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They haven’t “gotten over it” at the D.C. School of Law (DCSL), where three of the top editorial hands at the Side-Bar, the student newspaper, have been denounced as racist for these cartoon depictions of Marion Barry, which accompanied a story in the November issue.
The Page 1 article was written by Side-Bar Editor Julia Roane Hendrix and chronicled Barry’s history of opposition to the law school. The first protest was lodged by the paper’s adviser, Dr. H. Russell Cort, who asked on Nov. 8 that his name be removed from the masthead if the editors persisted in publishing work with “racial overtones” without his knowledge. A day later, Dean William L. Robinson posted a memorandum to the student body saying that the article was “lacking in judgment” and that the cartoons could “reasonably be interpreted as having racial overtones.”
The Black Law Students Association (BLSA) damned both the article and cartoon in an open letter to the paper’s staff: The “article was politically damaging to the school,” BLSA noted, and the “caricatures were offensive to all African Americans.” The first cartoon “implies that a vote for Barry is a vote for a criminal,” and “[t]he second frame is equally, if not more offensive. To show Marion Barry carrying what appears to be a bale of cotton on his back at the direction of Abraham Lincoln can only be interpreted as a reference to slavery.” The BLSA open letter continued, “It is imperative to the future of DCSL that we remain sensitive to the concerns of the taxpaying citizens of the District of Columbia. Failure to do so is fatal because without this community and Mayor-elect Barry’s support, DCSL will cease to exist.”
The controversy prompted an emergency student senate meeting, during which senators wrote Barry a letter of apology. The Side-Bar responded by publishing a special issue on Nov. 16 that quoted many students who demanded the resignation of Hendrix, Managing Editor Jessica Forbes, and Associate Editor Brad Pollock, the cartoonist. Several students claimed that the three editors—all white—had shown themselves incapable of racial sensitivity.
The three editors apologized to the student body and the faculty, but refused to resign.