Parent sue over book on slavery

A book on the horrors of slavery has lead to a racial discrimination lawsuit in Warren, Michigan, reports the Detroit News: Parents charge their African-American daughter suffered emotional distress and racial harassment when her fifth-grade teacher read parts of From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester. In one passage, an auctioneer says:  “Step right up! New shipment of n—–s just in.” And, “Nine months after you buy one of these n—–s, you will have a plantation full of n—-r babies,” according to the lawsuit.

Parents moved the girl from Margaret Black Elementary, a high-performing, predominantly white and middle-class school, to a school in a different county.

Lester, a black civil rights activist, writer and professor (and a convert to Judaism!), worked with artist Rod Brown to create a graphic depiction of slavery — including whippings and lynchings — and emancipation. Readers are asked to imagine what it’s like to be a slave, a slave master and an abolitionist.

The book is supposed to be suitable for children 10 to 15 years old, but Amazon reviewers — including two middle-school teachers — warn that the pictures and text are very disturbing. One teacher suggests sending permission slips home to parents.

” This is powerful, expect to see emotions from your students. I would not use it with students any younger than 8th grade, and that might be pushing it.”

The book may be too much for fifth graders to handle. But overestimating students’ maturity isn’t racial discrimination.

The lawsuit isn’t likely to succeed, writes Eugene Volokh on Volokh Conspiracy. The parents would have to prove “severe or pervasive” actions created “a racially offensive educational environment for the plaintiff and for a reasonable person.”

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  1. Part of the reason students are so disengaged from the study of history is that there is no longer any controversy in the textbooks and curricula pushed by most states.

    Lawsuits like this have helped to bleed the material dry of most things that are interesting.

  2. Students need to be taught the human story of history, not just the dates and names. While I can’t comment on the appropriateness of this particular book, as I haven’t seen it, I hardly find it racist to teach the horrors of slavery.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    You can’t win anything in the lottery without you buy a ticket. You can’t win anything in the offendeness sweepstakes without you fake being offended.

  4. “numerous letters and calls to the district failed to remedy the family’s concerns over the literature…’I tried long and hard to get answers and an explanation from the school. I got nowhere,’ Combs said. ‘This could have been nipped in the bud right away, but the family got pushed aside.”

    Sounds to me like the family tried to resolve the issue with the district before resorting to a lawsuit. Somebody in the administration really dropped the ball with this one…

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Somebody in the administration dropped the ball. Wow, never saw that before.
    It would be interesting to know what “nipped in the bud” means to the family. Public flogging of the teacher? Substitute another book?
    My wife had a Muslim student who objected to studying el Cid in AP Spanish as it demeaned her faith. Go figure that one. But my wife gave her some other subject. How hard would that have been? If I had to guess, the family must have been asking for more than that. On the other hand, there are some seriously stone-tone-deaf people and a few are teachers.
    I figured that anybody who thinks their faith is demeaned by el Cid is about as nutty as somebody named Godwinson who thinks his family belongs on the throne of England. Happened about the same time.