Georgia Students Wear Klan Robes Through School With Teacher’s OK
May 25, 2010
(ChattahBox)—The Klu Klux Klan has a long and ugly history in the State of Georgia, with the specter of a giant burning cross signifying the rebirth of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan on the top of Stone Mountain, at the turn of the 20th century. And the hate and racism of the Klan is still alive and well in 21st century Georgia. As recently as February, the KKK held a robed rally in the small town of Nahunta. In the wake of this incendiary and sordid history, a high school teacher in rural Lumpkin County, GA allowed her students to walk the halls of the school dressed in white Klan robes and hoods, as part of an historical reenactment project. The teacher was surprised by the resulting uproar, and she says she doesn’t regret the lesson of her history project, but she acknowledged she had used bad judgment.
Catherine Ariemma, a respected six-year veteran with the Lumpkin County school system, has been placed on paid administrative leave, while an investigation is conducted.
Lumpkin County Schools superintendent Dewey Moye, acknowledged Ariemma’s previous excellence as a History teacher, but said he could not ignore her bad judgment in this instance. “We have to be careful with our study of history, especially that period of time. It was a dark period and we have to include it. But the teacher’s behavior was unacceptable. We condemn that kind of behavior,” Lumpkin County school superintendent Dewey Moye said.
Ariemma, says she does not apologize for the video assignment, which examined racism in U.S. history. And when students questioned the inclusion of the Klan, she actually encouraged them to explore the topic. “I said ‘You know what? No. You have a good topic,’” she said. “It’s unfortunate that in this county we don’t discuss racism very much. When we don’t discuss it we condone it. And so I do discuss it.”
However well intentioned it may have been for educational purposes, the sight of four robed students walking the school halls, when students were having lunch, caused an uproar. And making matters worse, Ariemma did not think to inform the school principal of the incendiary costumed history project, before she marched her students donned in Klan robes through the school.
According to the Dahlonega Nugget, news quickly spread of Klan members roaming the school, causing fear among some non-white students:
“The brief appearance of four robed and hooded figures caused a commotion in the cafeteria as several students became upset and angry. Some became angrier than others.” Principal Tracy Sanford, said “Unfortunately it was during lunch time so Mrs. Ariemma had walked them through the commons area.”
‘”We had one student that was really agitated,” said Sanford. “One of his coaches grabbed him, intervened and said ‘This is a class project.’” Rumors of Klansman in the classroom quickly spread throughout the school hallways as no school-wide announcement was made to clarify the issue.The matter prompted Moye to call an emergency Board of Education session for Monday morning.”
Ariemma, says the only thing she would have done differently, is not allowing the students to film the Klu Klux Klan reenactment on school grounds. “I would tell the students, why don’t you film that off campus on your own time,” she said.
But black residents of this sleepy Georgia county, which is over 90 percent white, attribute the Klan incident to ongoing racial issues in the county. A town meeting was held to calm tensions. And Atlanta-based civil rights activist the Rev. Markel Hutchins, was called in to lead the discussion. He told a group of about 50 town residents that he was there to ensure racial divisions didn’t develop over the Klan episode.
“When we leave this issue, we want to leave this town a better place,” said Hutchins.