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Civil Rights Leader Lonnie King '69 Urges Teachers to Erase Students' Misconceptions


Civil rights veteran Lonnie King '69 paused and shook his head.

An 8th grade teacher from Washington, D.C., had just asked what should she say to a black student who didn’t want Barack Obama to win the 2008 presidential election because he feared Obama would be assassinated.

"How do you tell a child that the cost of freedom, the cost of justice, the cost of democracy might be in somebody getting killed," King said. “That’s a tough question.”

But King told the group of 41 history teachers from across the United States at the Executive Conference Center on July 21 that they can help erase some of the doubts, misconceptions or misguided lessons students have.

“They say young kids come into this world with a blank slate,” he said. “Remember that you may have (students) from imperfect backgrounds. Look beyond the surface. That slate might need some erasing and some new writing on it. It’s your responsibility as teachers to rewrite this slate.”

The instructors stopped at Morehouse and the Atlanta University Center during their week-long summer workshop of historic civil rights sites in Atlanta, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“It is a chance to bring teachers from around the country to be in the sites where civil rights history was actually made,” said Georgia State University history professor Tim Crimmins, who led the group.

The group tapped King, a civil rights movement student organizer in the AUC in 1960, to shed light on what the struggle against racism was like for students who had tired of unequal and demeaning treatment.

“(Administrators) told us that our job was to study and then go out and change the world, not to change the world while we were studying,” King told the teachers. “But we were not backing down…We had to take things and shake them up. We did this because if not us, who? And if not now, when?”

Just before ending his speech to a standing ovation (teachers swarmed King to shake his hand and take photos with him afterwards), he told the group he has launched an organization, the Coalition for the New Georgia, that seeks to register 100,000 new voters by November and will work to fix ailing local school systems.

“I’m 71,” King said. “But I’m ready for one more movement, I guess.”

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