The Wyoming State Capitol lit up at night during the 2020 session. An internal memo sent to lawmakers from their fiscal analysts on April 10 predicts revenue drops that could range anywhere from $555 million to $2.8 billion over the next two years. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

CHEYENNE – A freshman Wyoming legislator suggested Wednesday that there are two sides to the history of American slavery, and that Black Americans are “stuck” in a mentality he called “worse than slavery itself.”

“Slavery was something that shouldn’t have happened in America, but it did. But we’ve created slavery into a place that has created a position of being stuck, in my opinion, for a people group,” Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland) told lawmakers Wednesday. “And that’s a sad place to be. And that was probably, in my opinion, worse than the slavery itself, because we have created a place where people cannot get free from because of their past.

Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland)

“So slavery needs to be discussed,” he added. “It needs to be brought forward and the different views, that slavery was not maybe what it has been painted as in this nation, completely.”

Haroldson made the comments as he presented members of the House Education Committee with HB-177 – Education-Understanding federal and state government, a bill that would rewrite parts of Wyoming’s public schools curriculum. 

Haroldson told his fellow lawmakers the bill was inspired by a lack of civics knowledge he had seen exhibited by Wyoming high school students, and as a response to what he described as a system that is “very much tilting more towards a liberal view of education.”

The measure would require Wyoming public schools to not only educate schoolchildren on the United States Constitution — which is already required by law — but also on a number of “threats encountered by the democratic republic and free society,” a list that includes “identity politics,” corruption in government, religious discrimination and “the political extremisms of fascism and communism.”

“I don’t believe that [students are] getting a fully well-rounded view of the founding of this nation,” Haroldson, a pastor, told his fellow lawmakers.

He listed a lack of knowledge of the U.S. Constitution among his concerns as well as what he views as an overemphasis of the subject of structural racism.

Haroldson was stumped, however, when pressed on his own knowledge of the Constitution.

“Do you know what the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution is?” Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) asked Haroldson as he presented the bill. 

“I would have to look at it right now ma’am,” he responded. 

“It’s the right to vote for women,” she said. “And it’s not included in your bill. So I’m curious about that.”

House Education Committee member Rep. Cathy Connolly, (D-Laramie) asks a question Friday, March 5, 2021, inside the state Capitol. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

It’s not the first time Haroldson has made incendiary and insensitive comments. At an anti-mask rally at the Wyoming Capitol earlier this winter, Haroldson compared statewide mask orders to the Holocaust, telling an interviewer “today it’s masks and mandates, tomorrow it’s rail cars and ovens.”

While the bill failed to advance on a 7-2 vote, some committee members expressed interest in his ideas, including Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

Though she offered no comment on the language used in the bill itself, Balow told lawmakers she supported the bill “in concept.” School districts in Wyoming often set their own civics curriculum, she said, adding that purportedly reliable sources of information like the Pulitzer Center have boosted materials like the 1619 Project as acceptable history curriculum.

The 1619 Project is a reporting package by the New York Times that has been maligned by conservatives for its mission to “reframe” the conversation around slavery in American schools. Rather than the promotion of the United States as a racially harmonious society, the 1619 Project argues American society was built on the spoils of slave labor that has continued to have ripple effects throughout the nation’s history, laying the foundation for massive disparities between whites and Blacks that continue to persist today.

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“I do think the directive from the Legislature to teach American exceptionalism is important,” Balow said. “Do I support the specifics on page four [of the bill]? I’m not sure that’s for me to decide.”

Other educators — including the state’s two largest education organizations — opposed the bill, saying it offers prescriptive guidelines for curriculum that don’t exist for other subjects like math or science.

Brian Farmer, a former civics teacher and director of the Wyoming School Board Association, told lawmakers the bill does not even begin to cover the content of the curriculum he taught as a teacher.

Tate Mullen, of the Wyoming Education Association, added there are already numerous, unbiased civics education initiatives in Wyoming schools and that while he would love to expand those efforts, “this is not the way.”

Ultimately, only Connolly spoke out against Haroldson’s comments explicitly.

“The discussion regarding slavery that has happened I find very, very problematic,” Connolly said after her vote. “And I’ll just leave it at that.”

 

Ed. note: This story has been updated with a more complete transcription of Rep. Haroldson’s comments.

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  1. Insensitive and apparently woefully ignorant of American history, Haroldson needs to resign, and my home state of Wyoming needs to wise up and elect more people like Rep. Cathy Connolly, and fast. Sadly, I am happy that I no longer live in Wyoming, where I was born, raised, and educated, as were most of my family since the late 1800s. They were also all Republicans, but not like the so=called Republicans currently in the Wyoming legislature. It is no longer the great state it once was, and I weep for it.

