A Massachusetts school district is on the defensive after a photograph of a visit by a Pilgrim reenactor appeared to show a slavery recreation using a black elementary school student.
The photo shows a young black girl on her knees while two white children stand behind her in Colonial-period costuming holding what appear to be leashes. An adult woman dressed as a Pilgrim stands behind them.
A teacher from Mitchell Elementary School in Bridgewater sent out a photo of the scene and angry parents soon began sharing the photo on social media on Wednesday evening. It was shared more than 10,000 times by midday Thursday in a now-private post by Monica Cannon-Grant.
The post also called for the Pilgrim educator to be fired. Other posts are still online.
But administrators are saying the photo was misinterpreted. The woman in Pilgrim garb is reportedly a Pilgrim actor from the nearby living history museum at Plimoth Plantation, which reenacts Pilgrim life in the 1600s.
In a statement, Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District Superintendent Derek J. Swenson said the woman was teaching a lesson to third-grade students focused on 17th-century clothing.
Statement from Bridgewater supt. about a controversial school photo in which “tethering strings” were used.#wbz pic.twitter.com/eSJO4MluLs
— Beth Germano (@BethWBZ) October 19, 2017
It specifically focused on the garments worn by parents, children and toddlers. What appeared to be leashes in the photo are actually “tethering straps” which commonly attached to garments worn by toddlers to assist children in learning to walk, according to the statement.
“We realize without context added to the photo that was shared by the classroom teacher it could be perceived differently,” Swenson said.
“Please note it was never the intent of the lesson to demean or degrade any one person or group,” the statement continues. “The Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District sincerely apologizes to the students, staff and community at large for this unfortunate incident.”
Hours after the post was published, Monica Cannon-Grant posted a screenshot of a comment from someone claiming to be the mother of the child playing the toddler.
“My daughter said they asked for someone to volunteer as a baby and she did,” the woman said. “And it was the Pilgrim lady’s idea for her to kneel on the floor and the others to hold the leash.”
Some users familiar with Plimoth Plantation’s classroom program shared links to photos with the Pilgrim and white children on the leash, but for many that explanation did not suffice.
“This is still WRONG! You don’t put a leash around any child, let alone a black child in a predominantly white class!,” Detroit Green Bunch