Route D:

March to Education

Location: From Linn Park at Richard Arrington Blvd to Phillips High School/35203

Education was a road to freedom, certainly to a better life, for African Americans in slavery and post-slavery times. But keeping Blacks under-educated is deeply rooted in American history. Teaching slaves to read and write was against the law in many states, especially those in the South. Whites feared that educated Negroes would yearn for freedom and lead slave revolts. The booming plantation economy created rich Southerners whose wealth rested on the backs of Black slave laborers. Therefore, anyone who dared to teach a Black person could face steep fines and jail time, and even violence in Southern states. Southerners in particular viewed Blacks as beasts of burden, incapable of learning or being as mentally competent as Whites.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 decision in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case summed up the American attitude toward Blacks before the Civil War: they were a “subordinate and inferior class of beings” that “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” And whether slave or free, Blacks had no rights or privileges of a U.S. citizen, unless “those who held power and the government might choose to grant them” to Blacks.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, Congress enacted the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution that gave newly-freed slaves the rights of full citizenship. However, Ku Klux Klansman beat and harassed Whites who came from the North to teach Black children. They burned down Black schools and generally tried to discourage education of Negros in any form that might make them feel equal to Whites.

But educated Blacks who became lawyers used the courts to convince a new generation of Supreme Court justices that unfair laws violated the fundamental bedrock of American beliefs “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”