Every Black Mississippi senator walked off the chamber floor in protest as white colleagues voted on a bill to ban critical race theory in the state’s public schools.
The Mississippi State Senate, which has 14 Black senators out of 52 total senators, still passed the bill titled “Critical Race Theory; prohibit” with a vote of 32-2 after two white Democratic senators, David Blount and Hob Bryan, voted against it.
It will be sent to the House next, which has its own legislation to prevent critical race theory. If it passes the House, it is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican.
The unprecedented walkout on Friday morning was captured on video by WREG, as politicos in the state told Mississippi Today that they could not recall members of the chamber ever leaving en masse before a vote.
Barbara Blackmon, one of the senators who walked out of the chamber, told WREG that the “bill is morally wrong” and that implementation of the bill would make it difficult for schools to accurately teach the history of racism.
“You will not be looking through our history to see the systemic racism that has been a part of the very fabric of America, and we do know the State of Mississippi,” Blackmon, D-Canton, said.
The Mississippi Department of Education told the Clarion Ledger around the beginning of the school year that the theory wasn’t taught in any of the district’s schools.
Sen. Michael McLendon, R-Hernando, who authored the bill, said on the Senate floor he was not aware of any school teaching the theory in the state, but he heard of the issue “on the national news” and wanted to ensure it wouldn’t be taught in Mississippi.
The bill says the state’s public schools cannot direct students “that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior,” or “that any individuals should be adversely treated on the basis of their sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.”
It also says the state’s public schools cannot “make a distinction or classification of students based on account of race” except for required collection of demographics information.
“The bill is not changing anything about our past,” McLendon said. “All this bill says is that no child shall be told they’re superior or inferior to another. That’s all this bill does.”
Prior to walking out, Black senators asked Republicans repeatedly why the state needed a bill for a problem that didn’t exist.
“We cannot afford to spend our time taking up issues in Mississippi that do not exist,” Mississippi Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, told the Clarion Ledger after walking off the Senate floor.
Critical race theory, which addresses racism and the law, was developed by Harvard Law School’s first Black tenured professor Derrick Bell, and other scholars, including Kimberlé Crenshaw, Cheryl Harris, Richard Delgado, Patricia Williams, and Gloria Ladson-Billings, among others, according to the American Bar Association.
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