By Mark Naison (October 13, 2019)
Letter to the President of Georgia Southern University regarding book burning at his school
President, Georgia Southern University
Dear President Marrero
As a historian of race in the United States, who has written 7 books on the subject, and a professor for 49 years at one of the nation’s major universities, I am writing to express my extreme dismay at the burning of the books of a prominent LatinX author who spoke at your campus. In all my years of college teaching, this may be the single most disturbing act of racial harassment I have heard, both because of the specter of Nazism it invokes, and the chilling message it sends to students of color in an already highly charged political climate.
If students of color at your university are to feel protected from racial violence- and book burning is a violent act- and if your university’s reputation is not to be permanently tarnished, you must take much more dramatic action than you have so far done.
First of all, the book burning must be described as an act of racial violence and harassment, not as a manifestation of free speech. You must say, in the loudest possible voice, that this action has covered Georgia Southern with shame, and that it must NEVER happen again on your campus or at any campus in the nation
Secondly, you must take some disciplinary action against the students involved, ranging from academic probation to suspension. Your students of color will never feel safe unless those responsible for the book burning are punished
Let me close with one more reminder. There was another time when the state of Georgia was known for the use of fire as an expression of rage- the burning of Black bodies during lynchings. If you don’t believe me, look up the lynching of Sam Hose, who was burned at the stake in your home state after his body was dismembered
The history that comes before us should be a guide to greater wisdom, not an excuse for looking the other way when racial violence and harassment occurs.
Please consider what I say very carefully, because it is in the minds of thousands of my peers who teach at universities around the nation
Mark D Naison
Dr Mark Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Founder and Director, Bronx African American History Project