Slavery project stirs controversy in Penns Grove school

March 4, 2013 8:55:23 PM PST
It was supposed to be a lesson celebrating Black History Month, but civil rights activist says the controversial project at a Salem County school spiraled out of control. The lesson plan given to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students with special needs was titled, "Slave Auction/Antislavery Poster Project."

The Penns Grove teacher told students that in this project, slavery did not die out, that they will choose to be either a slave owner ready to auction some of their slaves or an abolitionist who wants to end slavery.

"And this is what we're teaching here? In Penns Grove?" civil rights activist Walter Hudson said.

Students were asked to make posters on a piece of construction paper in support of their views.

What resulted, civil rights activists say, was outrageous.

They included wanted posters with pictures of runaway slaves.

The poster that stirred the most anger was one that read: "Slave on the run, $1,700 reward to catch the Negro."

"We're teaching them how to be a slave master and if your slave ran away you create a poster for them," Hudson said.

School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Massery says the teacher's intent was to raise sensitivity about slavery.

"Do I feel that there could have been other ways of working on that poster part of the curriculum, probably so, and in discussing the situation with her and with the principal, they did adjust," Massery said.

The superintendent says the posters were taken down after a parent complained, but the teacher was not disciplined and no admission of any wrongdoing was given.

Activists say they are not looking to get the teacher fired, but they want action.

"We're looking to just get a public apology from that teacher that the curriculum that she came up with was not a good curriculum, was not appropriate," Terence Jones of the National Awareness Alliance said.

The parent who complained did not want to be identified for fear of retribution.

Civil rights activists say if they do not get a public apology and the matter remedied, they will continue to pursue the matter by means of public protest.