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Mississippi lawmakers took a stand over critical race theory. Photo: Danny Lehman/Getty Images

Black senators in Mississippi hold historic walk out over new bill banning critical race theory

The bill is seen as unnecessary by its opponents.

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On Friday, Jan. 21, every Black Mississippi senator walked out of the state body’s chamber, choosing not to vote on a bill that would ban the teaching of critical race theory in the state’s public schools and colleges and universities.

The historic, unprecedented walkout came over a vote on the academic theory that state education officials and Republican lawmakers acknowledge is not even taught in Mississippi.

“We walked out as a means to show a visible protest to these proceedings,” said state Sen. John Horhn. 

In 1993, Black caucus members left before then-Gov. Kirk Fordice delivered his State of the State address in protest of his policies. But no Capitol observer could recall an instance of members leaving en masse in protest before a vote on a bill. 

“We felt like it was a bill that was not deserving of our vote. We have so many issues in the state that need to be addressed. We did not need to spend time on this,” said Sen. Derrick Simmons. 

Senate Bill 2113 would prohibit public schools in the state from forcing students to agree “that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.”

While critical race theory is in the title, the main text of the bill does not define the phrase. It also doesn’t ban educators from teaching any specific subject matter. 

Critical race theory is a concept that seeks to understand and acknowledge inequality and racism in the U.S. 

Despite the fact that the Mississippi Senate's "anti-CRT" bill does not actually deal with nor prohibit CRT, Black lawmakers worry that it could nevertheless have a chilling effect on education about race in the state.

The bill was debated for more than an hour, with several Black legislators asking Republican state Sen. Michael McLendon, who had introduced it, why the bill was necessary. 

While McLendon admitted that he had not heard from schools in Mississippi that students were being taught to feel superior or inferior, he said he introduced the bill because his constituents had raised concerns about certain curricula they heard were being taught across the country. 

"I had so many constituents in my district that were concerned over the teachings that they have heard from around the country, they want to make sure that this was not a problem with Mississippi, so that's why this bill was brought forward," McLendon said.

Democratic state Sen. David Jordan, who has worked as a teacher for 33 years — 20 of them in integrated schools, told McLendon the bill was not needed. 

“Mississippi doesn't need this. If anybody should be concerned about racism, it ought to be those of us whose parents watered these lands with their tears & made it rich with their bones. Those are my ancestors,” Jordan said prior to the walkout. 

The bill passed in the Senate by 32-2 after the Black lawmakers walked out. Democratic state Sens. David Blount and Hob Bryan — both White — were the only two legislators to vote against the bill. It now heads to the state House.

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