Contact: Susan Klopfer
Mt. Pleasant, Iowa
Smart students get angry when they learn they have been deceived in what they have been taught. This includes removal of truth from history lessons, says an Iowa author of three civil rights books.
Susan Klopfer, recent author of “Who Killed Emmett Till,” the story of the1955 Mississippi brutal murder of a young black student visiting relatives in the Delta, asserts this week’s efforts to ban ethnic studies in Arizona is “all about racism” and further, “the state will learn that censorship won’t work.”
With today’s students camping out on the Internet, reading uncensored e-books, news and pouring through editorial content, censorship and lies are harder to accomplish, Klopfer said.
"But just the attempt to blot out history will make people angry and alienated, especially those who are the targets of white political leaders and their weak attempts to control society."
When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the infamous anti-immigrant bill into law, “the underlying racism was clear enough,” Klopfer said.
But Arizona’s new law that bans ethnic studies programs in the schools, in effect censoring history, "makes the attempted racism even more obvious," Klopfer added.
The Mount Pleasant author has written two books on Till and a detailed book on the civil rights movement in the Mississippi Delta, a region where she lived for two years, on the grounds of the state’s main prison, Parchman Penitentiary. Klopfer’s husband was the chief corrections psychologist in Mississippi, bringing the Oregon native and journalist into the South for the first time in her life.
“As soon as I began meeting people, asking questions and listening to their stories, it was so apparent that much of the U.S. history I had been taught in school lacked in truth. This made me so angry, that I spent up to 80 hours per week researching and writing my first civil rights book,” Klopfer said. "I wanted to make sure the history would not be lost."
Previously, Klopfer had worked as a news reporter in Branson, Missouri where as the city reporter she won state awards for investigative and community news reporting.
Following activities in Arizona for the past two week, Klopfer asserts that “Mississippi is actually looking a lot better than Arizona. Educators and citizens in Mississippi have finally decided their history must be told correctly, and the state legislature even passed a law to make this start happening in the fall.”
Mississippi has become the first state in the nation to mandate that civil rights history be taught throughout the public school system, Klopfer said.
“Sure, not everyone is happy about this and it will be a tough change, but state and academic historians have been putting their heads together to develop new materials that show what really happened in early times, from the days of enslavement through the modern civil rights movement and into the present, as more and more African Americans are taking political office and demanding change.”
Arizona, Klopfer adds, was the last state in the Union to recognize the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and “suffers from a poor track record on tolerance, to start with."
Klopfer answers questions about her books and racism:
Q. Why did you become so motivated in Mississippi to write your first book?
A. “What motivated me more than ever was the anger I felt after moving to the Mississippi Delta and learning the history I’d never been taught -- the story of Emmett Till, for instance, or the history of Medgar Evers who was assassinates; Fannie Lou Hamer -- how she was beaten and raped for using a white restroom -- and shunned by the Democratic Party when she tried to tell her story at the 1964 convention; or stories about Aaron Henry and Amzie Moore who, in fact, were founding fathers of the modern civil rights movement, and yet rarely recognized in today’s history books.”
Q. What is happening in the world of text books today?
A. “Bad stuff. This spring, the Texas Board of Education approved a curriculum change that essentially mandates a conservative, white-Christian bias in the teaching of social science. This has resulted in a wholesale removal of brown and black people from the textbooks.
“People such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and civil rights groups like LULAC and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund were stricken from the books. The story of Justice Thurgood Marshall was allowed to remain but important details were removed. The same goes for Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott.
“Conservatives defeated attempts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures in the curriculum, in that heavily Latino state. Hence, the people who determine how history is taught in many of our schools throughout the country (because they select the official textbooks) are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world."
Q. When did ethnic studies begin? Why are they important?
“This movement came about in the 1960s and early 1970s at a time of empowerment for racial and ethnic minority groups. When Harvard students demanded black studies in 1968, some faculty predicted the end of civilization! Students on campuses around the country began challenging the Eurocentric teaching of history, the social sciences and the humanities on college campuses. The feeling was that when marginalized students -- African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and others -- learned how their people were a part of American history, they would excel in their studies. Further, we all benefit as a society when we learn about the heritage of all groups, and their contributions to the world.
“As this country moves more into globalization, this is a time when we should be increasing our multicultural efforts and teaching our children to live together and understand one another. As Mississippi has come to recognize, the people of Arizona must understand they are sending the wrong message by banning ethnic studies and truth in history. It won’t work to lie and it will make many people even angrier as they learn the truth. Instead of working together, Arizona is telling people of color they don't count, that their culture doesn't matter.”