Poetry News

Student Told to Read Langston Hughes Poem "Blacker"

By Harriet Staff

From the department of terrible, shameful news comes this from the Washington Post:

Fairfax County school administrators are investigating a student’s allegations of racially insensitive behavior by a veteran English teacher at George C. Marshall High School.

Ninth-grader Jordan Shumate said that during class this month, he was reading aloud a poem by acclaimed African American writer Langston Hughes when his teacher interrupted and directed him to read in a “blacker” style.

“She told me, ‘Blacker, Jordan — c’mon, blacker. I thought you were black,’ ” said Shumate, who is African American.

Shumate told his mother, Nicole Cober Page, about the incident Tuesday. She complained to school administrators.

“We take these allegations very seriously, and we’re investigating,” Principal Jay Pearson said Friday. He declined to provide further details.

Shumate, 14, and his mother identified the teacher as Marilyn Bart. Bart did not respond Thursday or Friday to e-mail and phone inquiries about the incident. Records show that Bart has worked in Fairfax schools since 1990.

Another ninth-grader, Kaila Denny, said she witnessed the incident. Shumate was “just sitting there reading normally like any person would,” Denny said, when Bart instructed him to speak “blacker.”

Shumate said that when he refused to continue reading the poem, Bart read it aloud herself, demonstrating what she meant.

“She sounded like a maid in the 1960s,” Shumate said. “She read the poem like a slave, basically.”

Shumate said he asked Bart that day whether she thinks all black people speak that way. She reprimanded him for talking out of turn, he said, and told him to take his seat.

There is, sadly, more after the jump.

Originally Published: March 19th, 2012