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.”