Kentucky Politics

A Democratic state lawmaker has filed a bill to require public middle and high schools to teach the history of racism in the country.

Louisville Rep. Attica Scott’s bill would require schools to teach about a list of subjects including the slave trade, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, residential segregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

State Representative Attica Scott speaks to supporters of Breonna’s Law outside the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort.

Scott says a group of students asked her to carry the bill.

“I definitely feel like schools are addressing some of these issues differently than other schools. But this is a more robust dig and dive into the history of racism of the combination of racial prejudice plus power and how it impacts people’s lives,” Scott said.

Scott’s proposal comes after a handful of Republican lawmakers proposed measures that would purportedly ban critical race theory in Kentucky schools.

Critical race theory is an academic framework that says racism has been perpetuated on a systemic level in the United States.

The impacts of systemic racism gained more understanding during racial justice protests in 2020, and some Republicans have rallied against the issue. Right-wing pundits have lumped anti-racist, and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts under the term “critical race theory.” 

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has called for the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which focuses on the history of slavery and racism in the U.S., to not be included in school-related federal grant programs.

Scott says her bill doesn’t require schools to teach critical race theory.

“Sadly, I don’t believe that my colleagues who are proposing banning the teaching of critical race theory even know what it means,” Scott said.

“Critical race theory is a focus in higher education, it’s a legal, an activist scholar perspective on the intersection of law and race. It is not something that is taught in our public schools across Kentucky, or for that matter, public schools across the country.”

The text of the bill would require public high schools and middle schools to create curricula that teach about the transatlantic slave trade, the American Civil War, Jim Crow laws, the black codes, desegregation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, redlining and residential segregation.

Scott proposed a similar bill during this year’s lawmaking session, but it never got heard in the Republican-led legislature. The new proposal will be considered when lawmakers return for the next legislative session in January.

Scott was arrested on felony rioting charges last year during a protest over police violence and racial injustice in Louisville. Video of the arrest showed Scott peacefully walking with a group of people to a Unitarian church that was providing shelter for protesters.

Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell dropped the charges months later. Scott filed a lawsuit against Louisville police officers involved in her arrest, arguing they violated her constitutional rights. The suit is still pending in Jefferson Circuit Court.

Scott is challenging incumbent U.S. Congressman John Yarmuth in the Democratic primary set for May 2022.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.