Cover Girl

Nope, not this:

Not talking cosmetics.

Or even this:

A band!

Certainly not this:

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is sure this one will not be approved for a school or classroom library.

Laughter aside, the censorship of school libraries is a serious issue but we often use humor to process our experiences. The title of this post refers to this. GOT’s school district is issuing advice to its teachers about their classroom libraries and here’s the executive summary: Cover (it), girl!

Teachers, you’ve done a great job of self-censorship and we’ve been looking over your shoulder as we, too, have been reviewing books prior to receiving the official state guidance. Now that we have it, we’re going to question your decisions with a ‘second layer of review.’

Teachers, we’re expediting the process of getting books approved so you can get those books back into students’ hands … which means that students have no access to books as I make this video.

Also, we’re using technology! And, this is a wrench for us, a ‘heavy lift’ if you will, but we will give our teachers TDE to help review books and get this done even though we really, really want them to stay in their classrooms because we don’t really have any data how classroom libraries will help students perform better on their state tests.

Teachers, we’re looking to bring back retired media specialists as well. You know, the ones we got rid of ten years ago. Hope they kept their certificates active! In the meantime …

COVER (IT), GIRL! And maybe take this time to throw out all those books that haven’t been read in a long time because we realize that you spend hours and dollars buying books for your classroom that no student wants to read.

But it’s only temporary. Once we approve a book, you need not worry again unless someone decides to challenge it. Then, we pull it for review yet again! But seriously, with groups like M4L getting school board members elected, how often is that going to happen?

If you still have a school librarian, understand that they are reviewing books and have no time to provide actual media center services for the students. That’s not going to change for the foreseeable future.

In conclusion, you’re awesome, teachers! Don’t think about those weekly inspections because we don’t believe that your lesson plans are up to snuff, match the standards, or contain continuous testing of your students.

We have your back.

This is a parody piece, full of sarcasm for those who didn’t catch on. But the censorship of books in Florida schools is real. GOT’s district, like many others, is trying to be compliant, not complicit. There are those who will say that it works out to the same thing as the result either way is the same. It’s a scary time in Florida to be a teacher.

A Bill of Rights for Teachers

Consider Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) underwhelmed. As we continue to watch Ron DeSantis engage in newspeak, we see his latest offering in what he deems as a Bill of Rights for teachers.

Love those funny esses that look like effs. Sort of what DeSantis is doing to teachers.

What does the governor offer in his proposed legislation?

  1. Teachers have the right to not join a union. By virtue of accepting a job, teachers will not be forced to become a member of the local bargaining unit. However, Florida is already a right-to-work state and teachers cannot be forced to join and pay dues to the local teacher’s union. No new law is necessary.
  2. Teachers have the right to not have union dues deducted from their paychecks. But they already cannot be compelled to join the union. If they do, a paycheck deduction is the most convenient way to pay the cost of a voluntary membership. This right is not a right at all. It is union-busting as DeSantis and his Republican buddies hope that while people maintain a membership, they will neglect to pay dues and that will bankrupt the unions.
  3. Teachers have the right to increased compensation. He didn’t really say this, but the Governor is proposing to earmark additional funding for teacher salaries, this time not to raise the minimum (starting) salary, but for districts to apply to pay schedules in their discretion. It’s interesting that the Governor is finally doing something to address the chief teacher criticism of his salary appropriations in that veteran teachers have been ignored and most now make little more than rookies.
    • Pay particular attention to this one. We know DeSantis and how he operates. Veteran teachers will see this as money for them and meant for the upper levels of the pay schedule. But those with little experience will hardly look kindly on missing out on new funding. This one is meant to create dissension among the ranks of teachers.
    • Fun fact: After school districts and collective bargaining units negotiate and agree upon a contract, the pay schedules require approval from the state before they can go into effect.
  4. Teachers have the right to speedy contract negotiations. One of DeSantis’s complaints about the collective bargaining process is that some districts are taking too long and haven’t come to agreement about the 2022 appropriation. He cites districts like St. Johns County in northeast Florida. But that union did negotiate an agreement with the St. Johns County School Board. It was the rank and file, the actual teachers, that rejected it and told their union to go back to the table. So much for DeSantis’s appeal to teachers that it’s not you, it’s your union.
  5. Teachers have the right not to have their school be a focus of union activity and politicizing during school hours. It seems that would be an employer right, not an employee right, but for the record, union activity cannot take place during the school day, not even during teacher’s planning periods. No new law is needed.
  6. Teachers have the right to have their school board members limited to eight years of service in place of the existing twelve. Maybe this is an issue worth discussing, but working it into a speech about teacher’s rights is a stretch.
  7. Teachers have the right to partisan school board races. Again, maybe this issue is worth discussing, especially if it makes the political parties conduct a primary and the two candidates face off for the November vote, but it is a stretch to put it in the context of teacher rights.
  8. Teachers have the right to see their union decertified if less than 60% are participating members. Let GOT rephrase that. Teachers have the right to suffer union-busting tactics from the government. Minority rule! Not surprising this is coming from the Republicans who haven’t won the popular vote in a presidential election since 2004 and before that, 1988.
  9. Teachers have the right for restriction of their union officers’ compensation. No union official would be allowed to make more than the highest-paid teacher. Yet again, maybe this is worthy of discussion, but it’s not the government’s business to discuss compensation of a voluntary NGO’s employees. Would DeSantis propose legislation to limit the compensation of corporate CEOs? Of course not.
  10. Teachers have the right to ‘stand their ground’ (yes, he really used those words) in maintaining order and safety in their classrooms. The topic of school safety and classroom management deserve a post of their own. Let’s limit ourselves to noticing that DeSantis was making these proposals at a charter school. Has he ever visited a traditional public school for one of these announcements? Probably not, those schools are too busy educating students to tolerate an interruption for political purposes.

