The first time a portion of an article I wrote for publication was censored was when I was 13-years-old by the faculty adviser of the John Hill junior high school newspaper “The Jaguar,” in Jan. 1970. That issue of the newspaper was 28 pages long. We ran copies of it off on a mimeograph next to containers of civil defense fallout shelter supplies in a closet on the basement floor.
The topic of my article was hardly controversial. I was reporting the results of the school’s annual talent show. I cited the names of the judges, the lighting crew, and the names of the third-, second- and first-place winners. For the third- and second-place winners, the details of their performances were specific. But for the first place-winner, the reporting was inconsistent. There was a two-way tie for first place. One was a performance of “Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Opus 27, No. 1, movement two.” That tied with a performance by five students and is simply listed as a “song and dance routine.”
I remember that routine vividly and had even talked about it with my classmate Lloyd Wisdom about six years ago after we’d reconnected on social media. James Brown’s “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” began playing over the speakers in the auditorium as Lloyd and four other African American classmates walked in, in unison. As Brown sang out “Say It Loud,” Lloyd and company raised their gloved fists in the air and shouted, “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” The five classmates stepped loudly and made their way up the middle aisle and to the stage and then exited similarly as the song came to an end. I recall there being wild applause, although Lloyd told me he didn’t remember the applause being as wild as I’d remembered.
It wasn’t until I received a package from an old friend a few weeks ago that I remembered that the title of Brown’s song was edited from my article. My friend’s aunt had collected the newspaper and many other artifacts from our childhood. He received the newspaper after she’d died and thought I would like to have it.
I don’t remember how hard I argued to keep the title of the song in the article. I remember the faculty adviser as sometimes being harsh and once accusing me of plagiarism before confirming that I had indeed interviewed the Town of Boonton’s postmaster, but neither is an excuse for not having fought harder. Lloyd’s and his fellow performers’ names were in the article, and all of the students at the school knew what the performance had been. That too was not enough reason for not having fought harder.
It’s 52 years too late to right a wrong, but it’s never too late for an apology. Sadly, Lloyd died unexpectedly last August, shortly after we talked about baseball and the woeful record of his beloved Baltimore Orioles. Another classmate who performed with Lloyd at our junior high talent show was in touch about 10 years ago, and we caught up then. We’re more than overdue to catch up again. It seems as if the right thing would be to apologize for not fighting harder 52 years ago.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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