A group representing black residents in Jefferson County, Alabama has called a press conference after photographs of white female students from the wealthy Birmingham suburb of Gardendale appeared on social media wearing what appears to be “blackface”.
The controversy comes as the affluent, majority-white Gardendale community is moving to form its own school system — seceding from Jefferson County’s troubled schools — with critics suggesting there are racial motives at play.
Nez Calhoun, spokeswoman for Jefferson County schools, says that four people in the pictures were identified as students from the Gardendale High School.
Outcast Voters League, a group advocating for the interests of black residents, will hold a press conference at the high school to address the controversy.
“It is alleged, with photos attached, they went further to write ‘n….s’ on their Snapchat. These types of actions aren’t tolerated within the Jefferson County School System. To expand, these actions should be investigated as hate crimes,” said the group in a press release.
Neal Underwood, the parent of one of the girls and a school system employee, denied the allegations that his daughter was in blackface, insisting it was just a charcoal beauty treatment and didn’t originally have any racially-charged captions with it. He says the innocent photos were put online by a malicious perpetrator who added racist captions.
“The folks who know the hearts of these young ladies,” he continued. “These two girls don’t have a malice bone in their bodies.”
The father claims the since the photos were posted online, his daughter has received death threats and removed from the high school’s “dance team” (cheerleading).
The blackface controversy is especially charged as Gardendale has been trying to split from the Jefferson County school system, a move perceived by some as a way to keep minorities out of certain schools.
The request to form its own school system, however, was approved by District Judge Madeline Haikala with certain conditions, despite findings that the move had racial motivations.
Among the conditions, the judge instructed the school to pay for the Gardendale High School as it was built by another school district seven years ago. She also instructed the community to form a desegregation plan.