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Durham minister fights for Holocaust education bill to include Black history

Local activist Minister Paul Scott poses for a portrait next to the Black Wall Street historic marker at the intersection of Parrish and Mangum Streets. Scott wants international Black history included in North Carolina's new holocaust education bill. "You can't understand Hitler and Germany without learning about Leopold and Belgium," Scott said.

N.C. legislators filed a bill on Feb. 10 to make Holocaust and genocide education mandatory for public schools. Durham minister and activist Paul Scott is demanding the bill also include Black history.

House Bill 69, or the Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act, was introduced as HB 437 in 2019 but was never made into law. N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer (D–Caswell, Orange) said the 2019 bill was included as a policy provision along with the budget bill, which Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed.

HB 437 was proposed a few months after the federal government introduced the Never Again Education Act, which aimed to expand Holocaust education. N.C. Rep. Robert Reives (D–Chatham, Durham) is one of HB 69’s primary sponsors and said the bill also comes partly in response to current events.

“There needs to be a historical context for people to understand why some of that's happening, what the significance is of its happening and what that has meant for our times,” Reives said. 

But Scott said he thinks the law should provide the same recognition for the historical struggles of the Black community. 

“I think it’s discriminatory,” Scott, founder of the Black Messiah movement, said. “You can’t mention Holocaust and genocide without mentioning the millions of African people who perished in the transatlantic slave trade.”

He called on legislators to oppose the bill if it is not amended to include Black history. 

“We want that same respect,” Scott said. “We want mandatory Black history to be a law as well, where all middle school or high school students have to take Black studies.”

Meyer and Reives said they agree with Scott that Black history should be added to public school curriculum, but don’t think legislators should oppose the bill as it is now.

“I absolutely think that we should teach a full accounting of Black history, including the enslavement of African people and all of the amazing resilience of African American people,” Meyer said.

Reives said the original purpose of the bill is to give students a greater understanding of a horrifying period in history.

"I hope folks don't lose sight of the need this particular bill in discussing all of the ways that bill could be better or be made different, because again, I think all bills can be changed, can be amended, can be made different," Reives said.

Meyer, a member of the House standing committee for K-12 education, said this is a discussion that state schools are already having. In early February, the State Board of Education approved new social studies standards that mandated public school curriculums include diverse historical perspectives.

“We can have a both/and approach to this and a much more expansive teaching of history that makes space for both of these pieces of history, as well as many others,” Meyer said.

He said he thinks the bill sponsors should have written a broader law that includes education on the history of oppression toward multiple communities, including Black people, Native Americans, and other minority groups.

Still, Scott said he believes an amendment to HB 69 is necessary to ensure that students across the state are given a full picture of American history. 

He said people in the Black community are given a "chitterling" curriculum of parts and pieces of Black history and are expected to be satisfied with that. 

“Even though people over the last year said, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ when it comes to the education system and things like that, not only do Black lives not matter, Black history doesn't matter either,” Scott said. 

Scott said he would only support a separate bill if it was presented as an identical companion to HB 69 that focused on Black history and was considered simultaneously. 

“I think that we have to seize the time," Scott said. "I think that everything the African American community has asked for for decades is included in the Holocaust bill."

Reives said the bill has many phases to pass before conversations about amendments can take place. 

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“I don't think there's anybody who would disagree with him that we need a fresh look at some aspects of African American history in this country,” he said. “The question is, how best to approach that.”

@DTHCityState | 

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