Paul Scott. Credit: Jade Wilson

Durham minister Paul Scott, a clergy member who advocates a Black liberation theology and operates a free mobile book donation service, always manages to punch above his weight. 

Scott was a foundational voice with Durham County’s adoption of a resolution last month that opposed GOP-led legislation that would prohibit teaching certain concepts about the Black experience
in America.

The heavily partisan House Bill 187 passed the state house last Wednesday afternoon, with 68 Republicans voting in favor of the legislation and 49 Democratic lawmakers opposing the measure.

News & Observer reporter Keung Hui noted that supporters of the bill say the legislation is designed to keep critical race theory out of the state’s public classroom, while its opponents say the vaguely worded bill will lead to a chilling effect on teachers.

Anticipating the bill’s passage, Scott last week wrote a letter to the North Carolina–born hip hop superstar J. Cole, asking him to cancel his annual Dreamville Festival in protest of HB 187, which is titled “Equality in Education.”

One day before the house vote, Scott announced that he was starting the “Defund Mayberry Movement, where [Scott and other supporters] are asking entertainers and vacationers to place economic sanctions on North Carolina because of the Jim Crow legislation.”

“Mayberry,” Scott told the INDY, refers to the mythical North Carolina town made famous by the old Andy Griffith television show, as a “reference to politicians creating a whites-only society.”

Scott’s call for sanctions against the state mirrors the protests and threats of economic backlash that followed the 2016 GOP-led passage of controversial House Bill 2, the so-called bathroom bill, that targeted LGBTQ people by forbidding them to use bathrooms in government buildings and public schools that aligned with their sexual and gender identities.

As the INDY previously reported, the bathroom bill would have cost the state $4.5 billion in Title IX funds and lost business opportunities, before it was challenged in court, where an injunction was filed that blocked the state from enforcing the law.

Coming three years after the Black Lives Matter protests and the global racial reckoning that followed the police murder of George Floyd, Scott’s call for economic sanctions to protest HB 187 may well be a harbinger of what’s to come in other states where legislators have approved the boilerplate legislation.

The bill is sponsored by GOP representatives John A. Torbett (R–Gaston), Hugh Blackwell (R–Burke), David Willis (R–Union), and Diane Wheatley (R–Cumberland). At the heart of the legislation is an Orwellian attempt to whitewash history because elements of this country’s past may make individuals “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish,” or other forms of “psychological distress,” according to the first edition of the bill filed on February 23. 

The fate of Native Americans and enslaved Africans in America notwithstanding, the bill would forbid public schools from promoting that the United States is “a meritocracy [that] is inherently racist or sexist” and “was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.” 

But last month, members of the Durham County Board of Education adopted a resolution opposing the bill and warned that if the bill becomes law, “it would prohibit educators from discussing the full facts of American history,” including the fact that “several Constitutional Amendments were created to redress racist and sexist beliefs and policies in the original U.S. Constitution for the purpose of restoring the rights of previously oppressed members of a race or sex.”

The board members noted that “the 13th Amendment of 1865 abolished slavery, a system in which members of a particular race had, in fact, oppressed members of another race,” and that teachers “would be prohibited to debate or consider teaching about the Jim Crow Era, in which a series of laws prevented African Americans from accessing rights such as voting or holding office.” 

Additionally, school board members noted, educators would not be allowed “to debate or consider teaching that women were not granted the right to vote until 1920 under the 19th amendment, and even then, African American and Indigenous women were still routinely denied their voting rights.”

Moreover, the board members stated that “more than sixty-five years after the Supreme Court ruling on Brown vs. Board, segregated schooling is a particularly profound and timely demonstration of the ongoing persistence of systemic racism.”

Conspicuously absent among the bill’s primary sponsors are African American house members. 

Ken Fontenot, a pastor and U.S. Marine veteran who represents Nash and Wilson Counties, is the lone African American among the bill’s 12 GOP cosponsors. (There are 26 Black members of the house; Fontenot is the sole Republican.)

Critics say that also notably absent is any semblance of sensitivity about how inaccurately teaching this nation’s history may cause “psychological distress” among Black American students, teachers and administrators, and other historically marginalized groups if the legislation is passed into law.

Prodded in part by Scott, Durham school board members adopted their resolution that notes the bill is partisan, divisive, boilerplate legislation that’s part of a coordinated effort by the highly conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a free-market advocacy group that drafts model laws that curtail local authority, with “wording that lawmakers can cut and paste,” the INDY previously reported.

ALEC is a corporate-funded entity whose members include “global corporations and state politicians [who] vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights,” according to the progressive nonprofit watchdog the Center for Media and Democracy. “These so-called ‘model bills’ reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.”

The school board adopted a similar resolution in 2021 in response to House Bill 324, another anti–critical race theory bill also sponsored by Torbett that would have rendered teachers inflexible and left students ignorant of the context that has created racial disparities in health, wealth, and education.

Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill in September 2021.

Scott’s comments about the regurgitated HB 187 “were a catalyst to revisit and bring forth the resolution that passed unanimously,” school board member Jovonia Lewis told the INDY last week. 

Durham’s school board members say the bill is yet another GOP-led attempt “to restrict and prohibit honest conversations about race.”

Scott, in his letter last week to J. Cole, asked other music headliners scheduled to perform, including Drake and Usher, to boycott the event.

The Fayetteville-based offices of All American Entertainment list Cole as a client. The agency did not respond to calls and emails for comment. 

The INDY also did not receive a response from media officials with the Dreamville Festival.  

Still, the Dreamville website describes the event as a “proud, Black-owned music festival” and continues to emphasize “community, diversity and inclusivity”—values that appear at odds with the GOP legislation.

“If passed, the bill will ban some aspects of black history from being taught in NC schools,” Scott writes. “This is a racist piece of legislation that disproportionately affects the descendants of enslaved Africans.” 

Scott wants Cole, a Fayetteville native, and his fellow artists “to cancel Dreamville because our state is becoming a nightmare for African American children.”

The Dreamville event has had its share of hard knocks since its inception in 2018 that faltered with a false start. The inaugural event was moved to the spring of 2019. What followed were two years of dormancy in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID pandemic. With at least 50,000 people in attendance, the two-day event “is expected to add millions of dollars to the state’s economy,” Scott states in his letter to Cole.

Scott adds that many people view North Carolina as “part of the progressive New South …. Politicians are trying to turn back the clock to the Old South where in states like North Carolina, it was against the law for enslaved Africans to read.”

“HB 187 is the legislative ‘lynch’ pin that holds white supremacy together and we hope that our entertainers stand with us to cancel this racist bill,” Scott told Cole in the letter.

If they don’t cancel the festival, Scott says Cole and the Dreamville team should at least issue a statement condemning the legislation.

“They should,” he says, “as well as all entertainers. They should boycott North Carolina, including Ms. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Black entertainers and athletes must defund the reconstruction of the Old South.”

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