A House bill requiring North Carolina public schools to teach students a unit on the Civil Rights Movement has found widespread bipartisan support among state legislators.
Introduced in April, by two Republicans and one Democrat, House Bill 686 instructs N.C. public schools to teach the 20th-century American Civil Rights Movement to middle and high school students. The measure also allocates over $250,000 in state funds to the Department of Public Instruction for implementation.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have come out in support of H.B. 686. The bill’s three primary House co-sponsors are Jon Hardister, R-Guilford; Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke; and Amos Quick III, D-Guilford.
The focus on the Civil Rights Movement would be from 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racial segregation as unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education, to 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
MLK’s advocacy for civil rights nonviolent civil disobedience against the American South’s discriminatory Jim Crow laws is a significant focus of the proposed unit.
Hardister said King’s teachings are “precepts we can all agree upon,” when advocating for the bill in front of the House K-12 Education Committee on Wednesday.
According to Hardister, eight other states have passed nearly identical legislation.
In a comment to Carolina Journal, bill co-sponsor Quick emphasized the importance of civil rights education.
“The Civil Rights Movement brought forth an expansion of democracy in this nation that inspired people all over the world,” said Quick. “It is important that students in North Carolina’s schools learn about one of the most important periods of our nation’s history, and this bill ensures that happens.”
Other legislators spoke in favor of the bill. Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, praised the bipartisan cooperation behind it.
“This bill is another example where you see the two parties…come together,” said Lambeth.
The unit will also instruct on “the passage of civil rights legislation in the United States,” and “the philosophy that hatred on the basis of immutable characteristics leads to profound injustice,” according to the bill.
An earlier version of the bill further encouraged educators to teach about old and modern acts of genocide, including but not limited to: the Armenian Genocide; the Holocaust; Chinese Coolie labor in 19th-century Cuba; Uighur Muslims in China; and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
While the bill allocates $250,000 to the state Department of Public Instruction, Rep. Quick indicated to the House K-12 Education Committee that the number might be altered to ensure the unit’s successful implementation.
North Carolina was a crucial center for the Civil Rights Movement. In 1960, four African-American students from North Carolina A&T State University held a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, protesting the store’s racial segregation policy. The event inspired numerous acts of nonviolent civil disobedience during the 1960s and ended with the gradual desegregation of the store.
On Wednesday, the bill passed the House Committee on Rules and Operations and was referred to the Committee on Appropriations. If passed by the full legislature and signed into law, schools should expect to begin teaching the new Civil Rights Movement unit during the 2024-2025 academic year.