Letter from ALBA: The Education Battlefront

November 18, 2022
By and

Dear Friends,

“There are now states in this country where this document cannot be taught,” a teacher remarked pointedly at one of the two workshops we taught in November.

We were discussing a letter sent from civil-war Spain by Canute Frankson, a Jamaican-born mechanic who in April 1937 left his home in Detroit to join the fight against fascism. “I’m sure that by this time you are still waiting for a detailed explanation of what has this international struggle to do with my being here,” he writes to a friend. “All we have to do is think of the lynching of our people,” he points out: “We can but look back on the pages of American history stained with the blood” of African Americans, “stink[ing] with the burning bodies of our people hanging from trees.” “Here, where we’re engaged in one of the most bitter struggles of human history, there is no color line,” he adds.

Our teacher was right. Frankson’s letter, which suggests that this country’s past is “stained with blood,” would be controversial in the 36 states that have restricted education on “divisive concepts” such as racism in U.S. history in high schools—and, in some cases, college—or are in the process of doing so.

We always knew education was important. But we honestly never imagined that it would be the battlefront it has become, as state legislatures are censoring—and censuring—teachers while local school boards are banning books by the dozens. At the same time, we hear politicians discredit the student loan forgiveness program by ridiculing college students as lazy moochers. What happened to the conservatives who once championed college as a road to social advancement? Or who, for that matter, believed that democracy stands and falls by the people’s right to vote and for their vote be counted?

Education is at the center of all we do. Not only our programs for teachers, but also our Perry Rosenstein Cultural Series—film screenings, workshops, music, and book talks for a general audience—and even this very magazine. In this issue, you can read about our inspiring Bay Area gala (p. 3), militiawomen in Spain (p. 15), and the educational work done with multi-ethnic youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina (p. 11). Robert Llopis shares his fascinating research about an intersex Cuban volunteer in the International Brigades (p. 8). We’re also thrilled when community members write to us with discoveries, whether it’s Aaron Lopoff’s long-lost Catalan gravesite (p. 4) or the identity of a Spanish soldier in an iconic photograph of Steve Nelson and Oliver Law (p. 10).

Since we last wrote, our community registered painful losses, including Corine Thornton, Jim Skillman, and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall. We commemorate their activist lives on pages 18 and 19. They will be missed. Now perhaps more than ever, we need everyone to be at the ready: not just to fight for new rights but to defend those human rights that we thought were safe, at least in this country.

All of us in ALBA are directing our energies, our programs, and our publications toward that single, overarching goal. We cannot do this without you. Thanks, as always, for your generous, steadfast support.


Sebastiaan Faber & Peter N. Carroll

PS (1) Don’t forget to check out our online edition, with longer articles, color illustrations, audio, and video.

PS (2) A great way to help ALBA is through a monthly donation. You can sign up online at alba-valb.org/donate