Concern about word choice brings TV station to town

Concern expressed by a relative about the inclusion of a racial slur used in an upcoming musical production at Hillsboro High School put the school and the community under the glare of television scrutiny late last week.

KWCH Channel 12 broadcast a brief piece during its 6 p.m. news show Friday about a 12-year-old cast member’s objection to the using an offensive word for African-Americans in next month’s production of “Shenandoah,” a musical from the Civil War era.

School officials had previously decided the word was necessary in order to convey history accurately.

According to the televised report, Trey Carson, 12, had signed up to play the part of a slave in the production, but changed his mind when he read the script.

“They wanted me to say the ‘n’ word in the play,” Carson was quoted as saying. “And the teacher wouldn’t take it out when I wanted her to.”

After expressing his concern to production director Lynn Just about the use of the word, Carson’s uncle, Brian Chamberland, called the television station.

“They shouldn’t be substituting it at all, they shouldn’t be doing that play,” Chamberlain said in the report. “We’re trying to irradiate that word as a society and it just ain’t right.”

Superintendent Gordon Mohn responded that the only thing the musical is teaching is American history.

“It sheds light today on race relations,” he said. “I think it’s a powerful play and sends a powerful message.”

The line drawing the attention comes in the context of dialogue between the slave and the master’s son: “He says master calls me ‘n—–‘ when he’s mad at me. And when he’s not mad at me he calls me your name, ‘boy.'”

Mohn said he would meet with Carson’s family in the hope of coming to a resolution. The district already planned to publish a statement in the musical’s program explaining why the word was included.

“To me it’s central to the theme, so we decided that the word would stay in,” Mohn said.

Contacted Monday, Mohn said he felt the television station reported facts accurately and, all things considered, did not sensationalize the situation.

“I was really concerned the Channel 12 would come across as ‘here’s little podunk, racist Hillsboro,’ and I didn’t think they did at all,” Mohn said.

“They kind of wanted to trap us and say, ‘You took other swear words out.’

“I told them, to me (swear words) are only offensive. They don’t add anything to the play. And if the ‘n’ word didn’t add to the story, we wouldn’t have kept it in.”

Mohn said he wasn’t aware of any significant repercussions arising from the broadcast. He said he and Principal Dale Honek may meet with the cast at some point if they decide it would be helpful to do so.

“You don’t want to make a bigger deal of it than it is, but you want to make sure kids have that opportunity to learn something from it, and that they don’t take the word lightly if they decide to use it,” he said.

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