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NY School Replaced ‘Jingle Bells’ Song Because Of Racist History, ‘Use Of Collars On Slaves With Bells’

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A public school in New York state chose not to sing Christmas’ “Jingle Bells” because of the claim that its origins are linked to 19th-century minstrel shows.

The Rochester Beacon reported on December 23 that “‘Jingle Bells’ isn’t being sung anymore at Brighton’s Council Rock Primary School” because — according to Council Rock principal Matt Tappon — it has “the potential to be controversial or offensive.”

“Tappon and other staff confirmed by email that the decision to remove the song was based in part on information in a 2017 article written by professor Kyna Hamill, director of Boston University’s Core Curriculum,” the Beacon explained. “Hamill’s article is a deep dive (nearly 12,000 words including appendices and footnotes) into the origin of ‘Jingle Bells,’ the life of its composer, James L. Pierpont, and the popularity of sleigh songs in the mid-1800s. She found documents showing that the song’s first public performance may have occurred in 1857 at a Boston minstrel show. Minstrelsy was a then-popular form of entertainment in which white actors performed in blackface.”

When told that the school removed “Jingle Bells” in part because of her research, Hamill responded, “I am actually quite shocked the school would remove the song from the repertoire. … I, in no way, recommended that it stopped being sung by children.”

“My article tried to tell the story of the first performance of the song, I do not connect this to the popular Christmas tradition of singing the song now,” Hamill continued. “The very fact of (‘Jingle Bells’) popularity has to do (with) the very catchy melody of the song, and not to be only understood in terms of its origins in the minstrel tradition. … I would say it should very much be sung and enjoyed, and perhaps discussed.”

Following Hamill’s response, Allison Rioux, Brighton Central School District assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, offered a different reason for removing “Jingle Bells.” 

“Some suggest that the use of collars on slaves with bells to send an alert that they were running away is connected to the origin of the song Jingle Bells,” Rioux wrote. “While we are not taking a stance to whether that is true or not, we do feel strongly that this line of thinking is not in agreement with our district beliefs to value all cultures and experiences of our students.”

“For this reason,” Rioux concluded, “along with the idea that there are hundreds of other 5 note songs, we made the decision to not teach the song directly to all students.”

“The use of bells on enslaved peoples may be true, but there is no connection to the song that I have discovered in my research,” Hamill responded. “Perhaps finding a well-referenced source for this claim might be in order if that is what (school officials) want to determine as the cause for not singing it.”

Ian Haworth is an Editor and Writer for The Daily Wire. Follow him on Twitter at @ighaworth.

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