Calls to fire professor who held mock slave auction, black students summoned to have class examine them

As the result of a report that a white Howard University professor held a mock slave auction in class, the educator is now under investigation.

The incident was first reported by Caged Bird, who covers historically black colleges and universities, including Howard.

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The professor reportedly held the mock auction while teaching Frederick Douglass’ slave narrative. Caged Bird reported:

The teacher was discussing how slaves were auctioned and examined before the sale. Professor A approached one of the two Black boys in the classroom, singling him out, and told him to stand up because he looked “healthy” and “like the type of slave buyers would look for.” Professor A began to examine John the way he would have if John had been up for auction. The class watched with horror as their white professor evaluated a young, Black boy as if he were a piece of property. A couple of students called out to the professor, asking him to stop.

But he didn’t.

The professor asked him to turn this way and that in front of the class, and told the other students to examine the boy’s teeth, height, weight and strength.


“Professor A asked me to stand up and I reluctantly did so,” John, the male student singled out said. “I stood up because I didn’t expect him to do or say the things he said and did. He started propping my body up as if we were on a slave auction block.”

John added, “I didn’t sit down sooner because I was so shocked.”

When the professor noticed the frowns and turned heads of the other students, he attempted to reassure them.

“It’s O.K., I’m uncomfortable too; I’m white,” Professor A is reported to have said.

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The class was shocked and disgusted by both the mock auction and their instructor. But they were also upset at themselves that they let it happen without doing anything.

“I know I should have got up,” one of the students in the class commented. “I should have walked over to John, taken his hand and told him to sit down. But I sunk. I have never been so disappointed in both Howard and myself.”

Folks on social media were equally upset and called for the professor’s head on the block.

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But still, one person claimed there was no problem, given that the whole point of the lesson was to make the students feel uncomfortable.

Caged Bird, however, prefaced the article with an editor’s note asking that the professor not lose his position.

“This article was not written in hopes that the professor will be fired,” it said. “As Black men and women navigate through this world, we are often faced with subtle racism and race-charged wrongs. With this piece, we aim to stop this lesson plan from being used in future years of this professor’s career, and hope to acknowledge that yes, white teachers can teach about slavery, but there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to accomplish this.”


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