It was supposed to be a proud moment. It ended up being a controversial one. And all over a seemingly innocent quilt.
A group of high school juniors from Piedmont Governor’s School in Martinsville, VA, were presenting a quilt to the local city council they made as part of a class project. Students were in the midst of explaining the individual squares they had made in a fairly non-controversial way. That is until one student started describing an enlightening experience.
“We got to walk across the Philpott Dam and the small black person represents us before we learned all the information and then the bigger gold person is how he feels after he’s been enriched with all the different knowledge,” a female student explained.
She was abruptly interrupted.
“Excuse me. Um, why is the small black person the negative image?” Councilwoman Sharon Brooks-Hodge said.
The student was taken aback and tried to explain: “It’s not negative. It’s just showing how much we increased.”
Brooks-Hodge wasn’t buying it: “I take offense to that.”
“I didn’t mean to make it offensive,” another student tried to explain.
But Brooks-Hodge wasn’t done, setting her sights on not only the students but the teachers: “Whoever reviewed that to make a small black person the before and the gold which you are afterwards, considering you only talked to 10 percent of black people in a city that’s 45 percent African-American, I take offense to that and I hope that you do not display that.”
WDBJ-TV reports that one student started crying as a teacher explained it had nothing to do with race.
Councilman Danny Turner, who was at the meeting, has visited the school to apologize. But the incident isn’t over. The local chapter of the NAACP has piled on, saying “This young man had not received training on how offensive depictions like this were to people of color. If he had, this incident could have been avoided.”
And the council has not decided if the quilt will hang at the local municipal building. Even if it does, WDBJ reports it will include a disclaimer.
You can watch video of the incident started at the 2-minute mark here.