The above list was compiled from these sources among others: The Florida Times-Union, The Capitolist, and The Tampa Bay Times, here and here.

If you’ve made it this far, you have to be wondering how these are teacher rights. They are not; they are another example in the newspeak manner of how Ron DeSantis runs the (not-so) Free State of Florida.

Here’s a homework assignment for you. Look up the original Bill of Rights and then match each of the first ten amendments against what Florida teachers may think, say, and do in and out of their classrooms. It will be illuminating and disturbing.

The Shift in Censorship

Teachers trying to comply with district directions regarding their classroom libraries.

Something important has happened in Florida and we’re in danger of becoming too immersed in the details to note the overall shift in the tone of censorship being conducted under the auspices of the Florida legislature and its authoritarian governor, Ron DeSantis.

Previously, book challenges were the focus of government activity. People were empowered, anyone really, to challenge a book that was in a school library. See here, here, and here for a few examples.

Self-identified parents went to school board meetings to complain. (Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) calls them self-identified because everyone assumed they were parents of children in that district’s schools, but it turns out their children were enrolled in private schools or they came from other districts or states. They didn’t speak as a parent, but as an activist.)

Others followed district procedures to challenge books. In all cases, districts removed the books to follow a process of review before deciding whether to ban the book or restore it to the shelves.

That was then. This is now. The shifting sands of censorship have changed. Let’s not get lost in the details, but look at what has taken place.

In that not-so-distant past, the censorship of school libraries was limited to removing books that offended in some manner, most likely because of LGBTQ themes, characters, or stories, Black characters, history, or points-of-view that do not scream God Bless America from every sentence, or anything that might make a student feel discomfort for any reason whatsoever.

But Florida has moved on. Under its most recent laws, ALL books, not only in the school library, but also in teacher classrooms, are banned until and unless it has been vetted by a media specialist who has completed a mandated state training.

Teachers have been threatened with felony charges if any book in their classroom is found to violate Florida laws such as the ones called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ and ‘anti-woke’ as have their administrators and district officials who might be thought negligent for allowing it.

In response, school districts are ordering teachers to remove all books from their shelves until the vetting takes place.

Not to worry, GOT’s district advises. We’re working on it as fast as we can. We are establishing a list of approved books for the classroom for teachers to consult when deciding about what books to make available to students.

That is the shift in censorship. We have moved from governmental authorities making lists of books that are NOT allowed to these authorities making a list of the books that WILL be allowed. If it’s not on the list, it’s banned.

500,000 to a million books are published every year not counting self-publishing. There isn’t enough time or people to go through all of them to approve them for a library.

Only approved books may be read. We’re coming as close to thought control as we ever have. Read 1984 by George Orwell now because it reveals the game plan before that is removed as well.

This won’t stop with schools. Already, governments are moving on public libraries. Virginia tried to get ahead of the game with a lawsuit to banish booksellers, in particular Barnes and Noble, from selling books that lawmakers didn’t like.

Better read Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury also before governments ban that as well. That seems to be the world we are heading for.

America: EBLM

One week ago, the news broke that Florida’s Department of Education (FLDOE) under the prodding of the Governor’s office, rejected the pilot course in the College Board’s Advanced Placement program for African-American studies of history and culture. Reaction came quickly, including this post from Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT). As the next week dawned, this story continued to develop beginning with an attempt by FLDOE to explain itself.

