One of the great legacies of North Carolina history and our nation was the explosion of the American civil rights movement. As a leader in that movement, Martin Luther King Jr. continually appealed to our strengths as a nation: The American founding, the rule of law, and the Christian tradition. Ultimately, his words — often meant for white audiences —united much of the nation under a banner of equality. Unfortunately, neglecting the teaching of American history and a more secularized culture is giving rise to critical race theory, a belief that everything can be explained by racism while portraying whites as inherently oppressive.

Here in North Carolina, much of the fight is visible in the battle over public schools. A City Journal piece from March unveiled the radicalism and race obsession in Wake County Public Schools, the largest school district in the state.

The worst part is that some teachers and administrators see hiding critical race theory content from parents as a necessary tactic to accomplish their own perceived greater good. On their preferred agenda on race — one which elevates individuals by race as either victims or oppressors — not even parents should be allowed to thwart the indoctrination of children. They find success for their agenda in the shadows, yet it flounders in the light of established truths.

This is a critical point. Not only does it posit the Marxist tenet that the state is higher than the individual or family, but it’s a reminder that critical race theory is still failing in the marketplace of ideas. While the ideology has received some ascendency from woke corporations, critical race theorists are still largely relegated to captive audiences in universities, government schools, or other programs via state or federal funding.

In contrast to secretive tactics and bureaucratic maneuvering, the fight for equality, particularly in the American South during the civil rights movement, made its case in the marketplace of ideas. The Greensboro sit-ins, the Birmingham civil rights campaign, and the march on Washington all took their ideas into the public square.

Equality is the correct view because it reflects the Imago Dei, as well as America’s founding principles and documents. King and his associates borrowed heavily from those documents because they have authority, and the nation was familiar with the ideas they put forward. “We as Americans are the champion of human rights. It’s a revelation from God to our Founding Fathers,” declared American civil rights icon the Rev. Andrew Young.

More conservative-minded lawmakers in North Carolina have responded to attempts to indoctrinate students with H.B. 324. If one reads the actual legislation, it’s difficult to find the logic in opposing it. Yet some lawmakers, editorial boards, and many ideologues are gnashing their teeth over the bill. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson summed up the legislation accurately when he said, “This legislation ensures that our students will be taught that we all have value, regardless of who we are — or who our ancestors were.”

Many are attracted to critical race theory and other woke agendas because they demand an end to injustice and unfairness in society. They are often good-intentioned yet, blind to the real agenda and destructiveness it will leave in its wake. Human nature is not perfectible on this side of heaven. There are plenty of examples of destruction, especially in the 20th century, in the belief that humankind can be perfected. America’s founding and the American civil rights movement remind us that we can’t advance beyond the principle of the equality of the human person.

The quest to divide people by class, race, or socioeconomic status is toxic throughout world history. Ultimately, critical race theory will fail because it offers division over hope. Still, we should have the courage to speak the truth to lessen the consequences of those who wish to destroy our great inheritance.

Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor.