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NAACP Responds To D-49 MLK Costume Controversy

Published On: May 16 2012 11:12:01 AM CDT   Updated On: May 17 2012 12:43:08 PM CDT

It's a story that's gotten national attention and sparked outrage: A Falcon School District 49 second-grader dressed as Martin Luther King Jr. for a project and had to go to the principals' office to talk about the black face paint he was wearing.

While many feel school authorities should never have told Sean King, 8, to take off his makeup because he was offending students and faculty, the president of the Colorado Springs branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colorado People said Meridian Ranch Elementary did the right thing.

"When I saw the story about the young scholar who decided he would portray Martin Luther King for a class project, I was so proud of him," said NAACP president Rosemary Harris Lytle. "Unfortunately, by having blackface as part of his presentation, it ended up harkening back to a really tragic time in the life of this country, a time when blackface was used by entertainers primarily to demean African-Americans, and in a way I know this young man couldn't have intended to do."

Blackface make-up became popular during the 19th century in minstrel shows and later in vaudeville. Performers used it in routines to portray racist stereotypes of African-Americans. Its acceptance in America ended in the 1960s during the civil rights movement.

Lytle said she hopes Meridian Ranch uses what happened as teachable moment.

"To go back to the history of minstrels and of blackface and of the sad time when people who were geniuses were portrayed as nothing more than figures of comedy," said Lytle.

She said the class project could result in students learning more than they ever thought they would.

Sean King's parents said they are so upset by what happened, they're considering pulling him out of the school.

Sean told KRDO Newschannel 13 that he never meant to offend anyone with his costume.

?They thought it was inappropriate and it will be disrespectful to black people, and I say it?s not. I like black people. It?s just a costume, and I don?t want to insult anybody,? said Sean.

Sean's mom, Michelle King-Roca, said her son was so excited for the project.

?He said, 'Mom, I want to wear a black suit because that?s what he wore, a black tie, a white shirt, and also I want to do my face black and wear a mustache,? said King-Roca.

D-49 spokesperson Stephanie Meredith said there were no guidelines given for the class project, but that wearing face paint falls under the school?s policy that anything deemed offensive or disruptive is not allowed. She said the principal was accommodating to Sean's parents' concerns.

?When other students are offended by something, it is the principal?s role that the educational environment is safe for all students,? said Meredith.


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