The problem as detailed by this chart is not African-American history. That the FLDOE and Governor DeSantis are okay with as long as it involves facts and dates from the past, long-ago events that they aver should not be interpreted, indeed, cannot be interpreted in our time because African-American history ceased with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights bill, the 1965 Voting Rights bill, and other laws prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas on the basis of race.

The concerns are about the ‘woke’ nature of the course as Governor DeSantis continues to sneer whenever he discusses it. It is not the history that is woke; it is the culture.

In his newspeak manner, DeSantis continues to redefine words to use them in ways outside of their customary meanings. In the past, this has involved what Critical Race Theory refers to, Social-Emotional Learning, and woke. Now he adds intersectionality to his list.

But this list goes further than a knee-jerk reaction to vocabulary. DeSantis’s ire is kindled by the emphasis on the culture, including a culture that continues to be impacted by its past and that continues to richly contribute to American culture overall. (Emphasis by GOT.)

The story went national. It was featured on all the major news outlets, including NBC, CBS, CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Fox News, there are many more, but you get the idea.

Following that, Benjamin Crump, a prominent civil-rights attorney based in Tallahassee, held a rally at the State Capitol to announce his intention to file a lawsuit over the issue if the FLDOE does not reverse course and approve the course and introduced the three teenagers who would be the plaintiffs in the case.

Now is a good time to remember that Ron DeSantis does not care about being sued because it is the notoriety that he is after. With this rejection of the AP course, he has co-opted the national conversation about race two weeks before the beginning of Black History month. Lawsuits keep his name in the news. The fact that he loses most of them does not worry him. He achieves his objective every time–notoriety.

He wins. As much as it pains GOT to say it, DeSantis wins every time he pulls one of these stunts. Normally, the solution is to ignore him and his schtick, deny him the publicity he craves. But he is cunning and he strikes with challenging issues that are too great for us to do that. We have to respond, even fellow governors like Jay Pritzker of Illinois.

Governor Pritzker counters that Illinois will also monitor the development of the AP course, but to ensure that African-American history is told honestly and completely. Illinois will resist the attempt by DeSantis and his ilk to “dictate the facts of U.S. history.” Read his letter to the College Board here.

Lastly, the College Board itself weighed in via a letter to its member schools that it shared with its AP Coordinators at those schools. They announced that an official course framework would be released on February 1 to coincide with the beginning of Black History month. They denied that they were influenced by any government or political authority. They defended their process by which they worked with academic experts, educators, and students to develop a new AP course. The full letter appears below.

Dear members,

On Wednesday, February 1, the first day of Black History Month, the Advanced Placement Program will release the official framework for the AP African American Studies course. The official framework has been under development for nearly a year. It will replace the preliminary pilot course framework under discussion to date and defines what students will encounter on the AP Exam for college credit and placement.

We have worked and planned for this day for many months and will mark the milestone with a celebration at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on February 2.
The course is the subject of great interest, and we want to explain the process we have followed to get to this point.

To develop this official course framework, the AP Program consulted with more than 300 professors of African American Studies from more than 200 colleges nationwide, including dozens of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The course focuses on the topics where professors shared a strong consensus on the essential shared events, experiences, and individuals crucial to a study of African American history and culture. This process was completed in December 2022.

To be clear, no states or districts have seen the official framework that will be released on February 1, much less provided feedback on it. This course has been shaped only by the input of experts and long-standing AP principles and practices.

When we share the course framework next week, the public will see the extraordinary stories, artwork, documents, and debates at the heart of AP African American Studies. It is a remarkable course that explores the richness and depth of African American history and culture. We invite everyone to read the framework for themselves when it is released; it is a historic document that deserves your attention.

Finally, we want to thank the many members of the AP community who are helping to bring this vital course to life. We pledge to all of you that we will honor their work and maintain our unflinching commitment to this course.

We hope you will join us in celebrating this historic achievement next week.

Sincerely,
Advanced Placement Program

This announcement caused social media to complain that the College Board was caving to DeSantis’s demands. But we don’t know. This is an ongoing story and we await the release of the course framework on February 1. Only then will we be able to review it and see how the verboten topics in the FLDOE chart were altered.

Just Read, Florida!

Oh wait, first we have to remove all the naughty books we don’t want you to see.

The title of this post is actually a promotional effort by the Florida Department of Education that goes all the way back to the early years of the Jeb Bush administration and its focus on the importance of reading.

Florida is a funny place, and by that Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) doesn’t mean comical that always makes you laugh and he doesn’t mean strange. Florida is a funny place because, if you live here a couple weeks, you wonder when you left the planet for this strange world and what star you now orbit.

