Kicking the “N” word out of ISD 709

Harry Welty

Duluth School Board member Alanna Oswald forwarded the following email to me and asked me how she should respond to it owing, I guess, to my vast experience dealing with angry people as a long time Board member myself. 
To the Duluth School Board:
Good job Duluth. Let’s ban more books. How about a public book burning. While your at it why don’t you ban these important books in order to reveal your Fascist colors. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Call of the Wild, The Autobiography of Malcom X, Beloved, Catch-22, The Jungle…
I suspect that the author had no idea that Anti-Trump Democrats and outraged women, unlikely groups to elect fascists, gave us our current school board majority. 
I had already offered my own support for replacing Twain and Harper Lee in my blog prompting another fellow to accuse me of being “politically correct.” I guess my critic thought black kids should just suck it up and get used to the “N” word when it was repeated by a fictional child learning that black people weren’t treated fairly in the 1940’s. 

I heard the “N” word precious few times when I was attending a newly integrated elementary school. We knew better, and I was shocked when my kindergarten neighbor told me she didn’t want to go to school with “no niggers.”  This was not a terribly surprising attitude for a six-year-old considering that her Father had been required to pull black soldiers off white prostitutes in Italy’s Red-Light Districts after World War II.

I do not recall any similar brouhaha six years ago when a newly chosen black Superintendent was run out of Duluth by an earlier school board on the specious claim that he didn’t have the credentials to be our superintendent. To this day our District has precious few minority role models for our growing minority student population. Thank goodness there have been recent actions to more fairly distribute state money set aside for struggling students. And retiring books that make white readers feel like Joan of Arc or Atticus Finch to our libraries is not the worst sin we could commit. Arc and Finch are both commendable role models but you don’t have to hear the “N” word sixty time per book to learn about them.  

This is not our District’s first brush with books containing the “N” word in our schools. The year I began serving on the School Board an African American men’s group agitated to have the book “War comes to Willie Freeman” by James Lincoln Collier taken out of our school libraries. This book’s author had worked valiantly to show that the use of the word during the American Revolution was more akin to calling someone from Ireland “Irish” or calling someone from Germany a “German.” Maybe so but that was a long time ago.

By 1996, years before the nation elected its first black President, the “N” word was excruciating for most black Americans. Despite this I voted to keep the book on the shelves in deference to the First Amendment. So too did my friend and our School Board’s first and, to date, only black representative Mary Cameron. Her reward was to be treated as a traitor by some of her black acquaintances. To add insult to injury shortly afterwards a couple white kids sped by and screamed “N…..” out of their car window at her.

Our administrators did not put Twain and Harper Lee back on a library bookshelf without preparing our faculty for the change. For years America’s black population has gritted its teeth as Scout and Huck Finn innocently talked about niggers to let adults see discrimination through the eyes of a child. I think it’s time to consider Paul’s dictum in 1st Corinthians 13:11 and put away childish things. I can even recommend an alternative book “A Choice of Weapons” by Minnesota’s own Gordon Parks. It begins with a Kansas sheriff offering a couple of Negro boys a little money to dive into the water in a roadside ditch to look for a dead man’s corpse. Good work for nigger kids.

In 1968 my family integrated the Mankato, Minnesota public schools when we hosted an Ethiopian exchange student. During that year I only once heard a Mankato kid call my roommate a “nigger” and that was out of Bedru’s earshot. 
Bedru was in my speech class and I’ll never forget when Molly Reagan took the podium to tell us about the Autobiography of Sammy Davis Jr. the famous “Rat Pack” singer
When Molly told us how a gang of white tormentors slapped white paint on Mr. Davis’s eyes and called him a “coon” a gaggle of boys in our class broke out in loud guffaws. Molly was so distressed that she walked out of the classroom. I’d like to think that the fellow who wrote the incendiary email to our school board would have done the same thing.


Harry Welty is a small time politician who also pontificates at