Salon Schools / Kids South Orange

Davis Ford: ‘We Must Do Better’ Teaching African-American History

In the aftermath of two incidents in South Orange-Maplewood School District elementary schools (one involving slave auction posters and the other involving an un-authorized mock slave auction), local leaders have been responding at various public meetings and forums. South Orange Village Trustee Deborah Davis Ford delivered the following message at the March 13 Board of Trustees meeting and also spoke at South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education meeting. The following represents Davis Ford’s views and is not a statement representing the South Orange Village Board of Trustees as a body.

In my opinion, South Orange is a progressive and inclusive community. Therefore, you can imagine my shock when I read on social media that South Mountain Elementary School recently instructed their students to draw slave auction pictures. I was also dismayed that the African-American history assignment included displaying their drawings throughout the hallways of the schools. It is my understanding that this project was devoid of context for the students to draw meaningful and positive conclusions. Furthermore, these students are at tender and impressionable ages ranging from 4 – 10 years old. I can only imagine the damaging impact on the self-esteem of black and brown children who will be subjected to this type of humiliation on so many levels. I am heartbroken the public schools have chosen to support the reinforcement of negative stereotypes.

African-American history is much more than slaves sold at auction. It is a history full of the diverse contributions from African-Americans and the descendants of the African Diaspora that should never be marginalized.

I am an African-American woman and find this lesson to be grossly offensive. I often tout our culture of progression and acceptance as a South Orange municipal elected official. Therefore, I am so saddened by this student project. African-American history is American history.

Please explain why African-American history is not taught in a comprehensive manner as required by the NJ State Amistad Bill that became law in 2002.

We must do better.

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