Case in point: We’re celebrating Literacy Week by banning classroom libraries until the now-extinct species known as a Media Specialist vets each and every book. Just Read, Florida! But good luck on getting your hands on an actual book.

If GOT was PNC or Simply healthcare, GOT would want to get off this graphic.

We have canceled book fairs. Purchases and additions to school and classroom libraries are on hold. In GOT’s district, fellow blogger Chris Guerrieri (Education Matters) gathered reports from classroom teachers about what they have been told to do.

Just Read, Florida! But you can’t have a book to do so. The graffiti on the restroom stalls will have to hold you.

Florida is where reading goes to die. Jeb Bush inaugurated the 3rd grade reading retention based upon test scores and has worked for two decades to spread this failed policy to every state. It isn’t that it was a bad idea from the start–we wouldn’t know that until it was tried. It’s that after 20 years of failure, we know this is a bad policy, but it seems that the three worst addictions known to humanity, nicotine, cocaine, and alcohol, have a partner in public education policy: 3rd grade retention based on reading scores.

But the policy was intended to signal the seriousness of Florida about the importance of reading skills and the mastery needed before we allowed children to proceed with their education.

Florida is serious about this reading, y’all. Districts eagerly bought into every idea that turned reading into a drudgery for almost every child. There was the time when every secondary class had to start with 15 minutes of silent, sustained reading. (Spoiler alert: the struggling readers went for the magazines, every time, and spent the time looking at the pictures and the ads.)

There have been the reading logs, particularly attractive to the elementary ages. Kids had to read a specified number of minutes each night at home, document their reading in a log that they would turn in for a grade, and parents had to sign the log to verify the kid entries.

There was the year in GOT’s district when the district decided to go with novels, but only excerpts. Finally, kids got excited by a book. They got a taste from page 29, page 43, and page 189, and begged their teachers to be allowed to read the whole book. They begged to take the books home to read if they couldn’t do it in class, but were told, “Sorry, kid, the district only purchased a class set. You can’t take the book home.”

Bummer. The last thing we need is for children to get excited about reading a book and motivated to read it without regard to their reading skills.

Perhaps you might understand now why many of us call our state Flori-duh.


PS: the cynical ploy by our politicians, led by Ron DeSantis, is that they don’t want to withhold books from children, but those books need to be vetted first. Maybe in a future topic GOT will talk about what that vetting procedure involves, but for now, understand that Media Specialists have to approve every book in a school that a student will be allowed to look at. Notice GOT didn’t say read. But since Florida schools have eliminated school-based Media Specialists as they have grappled with declining funding, there aren’t many around to do the job. Oh, that Ron DeSanctimonious! Cynically playing his political cards. Books aren’t banned; they’re waiting for someone to run the training gauntlet recently adopted to be in a position to decide on the books schoolchildren will be allowed to access.

PPS: GOT will do his best to fill the void. He is reading the challenged books, vetting them, and will share what he finds. Over the weekend, he read All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson. Expect his decision later this week. Hey, district! Only trying to help. 😉

Florida: BL(D)M

Declare Ron DeSantis the winner again. It’s not whether he’s right or wrong, most often he’s wrong and courts usually agree even when they realize they don’t have jurisdiction, it’s the notoriety he gains from one of his culture war stunts. This week brought the news that the Florida Department of Education wrote a letter to the College Board, purveyor of AP exams and related courses, to inform them that they are banning the teaching of a new AP course, African-American Studies, which is currently being piloted in 60 high schools across the United States.

The first thing to notice about this letter is that no one signed it. The second is that no one has ever heard of the Office of Articulation before, whose stated mission is this: The mission of the Office of Articulation is to facilitate the effective and efficient progression and transfer of students through Florida’s K-20 education system. Through the work of the Articulation Coordinating Committee (ACC), a K-20 advisory body appointed by the Commissioner of Education, our office coordinates ways to help students move easily from institution to institution and from one level of education to the next.

Why is an office whose purpose is to see that students progress through their grade levels toward eventual graduation weighing in with an opinion about adding a new course to Florida’s course codes? But this is Florida, and yes, the Office of Articulation has the responsibility to approve new course codes that authorize Florida schools to add them to their offerings.

Funnily enough, there is a dodge to get around this, but Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) will decline to explain (a fine Florida tradition) in case state officials see this blog post.

That the course is contrary to Florida law is a reference to the law passed last year commonly referred to as the Stop WOKE act. Here’s the actual statutory language (scroll down to 4a). In the newspeak manner that characterizes the ‘free state of Florida’ that its governor, Ron DeSantis, proclaims, the statute defines as discrimination on the basis of race any mention of discrimination that has happened in the past based upon a person’s race.

