PORT HURON, Mich – Annual tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took a controversial turn in the Port Huron Area School District this week.
Several parents have been furious over an assignment handed out to some elementary students. The district has apologized, but many parents say that apology is not enough.
Ashley Robertson was stunned when her eight-year-old son handed her his artwork.
She and her family are deeply offended by what appears to be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in blackface.
“He said, ‘Mom, I wanted to color the face brown, but it told me to color the face black,’” Robertson said.
The question is, why did the teacher choose this coloring page? The district has a partnership with the Port Huron branch of the NAACP with an agreed-upon and approved curriculum for that day.
This was not part of that curriculum, and even the school district acknowledged that in an apology letter to parents.
“This is an added worksheet that is not through anything that we’ve purchased as a district or approved,” said Superintendent Ted Kerhoulas. “I think that is important for our families to know. It doesn’t make it any better; we own it, we put it on a student’s desk, it’s ours. I think it is important that it is not a part of the approved curriculum we utilize as a district.”
Read: MLK Day: Where does that dream stand? Are we closer to making it a reality?
When these images continue to pop up in so-called pop culture, Gucci got into trouble for a sweater it designed. Dove had an ad touting its soap was strong enough to turn a Black woman white, and there are other so-called dog whistles, including publisher pull-backs from Dr. Seuss.
These are a pattern of degrading depictions of Black people, according to Jack Hadley, the founder, and curator of the Jack Hadley Black History Museum in Thomasville, Georgia. His museum curates these kinds of images as a way to teach people the painful history of what this image actually means.
“This occurred during the Jim Crow era,” said Hadley. “That’s when the lynching took place, and blacks lost all of their rights. It was like being enslaved again. This is an embarrassing situation. They put images of us looking like that. We don’t act that way and we don’t look that way.”
Kevin Watkins, the President of the Port Huron branch of the NAACP, agrees that these depictions of black faces in blackface continue to act as a visual curse word to people of color.
“I believe in teachable moments but its certain situations that has to be some consequences where nothing is taught. It’s just kind of passed by.”