To the Editor:
I graduated from Pocahontas County High School in 1997, and the education I received there gave me an excellent foundation for everything I have done since. I was taught many skills, thanks to devoted educators in our school system. These teachers didn’t simply make sure I could pass a state-mandated exam. They help-ed give me what I needed to navigate the complex, rapidly changing society we all live in. This included assigning reading material that was challenging, thought-provoking, and occasionally controversial.
I was disappointed to see at the recent Board of Education meeting that not everyone in the community seems to share that goal. As a parent myself, I can understand the natural urge to protect and shelter one’s children. But we should not let that instinct prevent us from helping students prepare for the complicated, nuanced world we all inhabit. Some parents would go so far as to ban books rather than grapple with difficult or uncomfortable ideas. I strongly dis- agree with that approach. We must be brave enough to confront the world as it is. We must have the empathy to see the world from different points of view. We must hone curiosity and critical thinking skills in our students. We must give them the courage, strength, and ability to challenge ideas — even their own.
I would not be where I am today had I not learned how to question assumptions, how to examine new perspectives, and how to construct, defend (and occasionally change) my beliefs.
The Board of Education, administrators, and everyone else involved in influencing the curriculum, should actively and vocally support teachers that are willing to challenge their students, and better prepare them for the world. Our kids — and our community — deserve no less.
To the Editor:
There has been such tremendous progress in recent years in dismantling the laws behind racial discrimination that it can be difficult to appreciate how far we’ve come. But here’s something to think about: there are a number of residents of Pocahontas County West Virginia with Native American ancestry. Many take pride in it, and some can even trace their families back to Pocahontas herself. But a lot of people don’t realize that if our neighbors with Native American ancestors lived just a few miles east, over the border into Virginia, then as recently as 1975 they would have been legally classified as “colored” and treated as second-class citizens.
Virginia’s “Racial Purity Act” laid down the law: you were either “white” or “colored” and people with Native American ancestors were “colored.” What did it mean to be “colored?” First off, it would be illegal to marry a white person. This was the law in Virginia until 1975.
Just on the other side of Allegheny mountain.
There’s a lot more. As a colored person you could not eat in most restaurants, which were reserved for whites, and could not attend most schools, which were for whites only. Forget most colleges. You might have to sit in separate sections of a church and on public transportation. Voting would be difficult, and it would be extremely unlikely that as a Native American/colored person you would be allowed to hold any public office. As a colored person you would be expected to work for “whites,” but it would be very unlikely that you would ever have a job where a “white” person would work under your supervision.
If you had Native American background and were married in West Virginia to a white person, would your marriage be recognized as legal in Virginia, or would your children be considered illegitimate? It might be up to the local (white) sheriff.
It did not take much Native American ancestry to be classified as colored. The law says that to be “white” you have to have “no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian.” One Native American parent? You’re “colored” of course. One grandparent? Same thing. One great grandparent? — still “colored,” for a fact. If you could prove that you had one-sixteenth or less of Native American ancestry then you might be able to convince the government that you were really “white,” but otherwise, go straight to the back of the bus. Today, this sounds crazy, but it was very real not that long ago.
This little example is just the tip of the iceberg of bigotry that was baked into the laws and everyday life of our Nation. Virginia’s “Racial Purity Act” was passed in 1924, the same era when monuments to the Confederacy were rising throughout the South. It was not repealed until 1975. Today, the legal foundations of discrimination like this have largely been removed through the hard work and sacrifice of our parents’ generation. Today, at least in theory, there are no second-class citizens.
But changing laws is comparatively easy. It’s much more difficult to move hearts and minds away from the sick, weird thinking that led to the “Racial Purity Act” in the first place. No one now living had anything to do with passing laws like this, but scrubbing our Nation clean of their stain is our duty and our children’s duty, as well. Our task is not easy. Let’s begin by acknowledging that our everyday language and actions can unintentionally harm others. That’s at least a start.