An annual “slave/branding auction” hosted by a high school club is a decades-long tradition in Faith, South Dakota, a town of about 400 people.
The Faith High School Rodeo Club planned to have this year’s auction on Monday, but the event was canceled after some people criticized it for being racist and inappropriate.
As part of the club’s fundraiser, which also includes a pancake supper and pie auction, students offer to work for someone for a day in exchange for a donation to the club, according to Dakota News Now.
In a tweet on Wednesday, state Rep. Linda Duba, a Democrat, called the event “ridiculous, tone deaf and blatantly racist garbage.”
Mark Blackburn, dean of students for South Dakota’s Augustana University, called it “demeaning of black culture and humanity,” Dakota News Now reported.
Fliers for the auction were shared on social media, and it appeared on the school’s online calendar, though the district’s superintendent said Faith High was not affiliated with the event, KELO-TV reported.
The auction is a 40-year-old tradition, said Glenda McGinnis, whose Community Action Club owns the town’s Legion Hall where it was set to take place next week.
She told The Washington Post she was naive to the choice of words.
“I even got a call from a local cowboy who said: ‘How’s this going down? It’s not right,’” McGinnis said, according to The Post. “I told him we weren’t doing anything wrong. And he explained, ‘Well, it’s how it was advertised that’s wrong.’”
Slave-auction fundraisers are also held elsewhere in South Dakota. The work can include everything from “waiting tables to hauling hay or moving cattle,” according to a 2011 article from the Butte County Post.
An auction hosted by the Pierre/Fort Pierre High School Rodeo Club was held in 2019, despite criticism from local residents, the Capital Journal reported. One resident said it didn’t consider the feelings of American Americans.”
The event in Faith was canceled by the club’s adviser, who chose not to carry it on with a different name The Washington Post reported.
Community activist Julian Beaudion said elected officials in Faith should speak out against the auction “and acknowledge the hatred it portrays.”
Duba told The Post the event’s name “displayed a tone deafness that is inexcusable.”
“We are better than this,” she said.