Virginia Senator Wants to Hide Slavery’s Bad Side, Says Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ Exposes Students to ‘Smut’

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AP
AP

A Virginia lawmaker sought to sweep slavery under the rug by not allowing an AP English class to read critically acclaimed author Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved.”

The 1987 fictional story surrounds Sethe, a Black woman who kills her young daughter rather than subject her to a life of enslavement.

Gawker reports that AP English teacher Jessica Berg emailed Senator Richard Black and other state senators in February, urging them not to pass HB 516, a then pending bill. The legislation would have allowed parents to opt their children out of reading certain literature. The bill was later vetoed by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.

In a set of emails obtained by Gawker, Berg challenges the way Virginia Senator Bill Carrico read excerpts from the award-winning novel –  which was described as “poisonous” – on the senate floor. The teacher compares it to calling a sexually explicit scene in the 2012 drama film “12 Years a Slave” poisonous. Berg continues, saying the scenes depicting rape show why Sethe would take such drastic actions to keep her daughter from becoming enslaved.

Black told Berg in a heated email exchange that he was “surprised by your personal advocacy of the book “Beloved.” That book is so vile – so profoundly filthy – that when a senator rose on the senate floor and began reading a single passage, several other senators leapt to their feet to interrupt the reading.”

In a second email, Berg reiterated how important it is for readers to understand that “slavery was an atrocious and vile time in our nation’s history” after stating, “you miss the entire point and context of the novel if you only read specific passages.”

Black told Berg, who teaches 17 and 18-year-olds at Rock Ridge High School in Virginia, he wants “teachers who won’t teach such vile things to our students.” He added, “slavery was a terrible stain on this nation but to teach it does not mean you have to expose children to smut.”

In other words, Black wants the lesser-known evils of slavery to be covered up.

He called Berg “arrogant” for not allowing parents to be informed about what their children are reading, which isn’t the issue Berg has. The Loudoun County, Virginia teacher told Gawker she is “so against the censorship of any kind of literature.”

Black has yet to publicly comment on the matter.

Hiding the harshness of enslaved Africans isn’t new in literature. The Guardian reports “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” a children’s book about the first president’s enslaved chef and his daughter, was condemned for its cover featuring smiling enslaved Africans. The book was later pulled from shelves by publisher Scholastic.

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