In 2014, Alan Barron, a white middle school history teacher who taught for 36 years in Monroe, Michigan, was placed on administrative leave a few weeks before his retirement. Barron’s administration viewed his history lesson as racist. While teaching about racial segregation laws during the Jim Crow era, Barron played a video showing a white entertainer in blackface. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, white actors commonly painted their faces with makeup to depict black individuals. Barron explained that the purpose of the video was to show how stereotypes of African-Americans were portrayed at one point in American history. During the lesson, an assistant principal who was observing the classroom demanded that Barron stop the video because she “concluded that Barron’s lesson about how entertainers used to be racist was itself racist.” Barron was subsequently suspended.
Many parents spoke out against Barron’s suspension. Adrienne Aaron, whose African-American daughter was in Barron’s eighth grade history class at the time, said that her daughter was not offended by the lesson and thought that the subject needed to be discussed. Aaron stated:
“[My daughter] was more offended that they stopped the video…History is history. We need to educate our kids to see how far we’ve come in America. How is that racism?”
After two weeks on leave, the district allowed Barron to return to his classroom. The superintendent stated:
“The teacher in question was placed on paid leave to give the district time to fully consider what occurred in this classroom. As a result of incorrect information, a highly respected and loved teacher, and one who has done much for his students and the community, has had to endure a public airing of what should have ended through a district discussion.”
Barron was set to retire soon after being reinstated.