March 1, 2017

Members of Not In Our Town Urge Public Support of State’s Amistad Commission

To the Editor:

In recognition of Black History Month (February), Not in Our Town, a Princeton racial justice organization ( and Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society (CDOS) of Red Bank urge public support of New Jersey’s Amistad Commission and advocates for a curriculum that gives a complete history of the United States. By not being taught the history of all of America’s citizens, our children lose the chance for an integrated and collaborative future with all Americans. Until we fully appreciate the black contributions to America’s successes and acknowledge the white resistance to those black contributions, we will not be able to escape American society’s continuing systemic racism.

The 2002 enactment of the Amistad Bill, the law requiring that all New Jersey schools teach African American history on a regular basis throughout the year, was a heartening first step in this direction. While an important step, we know that the lag between legislation and implementation can be long and its impact devastating, particularly concerning the rights of African Americans. From the arrival of kidnapped and enslaved Africans to the repression of Jim Crow laws, from night-rider terrorism and public lynching, to current efforts to roll back voting rights, our nation has a history of revoking, delaying, and minimizing the rights earned by and owed to our brothers and sisters of color. An education that denies the realities of white oppression and minimizes the contributions of people of color is a continuation of this trend.

When our students are exposed only to white history and literature, the implications are dire. Students of color are robbed of their inheritance of historical and cultural heroes and heroines. The few examples in the average curriculum of black achievement, resistance, and intelligence forces these children to find these historical role models outside of the classroom.

The impact for white children is that they are left largely ignorant of the history of systemic oppression of people of color, the history of resistance to this oppression, and the history of white supremacy. This leaves them woefully inept at identifying all three, and liable to perpetuating this oppression as is illustrated in the Snapchat photo of a student gospel choir performance labeled “slave auction.”

If we truly believe that education is the foundation of our democracy, then it is our duty to ensure that every citizen is receiving a representative education. The creation of the Amistad Commission shows that New Jersey has taken an important step in acknowledging this need, but much work remains to be done in order to turn these ideals into reality.

Not In Our Town Princeton and Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society of Red Bank encourage you to take action every month in whatever capacity you can to ensure our schools are living up to these ideals, and that all of America’s citizens are valued for their contributions.

Simona L. Brickers, Linda Oppenheim, 

Roberto Schiraldi, John Steele

Not in Our Town (Princeton)