School Apologizes for Photograph Appearing to Show Black Slave Girl on Leashes

The photograph showed two white children who were holding what appeared to be leashes attached to a young African-American girl.

  • Published 19 October 2017

The Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District in Massachusetts has apologized for a controversial photograph that appeaed to show a young African-American girl tied to two leashes.

The photograph originated with a presentation about pilgrims to third-graders at Mitchell Elementary School in Bridgewater by the Plimoth Plantation historical group. Part of that lesson focused on outfits worn by parents and children in the 17th century, and some of the class dressed up in period costume and posed for a picture with an adult. But the resulting photograph touched off irate reactions online because, without proper context, it appeared to viewers to show a white woman with her arms around two white children, the latter of whom were holding what looked like leashes attached to a young African-American girl kneeling on the floor in front of them — making it appear as if the black girl were playing the part of a slave:

However, Superintendent Derek Swenson noted in a statement posted to Facebook that the leashes were actually “tethering straps” or “lead strings,” a device used with children in the 17th century to help them learn to walk or keep them from wandering away. Swenson added that “without this context added to the photo that was shared by the classroom teacher, it could be perceived differently”: