Civil Rights Leaders Champion Freedom to Learn Ahead of National Day of Action

By National Urban League Published May 1, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 1, 2024) – Leaders of the nation’s legacy civil rights organizations today  came together to endorse the Freedom to Learn campaign and join Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, Co-Founder and President of the African American Policy Forum in rejecting the effort to suppress Black history and our nation’s history, roll back more than half a century of hard-won civil rights victories, and undermine the ultimate ideal of this country -- to achieve an inclusive democracy for all.

Freedom to Learn is a movement initiated by a coalition of civil rights, human rights, and other social and racial justice organizations to fight the far-right campaign to suppress truthful history, marginalize Black and LGBTQ+ teachers and students, and to repeal decades of anti-racist, pro-equality policies. As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and the 60th Anniversary of Freedom Summer we face a frightening reality. Progress toward more racially integrated and inclusive schools that can serve as “nurseries of our democracy” is under grave threat by those who fear the changing demographics of American society, and thwart the political power of people of color and other marginalized communities.

Book bans that target Black and LGBTQ+ authors and efforts to sanitize and suppress curriculum are tools of a larger effort to erase the history of segregation and white supremacy with the intent of re-configuring our democratic institutions in a way that undermines equity. . The extremist has outlined this very strategy in its manifesto, otherwise known as Project 2025 — a detailed, nearly 900-page master plan that seeks to federalize the worst of red-state legislation to shut down public education, civil rights, and our democracy. This draconian anti-democratic agenda seeks to roll back federal protections for civil rights and to further erode our democratic norms.

As civil rights leaders representing legacy organizations originally formed to achieve the ideals of this nation - “A More Perfect Union” - we are standing together to push back on the extremely troubling and explosive attacks on any effort to create an inclusive democracy by attacking not only Black history, but any DEI efforts. The threats ahead are potentially devastating as this well-funded right-wing minority seeks to foreclose the possibility of an equitable future through anti-democracy initiatives like Project 2025.  We know that the far right is attacking the freedom to learn because they know that knowledge is power.

That is why the Freedom to Learn campaign is vital. Together we stand against the fearmongers and would-be autocrats who falsely allege that anti-racist teachings are a form of racism. We are the majority who stand for the honest reckoning with our history that is necessary to create an inclusive, multi-racial democracy. May 3rd is the second annual Freedom to Learn National Day of Action, which also kicks off Freedom Summer 2024. Throughout the summer we’re building our collective counter power to defend our democracy.

On the 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer 1964, we stand together to honor this legacy by fighting for our freedom. Just as activists descended upon Mississippi to establish freedom schools and for the right to vote we will join together to protect these rights against contemporary efforts to turn us back. Across the nation standing firm against the U-Turn on civil rights. We aren’t going back.

Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League

Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President, National Action Network

Melanie Campbell, President and CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable

Derrick Johnson, President and CEO, NAACP

Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Maya Wiley, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Shavon Arline-Bradley, President and CEO, National Council of Negro Women