Atlanta Charter School Under Fire for Blackface Depiction

An Atlanta charter school is under fire for conveying blackface masks while reciting a historic African-American poem that symbolizes black oppression.

Second-graders on Thursday held up blackface masks in a reading of 19th-century author Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask" as part of the school's black history program, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The performance at The Kindezi School at Old Fourth Ward is now facing criticism from the community and parents who have questioned the masks' context.

According to a widely shared Facebook post, which was reported by the Journal-Constitution, one parent said that "Kindezi Old Fourth Ward has to do better."

Facing backlash, the school noted that it was "a poor and inappropriate decision" and apologized "for the hurt, anger, frustration, and disappointment that this has caused in the Kindezi community and the community at large," it said Friday morning on its Facebook page.

Part of Dunbar's poem reads as:

"We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile."

Dunbar's lyric poem is a reaction to racial tensions felt during that time, symbolizing how oppressed black Americans hid their pain behind a "mask" that shielded them.

A Catholic school in Miami similarly faced criticism last month for a blackface depiction. A student during a February Black History Month celebration painted his face black to represent former Secretary of State Colin Powell, which was displayed on the school's website and social media accounts. The Miami school was then forced to remove the photo from all of its accounts.