When William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, converted to Christianity, he began to earnestly seek to reform the evils he found within himself and the world around him. One of the glaring moral issues of the day was slavery, and after reading up on the subject and meeting with anti-slavery activists, Wilberforce became convinced that God was calling him to be an abolitionist. Wilberforce decided to concentrate on ending the slave trade rather than slavery itself, reasoning that the abolition of one would logically lead to the demise of the other. On May 12, 1789, Wilberforce made his first speech on the abolition of the slave trade before the House of Commons. He passionately made his case for why the trade was reprehensible and needed to cease. Wilberforce introduced a bill to abolish the trade, but it failed, a result he would become quite familiar with in the ensuing years. Yet Wilberforce never gave up, reintroducing the bill year after year, and the Slave Trade Act was finally passed in 1807.
The post-1968 civil rights story is one of the most important—and therefore sometimes the most difficult—discussions to have with students. It involves core values and lived experience about which many adults, let alone teenagers, are not especially reflective. White students can get defensive, while black students sometimes assume they know more than they actually do about how we got to where we are. Abstract assertion on the instructor’s part (like what I’ve just done, due to space limitations) is least likely to work well in conveying the issues. Fortunately, there are excellent materials easily available for experiential learning, the kind most likely to succeed and leave a lasting imprint. There are powerful primary sources , for example, with which to bring these themes to life and enable students to engage in activities such as role play debates that build empathy and circumvent defensiveness. Films also work well. Try, for example, segments of the Eyes on the Prize II series; or At the River I Stand , about the Memphis strike; An Unlikely Friendship , about class, schooling, and community power; or Chisholm ‘72: Unbought and Unbossed , about Shirley Chisholm’s race for the presidency.
A third serious setback was Egypt. The collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, amid giant protests, raised hopes that democracy would spread in the Middle East. But the euphoria soon turned to despair. Egypt’s ensuing elections were won not by liberal activists (who were hopelessly divided into a myriad of Pythonesque parties) but by Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Morsi treated democracy as a winner-takes-all system, packing the state with Brothers, granting himself almost unlimited powers and creating an upper house with a permanent Islamic majority. In July 2013 the army stepped in, arresting Egypt’s first democratically elected president, imprisoning leading members of the Brotherhood and killing hundreds of demonstrators. Along with war in Syria and anarchy in Libya, this has dashed the hope that the Arab spring would lead to a flowering of democracy across the Middle East.