Rep. Bolden details great-grandfather’s lynching during ‘critical race theory’ debate

House Dems skip vote on bill after being cut off during speeches

By: - November 3, 2021 11:10 am

State Rep. Kyra Bolden (D-Southfield) speaking on the House floor at the Capitol in 2019 | House Democrat photo

Republicans in the state House passed a bill Tuesday that would prohibit schools from teaching any curriculum that includes the “promotion of any form of race or gender stereotyping or anything that could be understood as implicit race or gender stereotyping.”

Democrats oppose the bill, saying that it “whitewashes” American history. But Democrats refused to vote on the bill, which passed with a 55-0 vote, because Republican leadership cut off floor speeches before Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit), a Black woman, was able to speak about the bill. 

House Bill 5097, introduced by Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron), does not explicitly reference critical race theory (CRT), a college-level theory that examines the systemic effects of white supremacy in America. Despite national controversy stirred by right-wing media, CRT is not taught in Michigan K-12 schools.

“If anything, today’s actions showed why our students need to have more difficult conversations about the impacts of bias in our society,” Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) said in a statement. “By restricting the voice of Michiganders who wished to speak on this bill, it shows the true nature of what the bill intends to do.”

State Rep. Kyra Bolden (D-Southfield), who is Black, shared on the House floor that her great-grandfather was lynched in the 1930s, and the truth behind his murder was covered up as a drowning. 

“It happened to my family. Slavery happened; lynching happened; red-lining happened; government-sanctioned violence based on race happened,” Bolden said. “I, too, would like to stick my head in the sand and pretend it didn’t, but I can’t because it happened to my family and many other families in this nation.”

Beeler said his bill is intended to teach children how to “embrace the ideas that have carried our country away from racial and gender-based stereotypes.”

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate, Senate Bill 460, which explicitly bans “critical race theory” from being taught in schools and threatens to cut 5% of the school’s funding if the state determines that it is violating the law. 

HB 5097 now heads to the Senate and if it is passed, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to veto it.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.