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Mock auction draws ire of black family

November 4, 1997

TORRANCE, Calif. (AP) _ The mother of a black teen-ager is demanding that a school drop its mock slave auction, which was designed to teach students about the indignity of slavery.

Gestine Uzor said her 15-year-old daughter, Natalie Jackson, wept when she talked about taking part in the role-playing exercise on Oct. 22 at West High School in this Los Angeles suburb.

``All the kids took the auction as a joke,″ Natalie said. ``I kept thinking, `Am I the only person who feels angry about this?‴

Natalie, one of three black students in the class, said she went through with the auction anyway because she was embarrassed to tell anyone her feelings.

Uzor is asking the local school district to drop the lesson and publicly apologize to her family. She also has requested an investigation by the state Education Department’s civil rights office.

``I’m not going to let them get away with this,″ Uzor said. ``I don’t want this curriculum in school.″

The auction, in which students are randomly chosen to play slaves or slave-owners, was instituted three years ago by history teachers Jason Snyder and Drew Hettinger.

``The purpose is to help them understand the cruelty and suffering, both physical and psychological, that slaves were forced to endure,″ Snyder said.

Hettinger said he asked Natalie if she wanted to portray a slave-owner rather than a slave and she declined. He also said she never expressed discomfort with the program.

Frank Berry, branch executive for the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the auction is a wrong-headed approach to teaching about slavery. ``Forcing descendants of people who went through this, this is grossly inappropriate,″ he said.

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