Controversy erupted recently over including a local politician and activist in a Black History Month display at Walton Middle School—and we bet you can guess who it is.
City Councilor Wes Bellamy had some community members clutching their metaphorical pearls when his photo appeared alongside those of historical black figures such as Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Barack Obama, in an exhibit of approximately 50 photos that lined several hallways of the school.
“It was a desire to slip a very non-deserving person over on the teachers, community, and, most horribly, the students,” says Tom Stargell, a retired Walton teacher of nearly 40 years, who helped open the school in 1975.
Stargell’s concerns also appeared in the Scottsville Weekly, where he asked a representative from the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to respond.
Supervisor Rick Randolph, who represents Scottsville, said in a written note to the paper that the school board would be a more appropriate group from which to solicit a response, but he also offered a few of his own thoughts.
“As a former middle school teacher, my strong suspicion is that not a single student at Walton, unprompted by an adult, has taken offense to this photo of the Bellamy family,” said Randolph. “Even if a student did notice this inoffensive picture, Dr. Bellamy deserves consideration as a positive role model for all youth.”
County resident Denise Davis, in an email to ACPS Superintendent Matt Haas, disagrees. “I am trying to comprehend how and why anyone of you could arrive at such twisted logic that it is appropriate to place Wes Bellamy’s picture alongside of the distinguished African Americans in the hall at Walton Middle School. This is a man who is a known racist, has verbally made it clear he absolutely has no use for white people, and, as you may recall, made the statement ‘it is not rape if she moans.’”
Middle school principal Josh Walton said in a statement that Bellamy is among the local black leaders who volunteered to work with students in the M-Cubed program at the school, which was developed to help male African American students improve in math. His wife also works at Walton.
“The use of Mr. Bellamy’s photo, nonetheless, was inappropriate,” said the principal, because Bellamy is up for re-election this year, and Walton says the school wouldn’t want it to appear as a political endorsement.
“More important,” the principal added, “I do not believe his inclusion in the exhibit fit with the theme of recognizing African American role models down through history who have had a lasting and positive influence upon our nation.”
Says Stargell, “No doubt there are persons at Walton who wish to further Mr. Bellamy’s political agenda…They got caught. They now say Bellamy was not deserving.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, is [Walton] that far out into left field shooting marbles, or does he honest to God think that Wes Bellamy is some shining star?” asks Davis.
All of the leaders’ photos were taken down at the end of the month. According to county schools spokesperson Phil Giaramita, next year students will have a role in deciding how to celebrate Black History Month.
Bellamy declined to comment.