Stateside
5:58 pm
Tue July 9, 2013

Outrage after Highland Park high school's library material gets dumped in the trash

An interview with historian Paul Lee.

There has been a firestorm of protest in Highland Park after the discovery that a large collection of history books, film and tapes from the city's high school was tossed in the trash.

Some 50 protestors gathered outside the high school in Highland Park, a member of the school board quit, and several people climbed into dumpsters to retrieve what they could.

The protests focused not only on the discarded books but on the way Highland Park's emergency manager Donald Weatherspoon is running the district.

One of those people who searched through the dumpsters to retrieve as many books as possible is Paul Lee. He is a Highland Park resident and an historian who helped build the collection of black history books, videos and movies.

Here is a video he shot while looking through the dumpster:

“It favorably compares with a good community college library, and in some respects even a university graduate library in terms of its diversity, range, and depth, and the core of it was Black history and culture,” Lee said of the collection. “It wasn’t just African American, it also covered the entire continent of Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. And there was a substantial collection on indigenous and Native American history and culture.”

According to Lee, the library originally started in the 1960s as material to teach “black studies,” lessons that would help young African Americans build a sense of self-esteem and value.

“I happened to be the first class that was taught black studies,” he said. “I was also the first class to be able to use that library, and my work as a historian since then is based upon the library that I was first exposed to in 1974.”

The collection was estimated at ten thousand volumes before it was thrown away. Lee and his team were able to recover less than one thousand.

“The state imposed emergency manager offered an apology but no explanation,” Lee said. “He only said that contractors were hired to consolidate records. Well, how does consolidation of records equal throwing out a library?”

It is Lee’s feeling that emergency management in Highland Park has turned into a disaster, and that the school district should be returned to the citizens.

-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Listen to the full interview above.