Last month, lawmakers in the General Assembly introduced a bill that would require North Carolina public schools to teach students about the Jewish Holocaust.

Soon after House Bill 69, the “Education on the Holocaust and Genocide” bill was filed, a Durham minister demanded legislators oppose the measure unless mandatory Black history studies were included, too.

Paul Scott, the founder of the Bull City-based Black Messiah Movement, wrote in an email to the INDY that he has “fought for many years to make Black history required learning” in the state’s public schools curriculum.

“People talk about how Black lives matter, but when it comes to Black education, we really don’t matter,” he wrote. 

Scott added that sponsorship of the bill during Black History Month was “a slap in the face.”

“Although Blacks and Jews have been considered allies, there has always been division when it comes to issues such as affirmative action and education,” Scott continued. “It’s almost like our suffering is considered less worthy of attention than other groups. I owe it to my ancestors who perished during the Transatlantic Slave [Trade] to fight to make sure their story is told.”

The bill, also known as the “Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act,” pays tribute to the work of the Polish-born Holocaust survivor who moved to Raleigh in 1970 and “taught teachers and students across North Carolina not to hate,” according to her obituary. 

The obituary also noted that Abramson–who was 85 when she died and was the only member of her immediate family to survive Nazi persecution–often said she survived the Holocaust in order to share her experience with young people. She performed slave labor at a concentration camp and was forced into a death march during the final months of the war before she was liberated in May of 1945.

The Holocaust education legislation was first introduced last year and garnered unanimous support. Then, it was part of a $24 billion budget bill that passed in both the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Abramson’s son, Mike Abramson, is the chairman of the N.C. Council on the Holocaust, a state-funded program that offers workshops and sample lessons for teachers through the state’s department of public instruction.

Mike Abramson on Tuesday declined to share his thoughts on Scott’s proposal to amend the bill. 

“The Holocaust and Genocide Education Act is a balance of literature and history that portrays man’s inhumanity to man,” Abramson wrote in an email to the INDY, “the lessons learned when evil conquers good and when good people do nothing in the face of evil.”

Abramson wrote that the study of the Holocaust focuses on how society treats minorities and marginalized groups, including the African American experience.

“Besides teaching about the historical timeline of the Holocaust, educators will be able to discuss how Black soldiers, sailors, and airmen were treated during World War II,” Abramson added.

Abramson noted that in addition to the accomplishments of Blacks in the military during that period, the Holocaust “will teach students how the U.S. Army and Black soldiers liberated transit and concentration camps in western Europe.”

Scott says the suffering enslaved Blacks endured before emancipation was no less horrific and deserves its own study. 

In a column published last week by NC Policy Watch, Scott wrote that although the Jewish and Black holocausts are very different in their particulars, it is just as important that North Carolina’s children learn the complete story of the African Holocaust–known in Swahili as the “Maafa”–as it is for them to learn of the abuse and murder of Jewish people by the Nazis. 

The two advocates’ thoughts about the need for both histories to be part of the state’s public schools curriculum are not at odds with one another; rather, they serve as an indictment of societal inequities that are reflected in classrooms.

“Most importantly, the lessons of the Holocaust will teach students that societies can break, democracies can fail, ethics can collapse and ordinary men find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands,” Abramson told the INDY.

Scott says both histories should be fully and accurately taught in our schools. 

“No group should have a monopoly on holocaust and genocide,” says Scott, who added that people look down on holocaust deniers, “and rightly so, but people deny and look down on the Black Holocaust every day.”

“People like to champion Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Scott said, “but I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would have wanted to integrate the Holocaust and Genocide bill.”

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