By Stacey Robertson
As a Civil War-era historian, the co-director of Historians Against Slavery, and as the dean of the Central Washington University College of Arts and Humanities, I take the recent reports of KKK fliers in Ellensburg and across Kittitas County very seriously.
I applaud the categorical response in the last few weeks from President James Gaudino and many others, including the Twitter hashtag #notinourkittco, and I join with them in working to create a safe and respectful campus environment for all of our students, faculty, and staff.
And yet, I know from extensive research and writing that history is the context for understanding present-day challenges. Slavery and its troubled aftermath is a national wound that we are unable to heal.
We must not delude ourselves into thinking racial discrimination and bias ended with the 13th Amendment in 1865. In the decades following the Civil War, legalized slavery continued in the form of convict leasing with black men and women arrested for spurious crimes, sentenced to long prison terms, and leased out to plantations and mines to experience a life that was often worse than slavery. Lynchings increased, blacks were prevented from voting, and Jim Crow (legalized segregation) permeated in the South.
We have come a long way. The historic 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, ended segregation in public schools. The landmark ruling helped lead to the 1960s freedom marches, and the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Voting Rights Act the following year. In 2008, America elected its first black president in Barack Obama.
Yes, we have made tremendous progress, but we still must be vigilant. None of these changes happened without concerted effort on the part of social justice activists. Abolitionists challenged slavery and the racist laws of the North, collaborated with courageous freedom seekers to create a strong underground railroad, and protested time-and-time again across the North.
Civil rights activists continued the battle throughout the 20th Century even when it meant risking life and limb, leading to major changes. The flow of history is not always toward increased equality and rights. The fight must persist. Racial discrimination and bias continue as evidenced by KKK materials recently distributed right here in Ellensburg.
The College of Arts and Humanities has a critical role to play in educating our students and the general public. All of our departments contribute to a strong ethical and global education about injustice, discrimination, and inequality.
Whether through an exploration of ethics in our Philosophy and Religious Studies Department or an eye-opening, heartfelt Art exhibition that raises questions about human trafficking, we must build strong-and-ethical global citizenship.