Celebrating Black Education


Joyce Brown Lewis and Renee Cardwell 
Three years ago my wife (Renee Cardwell) was one of the speakers at a historical markers ceremony for the two Rosenwald schools (Union Hurst and T.C. Walker) in Bath County, Virginia. I'll never forget how hard she and the members of their committee worked to make the historical markers a reality. Those markers remind us of the best and worst aspects of Education in America. The teachers of that era made the best of some almost impossible situations. There were too many schools underfunded and underserved by local and state governments; sadly, that's still true today.

Last weekend, I had the honor of addressing a group of alumni from Jeter Watson High School in Covington, Virginia. "Watson" was the black high school for the kids who attended Union Hurst and T.C. Walker. It took Virginia over a decade to comply with the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decison to integrate public schools. Some counties chose to close their school doors in order to avoid educating black and white students together. It seems crazy now, but our parents lived through this madness.

I was touched by the stories we heard from our parents and their classmates. These stories are a constitutive part of American history. For over 240 years black people had no rights. After slavery ended there was an 80 year period of Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, and segregation. Every advancement towards justice has been met by a stiff push back. Justice is always on the horizon, but it has yet to fully warm all of us in its glow. America owes a debt to the lives lost fighting for the promises in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Black History Month, at its best, is a gateway drug to a life committed to the pursuit of justice. I'm not ashamed of where I come from, or the people who produced me. A thousand years from now historians, social scientists, and religious scholars will still be studying this movement and the people who made it possible. This movement won't end until America's promises are a reality. If you're willing to sacrifice popularity and opportunity for the sake of justice there's a place for you in this movement. As a society, we've come far enough to see the progress past generations have made, but we still have a lot of work to do. This fight continues! Our generation owes a debt to the people who sacrificed so much to get us this far and a moral obligation to keep fighting for generations to come.