Thus, it’s not surprising that Florida would look askance at an AP course that would examine the entirety of the African-American experience, including:

  • This topic explores methods by which Africans resisted their commodification and enslavement during the Middle Passage
  • This topic explores the assault to the bodies, minds, and spirits of enslaved Africans at slave auctions and the physical and emotional effects of being sold to unknown territory.
  • This topic explores the impact of partus sequitur ventrem on African American families and the emergence of racial taxonomies in the United States.
  • This topic explores strategies advocating for radical resistance and the reception to those ideas.
  • This topic explores the influence of transatlantic abolitionism on Frederick Douglass’ political views on the potential for African Americans’ integration and belonging in American society. Students may analyze a text by Douglass, such as “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” (This one may have been a particularly thorn for Florida in that Douglass explained that a celebration of freedom is meaningless to those who have none. Question the 4th of July?! We outlawed that <ahem>.)
  • This topic explores Black responses to white retaliation against strides toward Black political and social advancement during and after Reconstruction.
  • This topic explores the scale and impact of African American migration in the century after the Civil War, including motivations to escape racial oppression and political and economic marginalization in the U.S. South.

There’s a lot more to look at, but you get the idea of what Ron DeSantis would find objectionable in the course. The bullet points are taken from this source, https://thecapitolist.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/AP-AfAm-Studies-Syllabus-1.pdf, and GOT is thankful for the news organization that ran it down: thecapitolist.com.

Now, if we get caught up in the legal kerfluffle over a constitutionally dubious law, we’re missing the real point of the letter sent to the College Board. That is the second assertion that the AP course ‘significantly lacks educational value.’

Oh, that makes sense because the College Board, who has offered AP courses for 70 years and colleges have been granting credit to students for about the same amount of time, has no idea how to put together a course that would have educational value!

What does that really mean? After all, Florida has offered courses in African-American history for years. (Nobody tell DeSantis or the Commissioner-Toady Manny Diaz, Jr. please or they’ll get rid of this, too.) Why would an unsigned letter from the Office of Articulation state that the course lacks significant educational value?

Why do they object to Black students studying their origins, experience of their ancestors, and history in this United States of America? Was it the student perspective offered during the development of this course?

“Students expressed these four expectations for the course: < Black perspectives should ground the text and materials. < Emphasis should be placed on joy and accomplishments rather than trauma. < Students should be provided with an unflinching look at history and culture. < Students should have an opportunity to learn about lesser-known figures, culture, intersectionality, and connections across time and topics.” (Page 70 of the course overview provided by the College Board.)

Was it this? “Regarding Black perspectives, one participant shared their thoughts on what would make the course stand out for them as a Black student: I think it is also important how the course material is presented. If a Black student is taking the course, will they feel that the course is written for white students? Or will it feel like it is written for me? Will it have that ‘wow’ factor – like I never knew this before. Or, will it have to accommodate to a larger [white] audience. Readings by Black people, Black voices. Not just an analytical discussion. The sources especially, having primary sources written by Black people is really important, and not looking at Blackness from the white perspective.” (Ibid.)

Having read through the course overview, including descriptions of each topic and the summary of research conducted, GOT has to conclude that the course has immense educational value. Why would Florida declare otherwise?

Could it be that Florida sees nothing of value in African-American history and culture? Nevermind the fact that Black culture has been the source of most of what is thought of as mainstream American culture: gospel music, jazz, rock-and-roll, and we have even borrowed (appropriated?) rap as white artists chant their way through a music career.

Is it that Governor DeSantis, the state board of education, Commissioner Diaz, and the Florida Department of Education think African-American history and culture are not worthy of study–lacking educational value?

Or is it that, as GOT must conclude, that they find Black lives in and of themselves as lacking value?!

Why else would they trash Black perspectives on history, art, and culture?

The ‘free’ state of Florida, where you are free to be as racist as you want to be. DeSantis approves.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Tomorrow, we will honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. But too often, we have whitewashed the true man, his work, and his message. Therefore, Grumpy Old Teacher reproduces without comment the missive he wrote during his sojourn in the Birmingham City Jail, although GOT cannot resist placing in bold certain statements that have resonated through the years.

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Indecent

Something in what you are about to read is indecent, offending against generally accepted standards of propriety or good taste; improper; vulgar. You, gentle reader, will have to decide what it is.

INDECENT (not in all caps) is the name Paula Vogel gave to her play about a play (The God of Vengeance) that she penned in 2015. The original play is about a Jewish brothel owner, his wife, and his daughter in Poland. The drama centers around the juxtaposition of the owner’s need to find respectability or rather to buy it in order to make a marital match for his daughter versus the daughter’s discovery that she is in love with one of the prostitutes.

