The modern civil rights movement’s attack on Jim Crow exerted a powerful influence on a generation of Americans—but for younger Americans, it’s ancient history. While the society in which they have been raised is far from color blind, many of the most overt and violent forms of racial discrimination have disappeared. Schools and public facilities are no longer legally segregated, interracial relationships are not criminalized, and the political process is not closed. In fact, many young people see a world in which certain aspects of Jim Crow America have been turned on their head—within the America they know African American athletes are heroes, black musicians shape popular tastes, and an African American serves as president.
Among a teacher’s more important challenges, therefore, is to broaden students’ historical framework—to help them realize just how recently this new era of racial relations emerged. They may be coming of age in the era of Obama, but their parents probably remember George Wallace, Bull Connors, and Lester Maddox.