Child Watch® Column:
America’s Back Door

Release Date: March 4, 2016

Marian Wright Edelman

The Harvard Gazette has released a series of articles on inequality in America. They describe Harvard University scholars’ efforts across a range of disciplines to identify and understand this nation defining and dividing concern and possible solutions. The first piece in the series opens: “It’s a seemingly nondescript chart, buried in a Harvard Business School (HBS) professor’s academic paper. A rectangle, divided into parts, depicts U.S. wealth for each fifth of the population. But it appears to show only three divisions. The bottom two, representing the accumulated wealth of 124 million people, are so small that they almost don’t even show up. Other charts in other journals illustrate different aspects of American inequality. They might depict income, housing quality, rates of imprisonment, or levels of political influence, but they all look very much the same. Perhaps most damning are those that reflect opportunity — whether involving education, health, race, or gender — because the inequity represented there belies our national identity. America, we believe, is a land where everyone gets a fair start and then rises or falls according to his or her own talent and industry. But if you’re poor, if you’re uneducated, if you’re black, if you’re Hispanic, if you’re a woman, there often is no fair start.”

The article notes that inequality “has become a national buzzword and a political cause célèbre in this election year,” in part because across so many measures it is on the rise. Harvard-trained historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson was focused on a particular aspect of inequality when he founded Negro History Week — the precursor to Black History Month — ninety years ago. Dr. Woodson was especially concerned about the “mis-education” of Black children from their earliest ages — “The thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies” — and the cumulative effects it could have: “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

Dr. Woodson believed teaching children about Black history and Black accomplishments was a crucial corrective step. We now understand the wisdom behind teaching not just Black children but all children Black history just as we make sure all of our American stories are being told as we prepare our next generations for our multicultural nation and world. Although Black History Month is over, every month should be Black and Native American and Latino and Asian American and women’s and non-propertied men’s history month.

Black History Month has helped infuse more multicultural attention in American education, but there is still a big struggle ahead to ensure children are taught the truth in schools in every subject including history, geography and literature. A misleading McGraw-Hill geography textbook called American slaves “workers from Africa” and the evil slave trade just one of many “patterns of immigration.” We must vigilantly monitor and challenge false history, geography and literature that sugarcoats and mischaracterizes the horrors of slavery, lynchings and institutional racism. As scholars watch American inequality’s continual rise, Black children and other children of color remain disproportionately at risk of inferior status, discrimination and racial disparities in measure after measure. We must challenge anyone training any of our children to go around to the back door — yet too often we are still leaving some children outside it. This must stop.

We should remember that for so many Black children and youths each day in America, there is too little to celebrate:








3 are killed by guns.





4 die from accidents.





19 die in the first year of life.





86 are arrested for violent crimes.





90 are arrested for drug crimes.





148 are born without health insurance.





153 are born to teen mothers.





212 are born at low birthweight.





318 are corporally punished in public schools.





329 are born into extreme poverty.





399 are confirmed abused or neglected.





603 are born into poverty.





763 drop out of high school.





1,144 are born to unmarried mothers.





1,174 are arrested.





4,529 are suspended from public schools.








Every day in America. We can and must do better and combat systemic, cultural, economic, and educational inequality — hidden and overt. There is no more urgent problem in America than inequality and its many progeny manifested in our education, health, and criminal justice systems and in all aspects of American life. This is the time to face the truth and to do something about our divided nation. We must all change the odds stacked against poor and non-White children so that every child in America has an equal opportunity to achieve and succeed.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Muth at: March 9, 2016
America needs balanced education for sure. Balanced to feature truth-telling about the abduction and enslavement of a people who are still reeling and struggling to self identify for the good of our progress and survival. Dr. Carter G. Woodson knew that Americans needed balanced educational processes that would not only educate but educational processes that would also continue to critically challenge the mis-education of generations of Black People and generations of all Americans. We need a protracted educational and interactive healing.

Submitted by BLACK ROOSTER at: March 8, 2016
This article should placed on the same shelves as the bible, for while it was not canonized it should be cherished for the awesome truth and damming reality of our current predicament. The hand of God was all over this article and this truth should March on...right to the heart of our resolve to embrace it in a real way. .the back door is closed and our options are much to share, !

Submitted by Deborah at: March 8, 2016
The column says it all - and yet other than for overt eruptions such as lead affecting the children in Flint, MI, we as a nation are not focused on saving our children - many thanks to Marion Wright Edelman and CDF for continuing to spread the word and fight the good fight!

Submitted by Diane Palm at: March 8, 2016
This article pushed all my reset buttons. Although I remain an active advocate of all the points this article touches, I too often get tired and wonder are we making any progress. I know that we are, however, I just keep reminding myself of Harriet Tubman, "If you are tired, keep going; if you are scared, keep going; if you are hungry, keep going; if you want to taste freedom, keep going." All you awesome ladies, in honor of International Women's Day, let's remember to keep going.

Submitted by ET Williams Jr at: March 8, 2016
This is a great article. Educating all Americans on the subject is important . I know that Lyn and I are doing the same about African American art .it is a tall order. ET Williams, Chair emeritus Romare Bearden Fd. Former Bd member MOMA and the Brooklyln Museum and board member of The Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Submitted by konaohana at: March 6, 2016
This data must be shared WIDELY to awaken society to force the change so desperately needed for decades.

Submitted by shoemaker at: March 5, 2016
mr carter g woodson told us about education who gave us education and how it was given who is taking it back who is takeing it back we must struggle to teach our children not educate them what we no struggle for reparation and teach the young one's the same forty acre's is a lot of lot's

Submitted by Anonymous at: March 5, 2016
Thank you for sharing information about the status of youth in the world today! I stay connected to television news programs, read articles in newspapers and magazines to understand the importance of saving our youth. I look forward to sending you a contribution and meeting with me.

Submitted by Reka at: March 4, 2016
Love this article and will support this call.

Submitted by Carlo at: March 4, 2016
Ms. Edelman writes and shares such needed insights. As a former teacher of children, I read this article with sadness. We have called our country many positive things in our lifetime--some true, I'm sure--but all exaggerated towards the positive with rose-colored glasses towards our fellow humans--the very ones Jesus told us to take care of.