A North Pole High School assignment allegedly called a “plantation project” has prompted complaints to the school board and an investigation by the district administration.
Some people criticized the assignment at the school board’s Tuesday night meeting.
“I appreciate what was in that project as an attempt to understand the causes and the deep divisions behind the Civil War and potentially the lasting impact of that, and also engaging students in an act of pursuing some research to understand that,” resident David Bantz said. “However, as framed, it understands the pre-Civil War South and plantations in terms of a balance sheet in which everything is reduced to price and cost: human lives, political institutions and everything.”
Bantz said the district could instead teach about the conscious decision to enslave people as well as the slave revolts and the bravery of enslaved people who engaged in revolt.
Esther Cunningham also criticized the assignment, saying she finds it shocking.
“Are you kidding me?” Cunningham said. “Insensitive to the entire African American community and the state of Alaska as a whole. I am not a teacher, but I am a preacher and I will speak of this everywhere I go should you allow this project to take place.”
This type of project opens wounds of the past, she said.
Cunningham also asked for an administrative review of the assignment.
District spokeswoman Yumi McCulloch told the Daily News-Miner via email that she could not confirm the number of people who emailed their concerns about the project to the district, as there is currently an active investigation.
McCulloch sent the Daily News-Miner a statement that she said was sent to those who emailed about the project. It reads:
“District administration has been made aware of the concern regarding the 'plantation project' assigned by a North Pole High School U.S. History teacher. Pursuant to Administrative Regulation 130: Nondiscrimination — Nondiscrimination and Affirmative Action, administration is conducting an investigation.”
At the end of Tuesday’s school board meeting, board President Wendy Dominique said a few words about the project, noting that she came to the school board meeting wearing a Buffalo Soldiers shirt and carrying an autographed autobiography of Ollen Hunt, one of the last surviving Buffalo Soldiers, who died in 2014 in Anchorage at age 90.
Buffalo Soldiers were African American soldiers who served in the Western U.S. in the Army’s 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, which were formed in 1866. The all-black units existed until the 1950s, when they were disbanded following a 1948 order by President Harry Truman ending racially segregated units in the military.
Dominique, who is African American, said the book by Hunt was autographed for her husband in 2008 and that she thinks the stories Hunt told would encourage some students to understand not only the hardships he went through as a soldier but also what African Americans have contributed to society.
Dominique said she hopes that whenever a project called a “plantation project” comes up that it include positive representation as much as it goes over the wrongs in Civil War history. She added that people need to rethink the ways assignments are given when dealing with any culture.
“We suffered hard. Our ancestors have suffered hard and we have people today being shot because of the color of their skin. I just really wish the district would look into this topic and assure our parents that our kids are getting positive information about African Americans besides always talking about our past,” she said. “Let’s bring our past to our future.”
This story has been updated to correct the name of David Bantz.
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/FDNMlocal.