Hundreds of Alabama students walk out over Black History program limits

Published 4:02 pm Thursday, February 9, 2023

More than 200 students walked out of class at an Alabama high school after they say they were told by school leaders to omit certain relevant events from an upcoming student-led Black History Month program.

However, school officials have denied the allegations even while acknowledging the need for students’ concerns to be heard.

Students told WBMA-TV they were ordered to leave out major historical moments, including slavery and the civil rights movement, from the program scheduled for Feb. 22 at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa.

The students were told they “couldn’t talk about slavery and civil rights because one of our administrators felt uncomfortable,” said Black History Month Program board member J’Niyah Suttles, a senior who participated in Wednesday’s walkout.

She said the the direction from a school administrator left her hurt.

“My protector from 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. — for you to tell me I can’t talk about something that is dealing with my culture is very disturbing, it’s very confusing,” Suttles said.

Fellow Hillcrest senior Jada Holt expressed similar emotions.

“Why am I being censored about my culture, something that is rooted in me? Why can’t I talk about it? History is history and it’s already been made, and it can’t be erased,” she said.

Senior Jamiyah Brown, who helped put the program together, organized the walkout, which lasted about an hour.

“Without our history we are nothing. Without teaching our youth where we come from, how can we move forward?” Brown said.

Tuscaloosa County Superintendent Dr. Keri Johnson, in a statement, denied allegations that an administrator told the students to leave out historical elements.

“It is not true that faculty or staff told students that slavery or the civil rights movement could not be part of the program,” Johnson said. “When several community members heard this and contacted Hillcrest High administration out of concern, administration explained to them that this was false information that was circulating.”

Johnson said the school system supports the students’ right to peacefully demonstrate.

“A number of our Hillcrest High students have concerns about the culture within their school. We care deeply about our students, and it is important that their concerns are heard. We are putting together a plan to make sure our students feel heard, so that we know the right steps to put in place to ensure all students know that they are valued,” Johnson said.

The president of the Tuscaloosa Branch of the NAACP, Lisa Young, said the alleged direction was a disgrace.

“I don’t know how you can talk about Black history in this country without talking about slavery or the civil rights movement,” Young said.

She said she has asked to meet with Johnson but has yet to be given a date.

Young said she was “angry and part of me feels like we failed our students. We want to see what we can do to assist them, and make their school a safe place.”