Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project to the “We the People – Math Literacy for All” Alliance – an update for the SNCC Legacy Project Board – Saturday, April 6, 2019

National Citizenship: 1960s and the Mississippi Theater of the Civil Rights Movement:

In the 1960s Ella Baker enacted, as I watched and listened, two, for me, timeless truths about organizing:  

First is that you organize with people around a problem with the understanding that some of them, who own the problem with their lives, will step into the Public arena to articulate the issues and provide leadership.  Ella organized that for the 1960 Sit-In movement, out of which came SNCC.  SNCC in turn did that for the 1961-1964 Mississippi Sharecropper voter registration insurgencies, out of which came the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.  The Algebra Project did that in turn for its 1980s-1990s middle and high school graduates, out of which came the YPP.

Second, is that once “First” has happened, organizers cannot return to save First from itself; if you step in to stop “First” from self-destruction, you inevitably become its leader. Ella watched as SNCC disintegrated and dissolved in the late ‘60s, and I watched as MFDP leadership, after the Convention Challenge in ‘64, misread the way forward, and so self-orchestrated their demise.

Voting and Education: A Constitutional Conundrum.

The link between voting and education had been made explicit with the question Judge Clayton put to me on the witness stand of the Greenville Federal District Court in the Spring of 1963.  Months before, our SNCC car had been “grease gunned” on highway 82 and SNCC converged on Greenwood, raised food in Chicago and rallied hundreds of Sharecroppers to confront the registrar at the Court House.  When SNCC Field Secretaries were arrested, Burke Marshall filed suit against the City, had our cases removed to the Federal Courts and sent John Doar to be our lawyer.  Judge Clayton had one question:  Why is SNCC taking illiterates down to register to vote?

Sharecropper illiteracy and therefore “Sharecropper Education” was the political, constitutional and existential subtext of SNCC’s voter registration insurgencies and, indeed, plays the same role in AP’s and YPP’s math literacy insurgencies.  Was sharecropper illiteracy, like slavery, just collateral damage of the national need for “self-preservation” or was it a manifestation of the “will to white supremacy”? Isn’t that the meaning of the Constitution’s Article 4, Section 2, paragraph 3, “A[4,2,3]” and Justice Taney’s Dred Scott decision when “illiteracy” is replaced by “slavery”? 

In the 1960s Amzie Moore was always saying “we need to be first class citizens,” and a half century later it shed light, for me, on a, if not the, Constitutional Conundrum:  The distinction drawn between the “Constitutional People” of the 1787 Preamble and the “Constitutional Property” of A[4,2,3]:  White-male-settler-property-owning colonials vs. African men, women and children.  The 1860s Civil War re-wrote the 1787 Constitution with Constitutional Amendments to disown the concept of Constitutional Property and establish National Citizenship for Africans, but, as Amzie intoned a century later, African American descendants of those Africans were just citizens of a second class.  What’s going on?

A crucial, but partial, answer is found in James Bryant Conant’s 1961 book “Slums and Suburbs – A Commentary on Schools in Metropolitan Areas”, where Conant calls our attention to President Grant’s 1875 Education Amendment that did not make it.

The Constitution of the United States was not amended. For nearly a hundred years our ancestors – North and South, East and West – accepted, almost without protest, the transformation of the status of the Negro from that of a slave into that of a member of a lower, quite separate caste.  The present situation is a consequence of a national policy, or rather the lack of a national education policy. (p. 12)

After the victory of the North … The people of the United States through their duly elected representatives in Congress acquiesced for generations in the establishment of a tight caste system as a substitute for Negro Slavery. (pp. 9-10)

As we now recognize so plainly, but so belatedly, a caste system finds its clearest manifestation in an educational system. (p. 11)

Political Progress and Programs

As a follow up to my notes in the Algebra Project’s December 2018 newsletter (Appendix A), please see the attached Appendix B, with documentation of the Alliance efforts to combine a public event to launch a National Conversation that couples the above framing for National Citizenship Voting and Education with a National Conversation about a bottom quartile 21st century math literacy platform supported by direct federal funding of “opportunity structures.” Included Appendix B are:

  • a 2-page summary that we’ve sent to Senator Sanders and Congressman Bobby Scott and their staffs 
  • an Alliance Shared Values Statement with list of 49 institutions and organizations who are signors 
  • a listing of additional collaborators and contacts 
  • a “Final Public Outcomes Report” for the NSF INCLUDES Design & Development Launch Pilot 2016-2018 which gave rise to the Alliance
  • a listing of short videos created by the “We the People – Math Literacy for All” Alliance 2017-2018, illustrating various aspects of the ongoing work the Alliance is pursuing. 

Annual convenings of the voices of students, teachers, school leaders, researchers, policy makers, community and parents are key to advancing the evolution of the Alliance.  Algebra Project has secured substantial “anchoring” funding to enable a national Alliance meeting in Washington, DC each year over the next four years, beginning with a convening in July 2019 (dates TBD on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday either the week of July 8th, 15th, or 23rd), to be coordinated with a Public Briefing on Capitol Hill presenting to members of Congress and their staff people. Additional funds will need to be raised by the Alliance nationally and/or by local nodes of the Alliance to enable the convenings to occur each year, though we are encouraged by the opportunity the initial funding represents.  

Thanks again for your continued engagement with and support of our mathematics literacy work, and please see the appendices.  



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