When a school chorus began to belt out one particular tune, audience members were left in disbelief over the “racist” song selection. After hearing the song their middle schoolers were told to sing at the concert, some parents walked out as many others sat there stunned and disgusted. But, some don’t see the big deal. Do you?
Springfield Middle School in Ohio became the center of controversy, thanks to their eighth-grade choir. As parents of the Lucas County middle school filed into the auditorium, they had no idea that an allegedly racist song selection would leave some of them so outraged that they were compelled to walk out in the middle of the performance, but that’s exactly what happened when the students began to sing.
During the Thursday concert, Nicole Maulsby, a Cuban parent, sat in the audience with her husband Alonzo, recording the performance, which she later posted to Facebook, stirring the national controversy. As the middle schoolers launched into their questionable selection, Nicole’s husband, who’s black, was so distraught, he walked out during the song. So, what could be so offensive that a parent would leave their own child’s concert?
The students sang the American folk song “Cotton Needs Pickin.” The lyrics say, “Cotton needs pickin’ so bad, Were going to pick all over this field. Planted this Cotton in April, on the Full of the Moon. We had a Hot Dry Summer and that why it opened so soon. Oh, hurry up, hurry up, children. Look at the weather vane. The wet wind’s blowing t’ward us, I think it’s going to rain.”
It seems the mention of picking cotton left many online commenters, as well as Nicole Maulsby and her husband, outraged over what they contend is a racist reference to black slaves toiling in the fields of the South. Nowhere in the song, however, does it mention a race or slaves. In fact, it talks about children picking cotton, which is important to note because many white people chimed in to mention their white relatives who picked cotton as children.
Although some were quick to voice disgust online over the since-deleted video of the performance, no one complained to the school, according to Springfield Schools Superintendent Matt Geha, who said he hadn’t received any calls on Friday. He was, however, aware of the outrage circulating on social media.
“It’s a historical component for what the choir department had to use for their curriculum,” Geha said, explaining that the song came from a book of American folk music. It’s worth mentioning that the song has been happily performed by black artists, including Frank Frost and Sam Carr, who must not have found it too offensive if they were willing to record it for the 1996 album “Keep Yourself Together.”
According to Maulsby, the issue with the song was more about the timing of the performance than the lyrics. Allegedly, the concert occurred mere days after other students in the district took photos and videos of themselves with a Confederate flag near the local high school, Fox News reported.
The incident involved about a dozen male students affiliated with a Christian youth organization called Young Life. Some described the incident as a “rally” and alleged that images posted to Snapchat reportedly included racial slurs. Because of this, Maulsby said the performance came “a little bit too close” to when a racial slur was allegedly “used directly across the street in the parking lot.”
It’s worth noting, however, that selections for the performance would have been made well in advance and practiced for months prior to the concert. Should the school have scrapped the number because there were allegations of racism in an unrelated incident? Radio host Charlie Mack apparently thought so.
Mack was among those who were left scratching their heads over the song choice, and he took to social media to share his thoughts. “Come on Springfield. This is the song you sing just a week after the Confederate flag issue?” he wrote. But, Geha maintained that the choir teacher intended no harm by including the folk song in the concert, according to the Toledo Blade.
Geha admitted, however, that he is concerned that his district had two controversies, involving alleged racism, in rapid succession and said he wanted to seize the opportunity to improve communications throughout the community. “I don’t want anyone to have a poor impression of Springfield at all,” Geha said, “but when it comes to having all our children and adults work together and get to know each other, there’s a lot of work we need to do.”
Racial slurs, if actually said or posted, are undeniably inappropriate, but those claims, as far as I can tell, were not proven. What we do know is that there was a Confederate flag displayed by a group of students. Not everyone sees the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, however. As for the song, cotton picking wasn’t reserved for black slaves. So, we are left to wonder, is there a judgment problem in the district or is the issue an oversensitivity to things that should not immediately trigger assumptions of racism? We’ll let you decide.