There are efforts around the country right now to ban the discussion of critical race theory in K-12 schools. Legislatures are doing their best to prevent people of color, particularly Black people, from being able to vote in future elections. In Iowa, where I live, House File 802 specifically prohibits school districts from including certain concepts in diversity and inclusion efforts, a few of which are: “that the United States and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist;” “that members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex;” and “that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.”
Now, luckily in my opinion, House File 802 does not prohibit responding to questions. Also, to be fair to the Iowa legislature and governor, it does not “prohibit the use of curriculum that teaches the topics of sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, or racial discrimination, including topics relating to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in sexism, racial oppression, segregation, and discrimination.” This brings me to Mildred Taylor and her exceptional Logan Family Saga. To me, these books are probably the best US History curriculum you could find for late middle to early high school students covering the years from Reconstruction all the way through to the mid-60s. Iowa even has a part to play.
A student reading Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981) or All the Days Past, All the Days to Come (2020) will certainly have some questions about restrictions that seem to impact one group of voters, fundamentally. They will no doubt recognize that white murderers in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) are released to their families, while innocent Black bystanders are sentenced to death. Questions about current not infrequent police killings of unarmed Black men may arise. When the Logan family is told there are no rooms available at a motel in Iowa in 1947, when there clearly are, students might begin to wonder what other events of segregation occurred in Iowa in the 1940s. They might learn about Edna Griffin and her trip to Katz Drug Store in 1948.
Of course, reading about the Logan family, students will also see their strength, their beauty, and their immeasurable devotion to each other. We see them praying together at Great Faith Church. Eating together–cobbler, sweet potatoes, pork chops. Working together in the fields, on the land that they own. We see them studying the US Constitution together, analyzing each section in order to register to vote. We see them standing up against incredible injustice, always side-by-side.
In these books, the Logan family and their loved ones experience some of the greatest challenges that humanity has ever faced. Cassie’s parents are both the grandchildren of slaves and slave-owners. While the Logan family owns its land, the majority of the Black farmers around them are sharecroppers, who end up giving much of their yield back to white landowners. When the Great Depression hits in 1929, readers are shown how Roosevelt’s New Deal impacted Black sharecroppers (something I honestly knew very little about until reading Taylor’s series). The Logan children lose many friends, some to white supremacists, some to a particularly unjust justice system, and others to war. All, in some way, come back to hate.
Mildred Taylor has spent 46 years with the Logan family. It shows. The characterization, the warmth in the writing, and the depth of every story, are breathtaking. In the final book, All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, she explains why she has continued to use the “n” word in each of her books. It’s because she has heard it, over and over again. She seeks to tell the truth in her books. That is what these books do. That is what the best educators want to do. That is what our government should want us to do. We have to know our past to move forward and we have to acknowledge where our country has been, where our country still is in many ways, if we seek to improve.
Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 8: I respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.
Diversity 10: I understand that diversity includes the impact of unequal power relations on the development of group identities and cultures.
Justice 12: I can recognize, describe and distinguish unfairness and injustice at different levels of society.
Justice 13: I can explain the short and long-term impact of biased words and behaviors and unjust practices, laws and institutions that limit the rights and freedoms of people based on their identity groups.
Justice 15: I can identify figures, groups, events and a variety of strategies and philosophies relevant to the history of social justice around the world.