Parents at an elementary school in South Orange, New Jersey were outraged when they walked into the school for parent/teacher conferences and saw posters hanging in the hallways advertising slave auctions.
The posters had been drawn by the school’s 5th grade class as a project for History class. The children, who had been learning about Colonial America, were asked to create posters advertising slave auctions.
Parents took to social media to voice their concern with the project, which lead to the school removing the posters and a school superintendent apologizing for the “culturally insensitive” assignment. Parents complained about the auction posters, which contained such wording as “Men: aged from 20-26, strong” and “Anne, aged 12 years, a fine house girl.”
Students had also created wanted posters, apparently for runaway slaves. They depicted brown-skinned men and women with dollar rewards attached.
One such parent, Jamil Karriem, posted images of the posters on Facebook and encouraged parents to complain to the school’s principal, Alyna Jacobs, and to the school district.
“These images were on display for all students (ages ranging from 4-10) to see, including those that would lack any context of the underlying ‘lesson’ or ‘purpose,'” Karriem said on Facebook. “It is COMPLETELY lost on me how this project could be an effective way to teach any student in any age group about American history.”
But another parent, Andrea Espinoza, had a different opinion.
“It’s part of history, of course,” she told WABC. “It happened. I think it’s good that they know.”
Dr. John J. Ramos, Sr., superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District, made the following statement: “The principal and I have both apologized for any unintended offense caused and we have removed the posters from display,” he added.
“While it was not our intention, we recognize that the example of a slave auction poster, although historically relevant, was culturally insensitive,” said Dr. John J. Ramos, Sr., superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District. “We certainly understand and respect the strong reaction which some parents had to seeing slave auction posters included with other artwork from the assignment,” he added in a statement sent to CNN. “We are rethinking the Colonial America Project for next year and will eliminate the example of a slave auction poster.”
Students at the school in South Orange were assigned to examine “the ugly and foundational role that slavery played in Colonial America,” Ramos said. They were asked to select a colony to research and then complete tasks, including creating ads for slave auctions, using their research, he said.