Editor: I am the one who heard Catoctin School Board Representative John Beatty state, “African Americans were worse off during Reconstruction, because they didn’t have the patronage of a master.”
Almost four months after making that statement, Beatty asserted that he said no such thing: “Like a game of telephone, this lie has become distorted with each passing day, warped to represent the worst.”
I have distorted nothing.
On Feb. 18, 2020, I attended the School Board Open Work Session regarding equity. For several years, Loudoun activists for social justice, including myself, have urged the school board to promote and protect equality and equity for staff and students. I attended the meeting to ensure that our recently won achievements were safe.
The meeting, which was open to the public, focused on the inequities faced by African Americans during and after Reconstruction. In a small group discussion, Beatty stated that during Reconstruction, “African Americans were worse off, because they didn’t have the patronage of a master.” The others at the table, busy sharing their own thoughts, were not listening. I was sitting behind Beatty and wrote down his statement verbatim.
After the meeting, I asked Beatty to clarify his statement.Beatty repeated that African Americans were worse off during Reconstruction, because it was not always possible for them to find work. During slavery, he declared without irony, African Americans had labor. When I stated that enslaved people were not paid for their labor, he asserted that slaves were able to earn and keep money. Furthermore, he alleged, during slavery African Americans did not have to worry about food, clothes, or shelter since that was provided by their masters. I replied that enslaved people were not compensated for their labor, had few clothes, inadequate shelter, and scanty food. Enslaved people endured emotional, physical, and sexual violence.
I never insinuated that Beatty promoted slavery, only that he did not understand the harsh reality of slavery. I recommended that he read to educate himself and offered to discuss the books with him. I suggestedAutobiography of Malcolm X, as well asJubileeandRootsin order to see slavery through the eyes of enslaved people.
I have had no further contact with Beatty other than a letter I sent on May 19 to the entire board asking that they consider the motion of the Equity Committee to remove Beatty.
At the June 9 school board meeting, Beatty claimed, “I’ve been under attack since February by activists unconcerned with the truth and only looking to score political points.”
I have said nothing untruthful, nor am I looking to score political points. If anything, I have political points to lose. I have never hesitated to urge the school board or LCPS administrators to address issues of equity and equality, and I have never hesitated to call them out when they refused. I am an LCPS teacher. Every time I speak at a school board meeting, I wonder if this is the time that I receive a phone call from HR. My livelihood depends on the school board and Dr. Williams. I have nothing to gain but a clear conscience.
Beatty had nearly four months to address his remarks publicly. I do not know what would have happened had Beatty apologized publicly and openly worked to improve his understanding of American slavery and what it means to be black in America. I do know what happened when he did not. His lack of words and action forced citizens and groups to speak against him and to demand accountability. His lack of words and action forced the school board into the uncomfortable position of speaking against a colleague with whom they need to work.
I take no joy in the removal of Beatty from the Equity and Discipline Committees. Beatty’s shame is not his comment. Beatty’s shame is his refusal to acknowledge his ignorance and the pain his comment inflicted on the African American students whom he serves. Beatty’s shame is that he had a chance to grow, but he rejected it.
Andrea Weiskopf, Ashburn