Dr. Robert Greene II and Marjorie Hammock, left, congratulate graduate Nicole McCuen at last year’s graduation. Photo provided.

South Carolina progressives will offer a series of Monday evening lectures starting March 5 to shine the light on South Carolina’s legacy of racism.

During a time when culture wars are being fought in state courts about how South Carolina’s history of race is taught in public schools, the Modjeska Simkins School of Human Rights matters more than ever, said Brett Bursey of Columbia. He is executive director of the school’s sponsor, the S.C. Progressive Network Education Fund. Launched in 2015, the school is named for human rights advocate Modjeska Monteith Simkins (1899-1992), a celebrated human rights advocate in South Carolina.

Bursey said Republican lawmakers in red states like South Carolina are aggressively attacking public education with legislation about “critical race theory,” even though it isn’t part of South Carolina’s curriculum. Last year, civil rights and education groups testified against several CRT bills that made erroneous claims about how students are taught history. The battle continues this year.

“The self-titled Freedom Caucus put a proviso into the state budget that prohibits public school teachers from making white students uncomfortable about learning South Carolina’s historic and continuing problem with racism,” Bursey said. “They accuse public school teachers of indoctrinating students with socialist ideals, and are mounting a full-on assault on public education.”

Spring classes run March 5 to June 26

The “Modjeska School” offers Monday classes that teach South Carolina’s uncensored and sometimes painful history about race, according to a press release. It also provides tools for effective citizenship. 

April Lott, president of the Charleston Central Labor Council, attended last year’s sessions and said they opened her eyes.

“The school opened my eyes to my own history here in South Carolina,” she said in a statement. “As a Charleston native, there was so much rich history that I did not know — the good, the bad, and the bitter ugly. As a union leader and labor activist, learning these things through the life of Ms. Modjeska not only inspired me but it gave me validation that I can fight for the working families of South Carolina.”

Classes will be held online and at the SC Progressive Network’s HQ at 1340 Elmwood Ave. in Columbia, next to Simkins’ historic home.

Bursey said the intensive course is a unique education crafted specifically for South Carolinians to help them better understand and navigate the state’s particular culture and political landscape. It is facilitated by a roster of noted historians, writers, lawyers and seasoned community activists. 

Dr. Burnette Gallman, a Columbia doctor who teaches African history, took the course twice, and is a presenter this session. 

“As the lies and the assault on truth continue, the Modjeska School is a breath of fresh air,” he said. “It provides a correction of the lies that have been told in schools for generations, as well as a firewall against the lies being legislated today. Everyone should take this course.”

Claflin University assistant professor Robert Greene II is the school’s lead instructor. 

“The school continues a long and storied tradition of linking civics, political action, and life-long learning,” Greene said in a statement. “Such a history does emphasize the nature of oppression in the Palmetto State’s history, but the school equally teaches the spirit of justice, freedom, and equality that so many in South Carolina have fought for through the centuries. In an age like ours where teaching true history is under attack, the Modjeska Simkins School represents a different path for teaching and learning history.”

The school is now accepting applications to its spring 2023 session. Classes will be held Monday evenings online and at the SC Progressive Network’s Columbia headquarters, 1340 Elmwood Ave. 

This story was first reported in our sister publication, Statehouse Report.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.