Noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump decried recent changes in education, accusing states like Florida and Texas of suppressing the teaching of Black history, in a speech Saturday night at the Illinois NAACP’s Freedom Fund Banquet in Uptown Normal.
Crump was the keynote speaker at the event, held at the Marriott hotel, where the NAACP also gave awards to several constituents and espoused a continuing commitment to combating injustice and racism.
Crump touched on several topics during a speech lasting more than an hour. He was introduced by first vice president of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP, Carla Cambell-Jackson, recipient of the Illinois NAACP State President Award.
“We’re dealing with things we thought we had won,” Crump told reporters before the speech. “And now we’re having to relitigate them, where people are banning Black history in high school and banning books talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Crump cited books like Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” as examples.
He also took time to address local matters while at the podium, including praising interim Illinois State University president Aondover Tarhule, who was honored as an NAACP supporter earlier in the evening.
Crump also expressed optimism about two ongoing discrimination cases against State Farm, both of which saw movement this month.
The latter half of Crump’s keynote was focused on highlighting incidents of systemic racism and hypocrisy, in the interest of “holding a mirror to America’s face.” He contrasted the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor against the lengths taken to bring in white suspects alive, such as the Parkland school and Charleston church shooters.
Crump also highlighted the story of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose harvested cells have driven pharmaceutical research for more than half a century, in a section dedicated to racism in medicine and health care.
Crump described Lacks as “butchered,” and has previously litigated against pharmaceutical companies who profited from the “hela” cells obtained from her.
Crump left the audience with a plea for lasting resolve in achieving justice for future generations.
After the speech, many supporters exchanged $30 for a calendar and a photograph with Crump, with proceeds going to fund legal scholarships for Black students.