& AARON MAYBIN
Civil Rights and the Right to Education
Robert F. Kennedy’s work to advance the civil rights of African-Americans was evident in a number of areas, perhaps no more so than in regards to education. As Attorney General, he demonstrated his commitment to civil rights during a 1961 speech at the University of Georgia Law School: "We will not stand by or be aloof. We will move. I happen to believe that the 1954 [Supreme Court school desegregation] decision was right. But my belief does not matter. It is the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law."
In September 1962, Robert F. Kennedy sent U.S. Marshals and troops to Oxford, Mississippi to enforce a federal court order admitting James Meredith, an African American, to the University of Mississippi, which had previously been a bastion of segregation. The riot that had followed Meredith's registration at Ole Miss left two dead and hundreds injured.
In June 1963, Robert sent Deputy Attorney General Nicholas de Belleville Katzenbach to escort Vivian Malone and James A. Hood as they enrolled in the University of Alabama, where Governor George Wallace attempted to block their attendance. That night, President Kennedy delivered a speech calling Civil Rights "a moral issue," a phrase that his brother had urged him to use.
In this lesson plan, we explore Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy of pushing for quality education for all. As we build a bridge between the past and the present and reflect on the work of the advocates of then and now, we should keep one question in mind: what do we do next?
BECOME A DEFENDER
The activities listed below are suggestions for how students can become human rights Defenders in their classrooms and beyond.
What are key issues affecting civil rights and the right to education today?
Research issues such as access, allocation of resources, quality of resources, scope of courses and extracurricular activities available and safety.