Uh-oh, call out the morality police. Here in Florida, we don’t yet call them that or have an official department like we do with our election police, but in DeSantisLand, in a surreal Disney way, it will be the next development in our ongoing proclamations that this is where we murder Woke, oops the Kool-Aid wasn’t strong enough this morning, this is where Woke goes to die.

But yet, the ongoing damage from ill-considered laws like the Stop WOKE act or the Don’t Be Gay bill go beyond the debates about what exactly is and is not allowed. As predicted by many, these laws and the demeanor of DeSantis, in which he attacks anything that gins up the hard right base, have had a chilling effect on what school boards, superintendents, and school administrations are willing to tolerate.

Thus, in a district like the one Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) works in, it’s not about whether something actually violates the law or infringes upon parents’ rights, the rallying cry of groups like Moms 4 Liberty. It’s about avoiding the debate. It’s about shutting down a discussion of what may be and what may not be appropriate for minor children, particularly, adolescent teens. It’s about removing books so no one can show up to a school board meeting and rant during the public comment period. It’s about flying under the radar even though it’s too late for that.

Thus, one month ago, the district severed longstanding ties with a local non-profit organization that provided support services for LGBTQ youth. It decided that the organization’s work with 20-something gay adult men involved materials not appropriate for teenagers. Done. Over, although no one suggested that the organization had ever used inappropriate materials in its work in the schools to help LGBTQ youth deal with bullying issues.

Now, our nationally-recognized performing arts magnet high school had its planned production of Indecent scotched. A district spokesman said that it was due to the inappropriate adult sexual content in the play. Um, what was that? They’re not saying or, as Archie Bunker would say, “Case closed.”

Or maybe we should hear Mr. T in our heads, “I pity the principal who lets a play with LGBTQ themes be presented in her school.” But let’s not talk of bureaucratic games and how they might leave a school district in grinding mediocrity. Let’s not recall that a few years ago, a principal of the same school was sent to diversity training because she authorized a diversity training for the student body to address racist attitudes.

It’s rough being a teacher these days, but for a principal trying to do the right thing, it’s really rough. They have no union and work on one-year contracts.

So what’s indecent about Indecent? GOT suspects it was the lesbian love story in the original play. Written in Yiddish and presented across Europe to Jewish audiences, the original play penned by Sholem Asch was well-received. Brought to America, it did well in the Yiddish Theatre of New York. Then, someone got the idea to translate the play into English to present to a broader audience. Obscenity charges, arrests, and trials soon followed.

Indecent recounts that history. In essence, it sees itself as not a play about LGBTQ themes, but a play about censorship.

Can we talk here? Back in the day, it was one of Joan Rivers’s tag lines. Can we talk? Because that’s the point. All of the angst, handwringing, and panties-in-a-knot is about what is appropriate at what age.

We’re not allowed to talk about that per Moms 4 Liberty and their hero, DeSantis. They know what’s best for everyone. Case closed. Parents’ rights are not something they believe in. Parents’ rights is a convenient slogan to disguise their true intentions.

The school board and superintendent show no willingness to take this on. They don’t want the controversy. GOT doesn’t believe they are offended by LBGTQ issues or students, but that they view their primary duty as protecting the school system and that’s best achieved by chilling discussion about controversial issues.

Exactly what was indecent about Indecent? We would have to see the show to know. GOT doubts that the school district did the research necessary to really know. Scripts are not available. The only known recorded performance is behind a paywall. Did someone from the district take the time to sign up for the free trial (subscription fees start in 7 days) to watch?

Here’s the thing and everyone needs to hear this. Our children are not fragile. When they reach their teenage years, they are capable of handling tough issues and hard discussions. All they need are adults to facilitate to help them navigate their emotional responses and ideas about sensitive topics.

If you’re inclined to still object based on parents’ rights, know that the parents of every teenager involved in the show signed a permission form to allow their child to participate.

The teenagers are not taking this lying down (as they shouldn’t.) They’re talking about how they can find a venue to go ahead with their play.

They say, “How can they censor a play about censorship?!”

Our future is safe in their hands. They are asking the right questions and that’s what’s important.

Mazel Tov.

“Don’t Pass the Trash”

That’s an administrator saying (P2P or principal to principal) when they talk among themselves about the difficulty of terminating someone who shouldn’t be teaching in a classroom. In other words, they tell each other that they should do the work needed to observe and document ineffective teaching, give unsatisfactory ratings, and begin the process of termination because, don’t you know, most principals take the easy out and have the undesired teacher transferred to someone else’s school.

