A black teacher was given a Confederate flag and a white robe and hood, similar to what a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) member might wear, on stage at an Oklahoma education conference in a bizarre incident that has Oklahoma educators scrambling for answers.
As the Oklahoman reports, the incident happened on August 2 at the state’s CareerTech conference in Oklahoma City. Agriculture teacher Larry Long, who had retired after teaching agriculture in the Sooner State for 49 years, was on the stage accepting an award. In what appeared to have been designed as a joke, Long called another teacher, an African American whom Long apparently knew, to the stage. Long then presented the black teacher with the robe and flag.
Witnesses say that the black teacher was apparently in on the joke and did not appear to have been offended.
According to an email obtained by Tulsa World, it appears that attendees at the conference were asked to keep the robe incident under wraps. After the incident, attendees went to separate conference rooms that were divided up by district. There, they were told to delete all photos and videos of the incident and to not talk about it.
— TheOklahoman (@TheOklahoman) August 11, 2016
Paula Bowles, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, confirmed that the agency is aware of the incident and has conducted an investigation.
“The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education became aware of some deplorable actions and comments made last week at one of our breakout sessions during the summer conference in Oklahoma City. As soon as the department was made aware of the situation, an internal investigation was launched… This incident is not representative of the CareerTech system throughout the state.”
Since Long, the teacher who presented the robe and flag, has retired, there’s not much the agency can do in the way of discipline. Further, he has not returned repeated phone calls from the media asking for comment, according to KJRH (Tulsa). It is unclear, as of this writing, if the black teacher will be disciplined for his role in the incident.
Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, says that he has spoken to the black teacher involved in the incident and that he (the teacher) has since come to accept the reality of what happened.
“I did get a chance to have a conversation with him and he recognized the magnitude of the situation… This will be a learning lesson but people don’t have to wait for these types of situations in order to change.”
Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, chairman of the legislative Black Caucus, is not satisfied with apologies and vague acceptances of responsibility. He believes that the whole situation arose from a lack of diversity in Oklahoma’s agriculture teaching community (the black teacher given the robe and flag is the only black agriculture teacher in Oklahoma).
Matthews, who has himself led a study intended to get urban blacks interested in small-scale urban farming, would like to see more blacks represented in the vocational teaching industry in Oklahoma.
“Ultimately, our concern is to have more inclusion of African Americans in senior management levels of Career Tech to reduce the likelihood of these incidents in the future.”
Rep. Shelton echoed similar sentiments about encouraging blacks to explore opportunities in agriculture, as well as increasing diversity in the vocational teaching industry.
“It’s a predominantly white-run field. But there are so many opportunities and it’s important that all of us are encouraging all students to try and go into these fields.”
Do you think giving a black teacher a KKK robe and confederate flag is funny?
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]