Published: Oct 03, 2012 06:27 PM
Modified: Oct 03, 2012 06:28 PM
The current commemoration of the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution has caused me to harken back to the 1987-88 and the 1988-89 school years.
I was teaching English and serving as the student council adviser at Hillside High School during those years. The student body presidents were Tonya Robinson and J.K. Reaves for those respective academic years.
On Thursday, Sept. 16, 1987, a state-owned helicopter carrying Lt. Gov. Bob Jordan landed on the Hillside football field. Jordan, who had been appointed as the chair of the official North Carolina commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the federal constitution, gave the students a lively and entertaining history lesson about the most famous delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
However, the most memorable speech of the program was the one given by Tonya Robinson. She talked to the predominantly black student body about the historical exclusion of minorities, women, and young adults from the document in 1787. Utilizing amazing rhetorical skills, she walked the assembled students through the numerous amendments that had be added to the Constitution to make this cherished document one that reflects the American ideal of “a more perfect union.”
Robinson concluded by informing the Hillside students that the 24th Amendment, which outlawed the poll tax, was ratified in 1964, but the state of North Carolina had never given its approval to the amendment. She explained that, even without the ratification of the North Carolina legislature, the elimination of the poll tax was still the law of the land and, thus, in effect in our state.
Robinson then challenged the Hillside students learn more about the Constitution by engaging themselves in an active learning process that would ask the N.C. General Assembly to retroactively ratify the 24th Amendment.
For the legislative short session of 1988 and the long session of 1989, the Hillside students worked with Reps. Sharon Thompson, Mickey Michaux, and George Miller and with Sen. Kenneth Royall and Ralph Hunt to introduce legislation that ultimately would bring about this ratification.
By the time that the legislation began moving through the standard committee process, Robinson had graduated from Hillside and enrolled at Duke. However she left the project in Reaves’ capable hands.
On May 3, 1989, North Carolina finally ratified the 24th Amendment. After the actions by the State House and the State Senate, Gov. Jim Martin signed the legislation.
It was then the responsibility of Secretary of State Rufus Edmisten to transmit North Carolina’s ratification of the 24th Amendment to the National Archives and the Library of Congress. Admirably, Secretary Edmisten asked the students to complete the final leg of the process. He authorized J.K. Reaves and a delegation of Hillside student leaders to transport and deliver the ratified legislation to the appropriate federal officials. That assignment was one of the final acts of high school leadership for Reaves before he headed to Appalachian State.
Thus, all official annotated copies of the U.S. Constitution will always list the fact that North Carolina ratified the 24th Amendment on May 3, 1989. This small, but meaningful, change in our nation’s most important governing document was brought about by a Constitution Day speech delivered by a high school senior from Durham, North Carolina.
I always marvel at the way Tonya Robinson, J.K. Reaves, and numerous other students were able to plant the seeds, cultivate the crop, and reap a marvelous harvest of positive change for Durham, for North Carolina, and for the United States of America.
Interestingly enough, both Robinson and Reaves are still bringing about change in our world.
Tonya Robinson is a Harvard-trained attorney serving as a Special White House Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy.
After four years of achieving a stellar academic record and serving two seasons as the captain of the Mountaineer football squad, J.K. Reaves earned a master’s degree in finance and is currently a Senior Vice President at BB&T in Winston-Salem.
Eddie Davis lives in Durham.