On June 30th, a chapter of a national group called Moms for Liberty lodged a complaint with the state education commissioner about Wit & Wisdom, a curriculum used in more than 30 districts across the state. The complaint singles out a second-grade unit on “Civil Rights Heroes” and four texts in particular.
They include two books about Ruby Bridges, who as a child integrated a whites-only elementary school in New Orleans; one about Martin Luther King, Jr., and the March on Washington; and one about a 1947 lawsuit in California brought by a Mexican-American family that led to school desegregation in that state.
The 11-page complaint tries to detail the ways in which the books violate the Tennessee law, but the accusations rest on a peculiar reading of the texts. Focusing on Ruby Bridges Goes to School, which Bridges wrote herself, Moms for Liberty points to photos of angry white people holding signs favoring segregation and claims the book doesn’t mention that race relations have improved. But the text makes clear that these events took place in the past and things have changed. “A long time ago,” the first sentence reads, “some people thought that black people and white people should not be friends.” At the end, Bridges writes, “Now black and white children can go to the same schools. … I tell people that black and white people can be friends. And most important, I tell children to be kind to each other.”
The complaint alleges that the books present an unrelentingly dark portrait of a United States in which all white people are evil. But Ruby’s white first-grade teacher—who teaches her alone after parents pull their children out of school—is presented as a hero. “I loved Mrs. Henry,” Bridges writes, “and Mrs. Henry loved me.” Far from resenting her absent white classmates, Ruby yearns for them to return. When they eventually do, we see photos of Ruby and her classmates close together and smiling.