Mississippi School Faces Backlash after Giving 'Slave Letter Writing' Assignment to Students

Students had to "pretend like you are a slave working on a Mississippi plantation" and "write a letter to your family in Africa describing your life" as part of the assignment.

A Mississippi school has come under fire giving a "slave letter writing" assignment to mostly white students wherein they had to describe to their families back in Africa about their "journey to America" and "tell about the family they live with." According to a report in the Daily Beast, the "slave letter writing" assignment is being now called by activists as alternately humiliating and demoralizing.

The incident happened earlier this week at Purvis Middle School in Lamar County. Since then a screenshot of the history assignment titled "Slave Letter Writing Activity" has been shared across social, with people slamming the entire exercise and calling it "disgusting."

Humiliating Assignment

Slave letter writing assignment
Slave letter writing assignment Twitter

Earlier this week, an assignment was given to eighth-graders at Purvis Middle School wherein they had to "pretend like you are a slave working on a Mississippi plantation" and "write a letter to your family back in Africa... describing your life." One bullet point on the exercise tells students: "You may also want to tell about the family you live with/work for and how you pass your time when you aren't working."

Besides, it also gave students the option to write about "how you pass your time when you aren't working." However, it didn't take long for the distasteful assignment to find its way to the social media. A screenshot of the letter started doing the rounds on social media, with Twitter users and activists calling it "humiliating" and "demoralizing."

The school, however, has been claiming that the screenshots showing one of the slides from a PowerPoint presentation was taken out of context. Lamar County School District Superintendent Dr. Steven Hampton Hampton said the goal of the assignment "was to show our students just how horrible slavery was and to gain empathy for what it was like to be a slave."

Irresponsible Act

That said, the school initially declined to comment after the outlet reached out but later the school's principal Frank Bunnell wrote a letter to the parents addressing the issue wherein he acknowledged that the assignment was part of an eighth grade history lesson and apologized for "something like this happening under my watch."

"A person could read just the assignment and draw a very unrealistic view of the true tragedies that occurred," Bunnell wrote. "That was not intended." However, that couldn't save the school from the brickbats it has been facing from all corners.

"I don't know how a logical person teaches this," Jeremy Marquell, social media manager for Black Lives Matter Mississippi told the outlet. "Like someone who went to school to teach children could think this exercise was helpful in any way," he said. "It's not helpful. It's hurtful."

"It is extremely tone deaf and inappropriate to have Middle Schoolers put themselves in the shoes of slaves without proper context," said Jarrius Adams, the president of Young Democrats Mississippi. "It does not matter what the intention was, the impact is the only thing that matters."

Although over 50 percent of the students in Mississippi public schools are Black, Purvis Middle School is an exception. In this school, only around 12 percent of the students are Black while over 80 percent are white.