As Washington prepares for the delayed formal dedication events surrounding the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall on Oct. 16, it is troubling that growing numbers of young people know little about the murdered civil rights leader, or the cause for which he died. A new study by the Southern Poverty Law Center exposes an embarrassing depth of historical ignorance of the nation's long struggle in pursuit of racial equality.
The SPLC study casts a depressing picture about grasping the history of the civil rights movement, largely because so many states ignore the topic in their public school curriculum. Many students do not know about the Freedom Rides of the 1960s or about segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Nor can they identify the contributions of other assassinated figures such as Medgar Evers or Malcolm X. Thirty-five states earned an F from the SPLC study for woeful education standards that barely, if at all, require a civil rights curriculum. Florida, along with Alabama and New York, received an A grade from the SPLC for its efforts to provide a more detailed teaching of the civil rights era.
Celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. with a dedication ceremony of his memorial is sure to be inspiring. A far greater tribute to King's legacy would be a more enlightened youth who understand why the monument honoring the slain civil rights leader was built in the first place.