An Ohio high school teacher has resigned after the display of a racist image during Black History Month morning announcements sparked student strikes and widespread condemnation.
The Bexley Middle School teacher supervised the display of an image of an orangutan eating a watermelon on a green screen background, the Dispatch of Colombia reported.
Bexley City Schools Superintendent Jason Fine announced the teacher’s resignation in a letter to parents on Friday.
The teacher, who was not named, had already been placed on administrative leave.
“We know this cannot be treated as any kind of end or closure and we are steadfast in our commitment to our continued efforts to eradicate racism in Bexley schools,” Fine wrote.
Fine acknowledged in a heated public meeting on Wednesday that the school district was aware that students were also widely sharing racist images on social media, WSYX reported.
Parents said Bexley, a suburb of Columbus, had a history of racist and offensive behavior in its school district.
The incidents sparked threats of lawsuits and a student walkout on Friday. WSYX reported.
A 7th grade student told the news site that students felt compelled to act after being hurt and disgusted by having to see the racist imagery.
“I was confused. I was angry. There were so many emotions going through my head,” said the student. WSYX.
Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler and the council chairman released a joint statement on Friday, acknowledging that the series of racist incidents had caused “a tremendous amount of pain and heartache”.
“For many of us, this week has been marked by deep sadness and dismay, and for others it has merely reaffirmed a truth that has been felt in our families for generations,” the statement reads.
The racist trope of African Americans “excessively fond” of watermelons “exploded in American popular culture” after the end of slavery, historian William R. Black wrote in the atlantic in 2014.
“Free blacks grew, ate, and sold watermelons, and in so doing made the fruit a symbol of their freedom,” Black wrote.
“Southern whites, threatened by the newly won freedom of blacks, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black perceptions of impurity, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence.”
On Friday, a mother said she pulled her children out of a Miami day care center after a teacher painted preschoolers’ faces black for Black History Month.