Cheyenne Teacher Responds to KKK Story

in Letter to the Editor

Editor’s Note and retraction notice:

We regret a Cowboy State Daily story was published prematurely, before going through the complete editorial process. The story did not meet our standards and has been unpublished.

The original article quoted a Facebook post from a person who never talked with the teacher or ever saw the photo in a classroom.

We further regret any implication in the article that the teacher is a racist or sympathetic with racists. 

We have been informed that:

The photograph in said article does not contain a picture of any of the teacher’s family, that neither the teacher nor her family have any affiliation or sympathy for the KKK.

The photo was a small 2 inch by 3-inch photocopy which was not on display for the students but rather was kept for later use to demonstrate the historical fact of racism at the time the book was set.

Statement by Cheyenne Teacher Shannon Black

I want to respond to the topic of the picture which has been discussed in the media and speculated about in social media discussions. The stories about the picture have been inaccurate and incomplete, and the speculation about me and the picture has been very wrong and hurtful. Until recently, I was not able to publicly discuss the situation, as I was cooperating with the school district while they looked into the situation. That district process is now completed, and I am now able to speak out to explain what the truth of the situation is regarding the picture.

The news reporting about the picture has clearly been based on a serious misunderstanding about what the picture is and what its purpose is. That misunderstanding has then been snowballed into cruel and wrong speculation about me and my family which is literally the opposite of the truth.

The picture at issue is actually a small, two inches by three inches, photocopy of an old photograph taken in 1913 by my grandmother, who was 8 years old at the time she took the original photo. My grandmother did not even understand at that time what was going on and thought that she was taking a picture of some kind of parade. My grandmother gave me the picture while I was in college because she thought I would be interested to see how openly racism, and a racist organization like the KKK, operated in those days, and to show how naïve a young child could be in that time to not fully understand what she was seeing.

The picture does not show my grandmother or any family member of mine as a member of the KKK. I have never told students or anyone that the picture shows my grandmother or other family member. If someone thought that this is what I said, they were mistaken and must have misunderstood my explaining that it was my young, innocent grandmother who took the picture without even understanding what it was she took a picture of. 

I do not know where this misunderstanding about what the picture is or who is in the picture came from, other than it must have come from rumor or from sometime in the past, as I have not discussed the picture with any students this school year.

It is not only wrong, but especially cruel for anyone to suggest that I or my family somehow support or have been affiliated with the KKK. Neither I nor any of her family have ever had any affiliation or sympathy with the KKK or what they stand for. I am a lifelong supporter of racial equality, acceptance, and understanding, and I would never do anything to communicate otherwise.

I have kept the picture over the years not to promote or idealize the KKK, but rather for the opposite reason—that the picture serves to show how openly racism was practiced and accepted in some places at that time in history. I teach students about such books as To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as part of the English curriculum. These novels all revolve around the pre-civil rights South, very small-town mind-sets, the innocence and perspective of children in trying to understand the intrinsic ugliness of some people, and their evolution through knowledge and experience. The purpose of sometimes using the photocopy with students, and the explanation I would give to students if I used it, was to provide historical context for the time period of the novel and to demonstrate through a child eyewitness (my grandmother) how commonplace and tolerated such ugly racism was. Nothing about having or using the photograph was in any way a promotion of the KKK or of racism. Rather, it was entirely the opposite purpose.

The information which has been reported or been on social media has suggested that I simply “displayed” the picture in her classroom for all to see. This not accurate. The small photocopy of the picture was kept behind my teacher’s desk along with other items so that I would be able to locate it when and if I might use it in instruction, but it was not placed there as any

kind of display to students. In hindsight, I recognize that it would have been better to have placed the picture somewhere entirely out of sight so that no misunderstanding would occur and so that the content and purpose of the picture could be explained to students if I showed it to them while teaching about these novels. I never imagined that someone would happen to view the picture back where it was stored and make the incorrect assumption that I was promoting the KKK.

It is obvious that someone has had a misunderstanding about the photocopy, both in terms of what it shows and what purpose it has, and the result has been a storyline that presents the opposite of reality and has led to harmful speculation about me and my family. It is appropriate for parents to raise concerns when they have them so that those concerns can be addressed. If any students or parents had come to me with this kind of concern, I certainly would have explained the misunderstanding. I also support the school district’s work to look into the situation to resolve concerns and I have cooperated with that process fully. I hope that everyone can move forward now that the misunderstanding has been clarified. I also hope and expect that any news media that have reported on this situation will make the necessary corrections to their story to reflect the truth.

At the same time, it is not appropriate for individuals on social media who do not have any actual knowledge to make unfounded accusations and hurtful attacks against me and my family. It has been devastating to see that people were quick to assume the worst about me, without any actual knowledge of me or of the situation, and to say such cruel and untrue things.

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