The Daily Beast reports that students at Purvis Middle School were asked to place themselves in the position of an enslaved person and write letters to their family and friends. “Pretend like you are a slave working on a Mississippi plantation,” a screenshot of the assignment said.
Students were asked to write a letter “to your family back in Africa or in another American state” discussing their lives, traveling to America, and what they did day-to-day. “You may also want to tell about the family you live with/work for and how you pass your time when you aren’t working,” the assignment said.
Black Lives Matter Mississippi posted the aforementioned screenshot of the homework. The BLM chapter’s social media manager, Jeremy Marquell Bridges said a parent sent him the image. “I don’t know how a logical person teaches this,” he told the Daily Beast. “Like someone who went to school to teach children could think this exercise was helpful in any way. It’s not helpful, it’s hurtful.”
Lamar County School District Superintendent Dr. Steven Hampton verified that students were assigned this work, telling WDAM-7 that it was included at the end of a PowerPoint presentation in order to show the “atrocities and negatives of slavery.”
“[The purpose] was to show our students just how horrible slavery was and to gain empathy for what it was like to be a slave,” he added. “We do not discriminate against race. We want to be sensitive to what happened in the past.”
An email to parents obtained by the Daily Beast shows the school’s principal, Frank Bunnell apologizing for the incident, and reiterating Hampton by saying that the assignment was also missing context. “A person could read just the assignment and draw a very unrealistic view of the true tragedies that occurred. That was not intended,” Bunnell wrote. “However, intent does not excuse anything. There is no excuse to downplay a practice that (even after abolished) spurs unjust laws, unfair economic practices, inhumane treatment, and suppression of a people.”