Don’t toss it on the neighbor’s yard.

Don’t flame Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT)! Like all teachers, he knows who in the building should find another line of work, but it is a very rare phenomenon.

Every profession has a few weeds to pull out of their garden, but most of the time, it is not the plant’s fault. It is not being given the environmental conditions it needs to flourish. Rather than undertake the work of tending the plant with TLC, it’s easier to pull and replace.

What started this line of reflection is the news that the senior chancellor of Florida’s Department of Education, Jacob Oliva, was tapped by the governor-elect of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders (yes, that Sarah Huckabee, and we are going to miss Aidy Bryant on Saturday nights) to be the new Secretary of Education.

Jacob Oliva, who came to our attention as he played the role of Harley Quinn to Richard Corcoran’s Joker, is being praised as a chief architect of Ron DeSantis’s makeover of Florida education.

He tried to bail a year ago as he entered the competition to replace Alberto Carvalho as superintendent of the Miami-Dade County school district. Alas for him, they weren’t buying what he was selling.

But Huckabee is. Reminiscent of the incoming DeSantis, Florida’s current governor and hopeful presidential candidate, who made it clear that he did not want to keep Pam Stewart as Florida’s Education Commissioner when she agreed to stay on for a year to ensure a smooth transition to a new leader of the Florida Department of Education, Huckabee seems to want to make dramatic changes to the Arkansas education landscape and what better choice than one of the chief henchmen of the Florida experience?

GOT has seen Jacob Oliva once in person. The FLDOE was writing new standards for Civics education and was holding public meetings throughout the state. The meeting for North Florida took place in Macclenny, the county seat for Baker County, a rural jurisdiction to the west of Jacksonville. The new standards were controversial; thus, it was no surprise that FLDOE might think this was a place where few people would show up.

They were wrong. Jacksonville’s Northside Coalition was out in force as well as other people like teachers, students, and community members. Despite Oliva’s attempts to keep the focus on the proposed standards, the audience was having none of it and almost everyone making a public comment (almost everyone in the audience) spoke for the need for schools to examine the history of race in America, both antebellum and more particularly, postbellum.

Oliva tried to steer the meeting to the standards, but resigned himself to a long period of public comment. Where was the commissioner? Were any state board of education members in attendance? Actually, to GOT’s surprise, one was. Toward the end, Oliva asked repeatedly, “Did anyone else want to comment?”

Not to be egotistical because GOT is a very minor blogger seldom noticed, but since everyone had spoken, he wondered if the Chancellor was referring to him. He had picked up a card to register for public comment, but did not turn it in because everyone else had said what needed to be said. GOT doesn’t speak to hear his voice or satisfy his ego. If others have made the point, that’s fine. No need to make a long meeting longer.

But why was Oliva trying to goad someone into taking the mike? Was it because GOT was wearing a T-shirt that said Black Lives Matter at School? Ben Frazier (leader of the Northside Coalition) took note. At the end of the meeting, he moved his scooter next to GOT’s chair, greeted someone across the room, and snapped a picture … of GOT.

Don’t try us introverts. We may feel no need to speak, but we are very observant.

At the time, GOT wondered whether Oliva was merely doing his best to support his boss or had he really drunk the Kool-Aid?

Wonder no more. He’s going to Arkansas to replicate the DeSantis agenda. Expect AR public schools to ban discussions of race and history if it’s going to make white students uncomfortable …

President Eisenhower deploys the 101st Airborne to make sure desegregation orders are followed.

… so expect this to be erased from Arkansas’ history books. Expect that Arkansas will pass its own version of Florida’s Don’t Be Gay bill (GOT will no longer refer to it as Don’t Say Gay, the intent is clear and DeSantis plans to double down in 2023.) Expect book-banning committees to ransack schools for verboten texts. Expect librarians to become a target.

GOT is sorry for you, Arkansas. So very, very sorry. But then, like Florida, you voted for a governor who will destroy your public schools. Elections have consequences.

Our trash is on the way.

A Shooting Star

Last month, the Leonids lit up the sky for starwatchers. Normally known as meteors, the English language has long applied the moniker of shooting star. Perhaps it is appropriate that these shooting stars appear in the November post-election period as certain corners of the media push what they think is a rising star. Perhaps the name is even ironic–Leonids–as it originates from the constellation in the sky from which the meteors seem to originate, Leo the Lion.

Indeed, he is riding high, this new Florida lion who defeated a retread. But who would put a retread on the car when the current tire purchased new has a few years of tread life left?

Florida is shot. But before the rest of the nation buys this pig-in-a-poke, let’s take a closer look at the manufactured meteoric governor arcing through the political skies.

