwelling on past atrocities that make children of color feel inferior and helpless. All Americans, of all backgrounds, have the representation of two senators and modern civil rights protections. Yes, they say, teach the atrocities. Teach them in full detail. Do not, they implore, blame K-12 white children who had nothing to do with it and grow up in an era of laws that treat all people as equal. Teach all children, they say, to shoot for the stars without dwelling on their lineage or remnants of racism, real or perceived.
“Any time we’re engaged in segregating society, no matter the justification or who is doing the segregating, we’re moving in the wrong direction,” Wilburn said. “If we segregate in the interest of eliminating racism, we’re handing a drowning man a glass of water. Dr. King would be aghast to see what’s going on today after dreaming about a future of unity among children and adults of all backgrounds.”
CORRECTION: This updated version identifies Penfield Tate's father, also named Penfield Tate, as the first Black mayor of Boulder.