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Live from South Carolina, where Education is a Civil Right

By Michele McNeil — January 22, 2008 1 min read

I was in South Carolina over the weekend, and got to experience life in a presidential primary state. Since I was visiting family, I was confined to watching the political developments as most voters do—through television and the newspapers. However, I attended part of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally at the South Carolina Statehouse on Monday, where ministers and activists with the NAACP addressed a crowd of thousands before the three Democratic presidential frontrunners spoke.

And it was here when it struck me: this is a state where education could be an issue that drives votes, especially African-American votes.

ED in ‘08 folks were there, spreading their message with stickers and signs that said “Education is a civil right” and some brief remarks by chairman and former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who emphasized to the crowd that there is no freedom without equality, and no equality without education.

It was an especially powerful message to the crowd made up mostly of African-Americans, who are still fighting to have the Confederate flag—which was taken down from atop the Statehouse dome but flies elsewhere on the capitol grounds—banished entirely from the grounds.

The ministers spoke of still-segregated public schools, with crumbling buildings and even water and sewage running down the halls of the mostly black schools.

The African-American vote is big bloc for Democrats, who have their primary on Saturday. Education was barely an issue in this past Saturday’s Republican primary in South Carolina, which Sen. John McCain of Arizona won.

Although poverty was an issue in last night’s CNN Democratic debate from Myrtle Beach, S.C., these substantive issues were often drowned out by heated, personal attacks traded by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

But for the people at the Monday rally I attended, it’s the substantive issues that matter. To them, education is the ticket out of poverty. To them, education is a civil right.

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