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Should bill to teach about Holocaust in N.C. schools include Black history lessons, too?
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Should bill to teach about Holocaust in N.C. schools include Black history lessons, too?

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RALEIGH — There's a new push to require North Carolina students to learn about the Holocaust.

But a Durham minister says a bill shouldn't pass unless it also includes lessons about Black history.

Lawmakers have filed a bill that requires the State Board of Education to include instruction of the Holocaust and genocide in the English and social studies standards used in middle schools and high schools. In a news release Monday, Black minister and social justice activist Paul Scott urged lawmakers to oppose the bill if it's not amended to include Black history.

"You can't mention the Holocaust and genocide without including the holocaust and genocide that my ancestors went through," Scott said in an interview Monday. "When you don't include Black history in a Holocaust bill and the struggle of my ancestors, you are not only saying that Black lives don't matter but Black history doesn't matter."

Supporters of the legislation say it's needed because some people still deny that the Nazis killed millions of Jews, Roma and other people. The "Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act" is named after a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who relocated to Raleigh. Before she died in 2011, Abramson spoke at schools about the Holocaust.

"The Holocaust is not a Jewish event," Mike Abramson, Gizzella Abramson's son, said in an interview Monday. "It's about respecting the rights of all peoples."

Abramson is chairman of the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust, a state-funded program that provides workshops and sample lessons for teachers.

Holocaust instruction sought in schools

The same legislation was unanimously passed by the state House in 2019. During the bill discussion, several lawmakers talked about how sobering it was to visit the concentration camps.

The legislation wasn't acted on in the Senate but was included as part of the state budget bill approved by lawmakers.

But the Holocaust provision was caught up in the budget fight between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican majority in the General Assembly. Cooper vetoed the budget, citing concerns such as how it didn't expand Medicaid and didn't have what he felt were big enough raises for teachers.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican and one of the bill's primary sponsors, said the last bill got lost in the mix. House Bill 69, which was filed earlier this month, has bipartisan sponsorship.

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"It's one of those things everybody sees the importance of it," Elmore said in an interview Monday.

Abramson said 16 states have already passed legislation requiring students to be taught about the Holocaust.

The bill would require the State Board of Education to integrate education on the Holocaust and genocide into "English, social studies courses, and other courses as appropriate" in middle and high schools. It also calls for developing a curriculum for a Holocaust Studies elective that could be offered in middle and high schools.

Abramson said the legislation wouldn't require students to take a separate course on the Holocaust. Instead, Abramson said teachers would be expected to discuss the Holocaust when they go through World War II.

Teachers can discuss the death camps, how they were liberated and why it's important to remember them. Abramson said teachers could include how Black U.S. soldiers were among those who helped liberate the camps.

"It's learning about plurality, democracy, free speech, tolerance and inclusion," Abramson said.

Call to recognize Black Holocaust

Scott, the minister, says he doesn't deny that the Holocaust happened. But he says students should learn about both the genocide of Jewish people during World War II and how Black people have suffered for centuries.

The State Board of Education recently adopted controversial new social studies standards that are supposed to provide more of the perspectives of historically marginalized groups such as Black people. But Scott says the bill goes even further by requiring the Holocaust to be mentioned in English classes and other subjects beyond social studies.

If the Jewish community isn't satisfied with the new social studies standards, Scott said that the Black community shouldn't be as well.

Scott charged that African Americans have been given a "chitterling curriculum," receiving table scraps about their history while other groups eat high on the hog. He said it would be a "slap in the face" if the "African Holocaust" is not included in the bill.

"It's almost like our suffering is considered less worthy of attention than other groups," Scott said in a news release.

Elmore, the lawmaker, said it's still early in the legislative session so he can't yet say what changes might be made when the bill is heard by the House Education Committee.

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