Protests Sparked in Detroit Over the Dumping of Black History Books

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A Detroit area school district has erupted in protest over the discarding of a historic book collection that is said to contain more than 10,000 black history volumes, included films, videos, and other artifacts. The blame, according to residents of Highland Park, a small city surrounded on nearly all sides by Detroit, belongs to Emergency Manager Donald Weatherspoon, who claims the collection was thrown out by mistake but that the district cannot afford to preserve it. Yesterday, angry residents held a public protest, blocking traffic, wielding megaphones, and displaying picket signs with slogans like "21st Century Hitler Burning Books" and "Dump The EM, Not The Books"—referring to the state-appointed emergency manager.

Among the picketers was Deblon Jackson, a Detroit-area musician. 

"The emergency manager had been in the district for over a year and then they decided to throw away all the black artifacts—books that were no longer in print or published, all kinds of tapes and catalogues," Jackson explained to The Atlantic Wire. "We want to preserve those artifacts so our children have something to look back on. We're just mad about it and we're not going to stand for it, just throwing away our history like that."

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The outcry began when a small portion of the volumes in question was discovered in a dumpster three weeks ago by Paul Lee, a local historian who helped assemble the collection. According to USA Today, the collection was largely the result of civil rights-era demands to incorporate African-American studies into school curriculums—especially in communities like Highland Park, whose population is about 93% African-American. Jackson hopes to place the books in a community center, but Weatherspoon has instead expressed interest in donating those with historical value to a library or museum. (Of course, the majority of the collection has already been lost to the dumpster.) 

Marcia Cotton, a member of the Highland Park Renaissance Academy Board of Directors and lifelong resident, said she attended a meeting in which Weatherspoon took responsibility and claimed the books were discarded by mistake. Her fellow board member, Vice President Andre Davis, soon resigned over the controversy. But Cotton isn't so sure the books are the most pressing issue in the community.

"I would very much like to get above the fray of the controversy and rather discuss solutions to the looming debt crisis facing the school district, the decline in school enrollment and city population, and how best we can work with our city officials and provide a greater quality of life for our residents and quality education in a safe environment for our children," Cotton said in an email. "We can't solve 21st century problems with 20th century tactics."

Jackson, meanwhile, hopes to continue protesting.

"We have a protest scheduled every day this week until we get what we want," she said. "They don't want the children to read, in my opinion. How do you have a library with no books? How do you mistakenly throw books out?"

"This is a modern-day Hitler," she added. 

Watch video footage of the protest here, via WXYZ-TV Detroit.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.