The first thing you should know about Ron DeSantis is that he’s a bully. Take a look at this clip where he scolded teenage children for protecting their health in the midst of a pandemic.

Florida, the free state, where you are free to do anything you want if the governor approves. Otherwise, you are ridiculous.

But it goes much deeper than this. He targets the vulnerable in his efforts to increase his power and political influence. Cunning in his political calculations, he exploits the culture wars with efficiency and finesse. The “Don’t Say Gay” law was a brilliant stroke in appealing to the base of his political party across the nation to position himself as the alternative to a damaged former president who is unlikely to win a general election.

What will happen to LGBTQ youth under his law matters not to this governor. As his staff will hasten to explain, we should not take his rejection, his harsh words, or his Reaganesque indifference personally. “Ron hates everybody.” Nevertheless, they have their own support groups to work out the DeSantis Treatment they receive. “Loyalty and trust, that’s not a currency he deals in.”

That’s the second thing to know about Ron DeSantis. He lacks empathy. He’s wooden and awkward in his appearances that lack the control he usually exercises over his media conferences. His staff and guards carefully vet who is allowed to attend. Not only those who are deemed hostile, but also those who might ask difficult questions, are denied attendance to his almost daily performances around the state as he appears before carefully selected cameras to announce something that will benefit Florida.

Indeed, many political observers believe that once he has to campaign directly for national office and actually meet people, he will fail. From a New Yorker profile last June: “Nearly everyone I talked to who knew DeSantis commented on his affect: his lack of curiosity about others, his indifferent table manners, his aversion to the political rituals of dispensing handshakes and questions about the kids.”

The third thing to know about Ron DeSantis is that he brags about the Free State of Florida while restricting the freedom of Floridians. Laws he demanded from the Florida legislature over the past four years have included a bill that criminalized citizens’ First Amendment rights to assemble and petition the government, including a possible denial of Eighth Amendment rights to bail.

He contravenes the will of voters by removing elected officials with whom he disagrees. He took out the State Attorney for Hillsborough County, not for acts of malfeasance, misfeasance, or neglect of office, but because the official had expressed an opinion about the current state of law regarding abortion and transgender care and his discretion in deciding when to prosecute.

The fourth thing to know about Ron DeSantis is that he eagerly mucks with nonpartisan elections in his determination to impose his will upon Floridians, their own desires be damned. He interfered with school board elections by endorsing candidates in a partisan exercise in what Florida law specifies are nonpartisan elections.

It’s all part of his strategy to play the culture wars to further fame, glory, and power. It’s why he denounces CRT (Critical Race Theory) and avers that he will eradicate it from Florida schools, where you cannot find it. He has a law, passed under his insistence, to help with that.

To date, he mostly loses when his culture war laws are challenged in court. That’s not the point. The point is the notoriety he gains from sponsoring and advocating for the laws. Losing might even be a bonus as it inflames the self-perceived victimhood of the base he claims. Ron DeSantis is Trump without the flaws or so he would have you believe.

The fifth thing to know about Ron DeSantis is that he is a family man. Although some have tried to tie him to the indiscretions of Joel Greenberg and Matt Gaetz through sharing this photo on social media …

it doesn’t stick. This is a picture of three young pols, of the same age and party, like millions of photos people take and post these days. Unlike the other two, DeSantis prefers to spend his personal time with his wife and children.

There has never been a whiff of scandal about him regarding his personal behavior. Let’s be fair.

The sixth thing to know about Ron DeSantis is that, as coyly as he plays his presidential ambitions, as he pretends that all he cares about is governing Florida, as his wife is more determined than he is to take up residence in the White House, is that he was the first to say that a state legislature could override the will of the voters and award the electoral votes to the candidate of their choice, a position contrary to 250 years of our constitutional republic.

The seventh thing to know about Ron DeSantis is that he does not back parental rights. He advances the right of SOME parents to decide what ALL parents must do with their children. SOME parents decide what books ALL parents’ children may read. SOME parents decide what ALL parents will allow their children to know about our nation’s troubled racial history. SOME parents decide what ALL parents’ children will learn in school. SOME parents’ children must not be made to feel uncomfortable even if that causes discomfort to OTHER parents’ children.

But it’s par for the course for Florida’s rising star. Right on cue, the legislature is talking about carving out an exception to Florida’s resign-to-run law for the governor. Otherwise, he would be forced to choose between remaining governor and running for president.

What Ron wants, Ron gets. Everyone else be damned.

Is that really what you want, America?

Or will this shooting star, now blazing through the sky, burn out and disintegrate before it hits the ground?