Little Rock Nine members condemn Arkansas Department of Education’s 'attempts to erase history'

Little Rock Nine members condemn Arkansas Department of Education’s 'attempts to erase history'
Little Rock Nine member Melba Beals, Image via Creative Commons.

Arkansas Republican lawmakers and the state Department of Education are receiving significant backlash for attempting to place restrictions on the state's Advanced Placement (AP) African American high school course.

An exclusive NBC News report notes that "surviving members of The Little Rock Nine, a group of students who in 1957 integrated Little Rock Central High School under threats of violence from white segregationists" condemned the restrictions earlier this week.

The members' opposition comes as lawmakers proposed legislation that "aims to ban 'teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologie' such as critical race theory," The New York Times reports, noting that "The same legislation weakened teachers' tenure protections, which has raised the stakes in the confrontation with the state over African American studies."

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Although earlier this week, according to The Times, "The Little Rock School District in Arkansas said on Wednesday that it would continue to offer Advanced Placement (AP) African American studies, over the objections of the administration of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders," members of The Little Rock Nine are still "denouncing the Arkansas Department of Education's restrictions" on the AP courses.

Although the department ultimately did not ban students from taking the course, NBC reports, it "has cautioned that the coursework may not count toward the state's high school graduation requirements," arguing "that since the course is still being piloted, it's unclear whether it runs afoul of a state law signed by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in March banning the teaching of 'critical race theory.'"

NBC also notes:

The Arkansas Department of Education defended its decision, saying in a statement that, 'Until it's determined whether it violates state law and teaches or trains teachers in CRT and indoctrination, the state will not move forward. The department encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination.' The state already offers an African American history course, the department noted.

NAACP Director of Education Innovation and Research Ivory Toldson, according to the report, talked to five Little Rock Nine members earlier this week who "said that they see the criticism of the AP course 'as a broader attack on Black history.'"

READ MORE: Ron DeSantis’ critics fear that Sarah Sanders will 'import' his 'bad education' policies to Arkansas

Noting that Black children "often don't have the opportunity to sign up for the rigorous offerings" like an AP course, "which can earn students college credits while they're still in high school," he emphasized, "These are the larger issues I wish they would talk about as they go on defense about this issue. They really should be setting forth the plan to make sure all Black students in Arkansas have equal access to a quality education."

Little Rock Nine member Elizabeth Eckford said, "I think the attempts to erase history is working for the Republican Party. They have some boogeymen that are really popular with their supporters."

Melba Beals, also a Little Rock Nine member, encouraged those who oppose the education department's decision to "keep kicking," and to "see how many more heroines and heroes you can build."

However, 81-year-old member Terrence Roberts, expressed frustration, criticizing lawmakers who advocate against classroom lessons about race.

Roberts emphasized that at the "bare minimum" — no laws should restrict kids' "ability to learn, or what they could learn."

Unsure of what lies ahead, he acknowledged, "I know there are voices pushing back. The question is, will they be successful?"

READ MORE: 'They didn’t block AP European History': WH press secretary blasts DeSantis for banning class on African American History

NBC News' full report is available at this link. The New York Times' report is here (subscription required).

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