Deborah Menkart

Under Heavy Pressure from Activists, Scholastic Pulls Racist Children’s Book

A firestorm erupted when Scholastic released a children’s book early this month, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, featuring smiling slaves baking a cake for George Washington.  The back cover portrayed George Washington and his enslaved chef, Hercules, arm-in-arm, like best buddies. The image convinced many that this was an Onion parody and not an actual children’s book published in 2016. The images of seemingly happy enslaved African Americans working in the kitchen were underscored with Hercules’s closing words when he serves the cake: “An honor and a privilege, sir… Happy birthday, Mr. President.” The story never offers children a hint as to why it was not a “privilege” nor a smiling affair to be enslaved. Nor do readers learn that the conditions were so dire that Hercules escaped on Washington’s birthday the following year, despite having to leave his children behind.

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‘Is This America?’: What the Struggle for Equality in the Sixties Can Teach Us About Building Democracy Today

Fifty years ago this month, Mississippi sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer gripped the nation with her televised testimony of being forced from her home and brutally beaten (suffering permanent kidney damage) for attempting to exercise her constitutional right to vote.

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