  2. Rep haroldson s idea must be delusional if he thinks there’s a flipside besides slave and slaveowners to this coin. Many a wonder of the world was built using slave labor , the great wall , the pyramids, but it was slavery and the death of thousands that accomplished these feats of wonder . Anyone thinking we need to rewrite the history of slavery in a good light must be delusional .

  3. It sounds like Rep. Haroldson needs to visit the museum linked below. Have we as a country done enough since slavery and segregation and now voting suppression (on top of many other things) to provide Black American’s an equal footing in the country? Is it enough to tell them — many from depressed communities rooted in the history of our country — “just work harder?” Can we tell them that, and then turn around and support laws that make things like voting more difficult? Sure it may not be a thing here in Wyoming where overcrowding is not going to be a problem for a while, but in the South, its very real (third link below for an example of how it’s done — just behind the scenes).

    https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/25/us/lynching-memorial-alabama.html
    https://www.mississippifreepress.org/6492/madison-county-moves-2000-black-hispanic-voters-to-crowded-precinct-with-little-warning/

  4. I propose, not to berate this elected official, but to provide an educational experiment. Replace Pastor Haraldson’s suit with rags, chain him to the stairs inside the Capitol, give him a bucket and corn shuck brush and let him scrub floors on his hands and knees while others walk by and act like he’s invisible. Let his day start with walking to the nearest stream to get water and conclude with him sleeping in a broom closet at night.

    After a month, have him expound on this learning experience and the benefits accrued to his knowledge base. He could more readily speak as an expert on whether or not Americans degraded and dehumanized their fellows in the practice of slavery. He could even add a few Bible verses to assuage his fellow believers, that he is correct and his god is on his side. So, preacher, does that idea suit you?

  5. Each day the state legislature is in session it becomes more and more embarrassing to be from Wyoming. Are these stooges really the best we can elect to lead our state? And the superintendent of education is going along with this? She shouldn’t have anything to do with education. Can someone please tell me what the “other side” of slavery is? Historical facts are not “very much tilting more towards a liberal view of education”, they are simply facts. I’m going to have to move somewhere where the flat earthers are not the majority. Wyoming is an embarrassment.

  6. Thank you, Mr. Reynolds and WyoFile for this reporting.

    I agree with many eloquent and outraged commenters. But let us focus on our students, our young people, who are betrayed by these self-serving adults who insist on keeping them ignorant and backward instead of prepared to participate in a 21st century society. Do we want to handicap and disadvantage our kids in this way? No matter our differences, I think we can agree we want our children to able to be independent, engaged, economically-viable participants in the modern world; this won’t happen by teaching racist, bigoted, fearful, narrow-minded ideas, let alone a curriculum based on lies.

    1. I am in 100% agreement with your comment, however, please allow me to play devil’s advocate (advocatus diaboli) for a moment.

      Put yourself in the mindset of this Wyoming legislator. He has little if any interest in educating our children to be independent, engaged, economically-viable participants in the modern world.

      He will never admit and may not even be aware that he actually wants our children to be racist, bigoted, fearful, and narrow-minded so that they grow up to be staunch right-wing ideologues like this legislator. In coming elections, this will, he hopes, increase the vote totals for the GQP. As if that needed any help in Wyoming.

      This is the Nazi way straight from the 1920s and ’30s. They aimed to de-intellectualize education. They did not want education to provoke people to ask questions or think for themselves. The Nazis wanted to instill obedience and belief in the Aryan worldview, creating the ideal (for them) future generation.

      Schools played an important role in spreading Nazi ideas to German youth. While censors removed some books from the classroom, German legislators introduced new curricula and textbooks that taught students love for Hitler, obedience to state authority, militarism, racism, and antisemitism. Sound familiar?

  7. I am a former WY state resident and am deeply troubled by the ignorant remarks of Mr. Haroldson concerning slavery. Sure, there will always be cranks holding these views, but it is especially concerning when they are elected to public office. Haroldson’s constituents should all feel shame at having elected him. Having ill-informed legislators in the statehouse makes WY look like a state full of idiots, and I know that is not true. The people of WY can and should do better than this!

  8. Haroldson was elected in the primary with the vigorous backing of Wyoming Gun Owners and other right wing organizations. He is part of the effort (funded by Susan Gore and others) that has been pushing the Republican party far to the right. His district was awash in lies on social media about the positions of the former representative. We had a good representative in Platte County, now we have this guy and his destructive views that he is not even able to articulate clearly. This should be a wakeup call to all of Wyoming that conservative values are under assault throughout Wyoming by well funded extremists groups. If people don’t start paying closer attention to voting, our state is headed in a very bad direction. We have enough problems with our financial crisis. We don’t need semiliterate ideologues making decisions that will make our problems worse.

  9. Reminds me of the bewildering comments of the district judge in the Virginia vs. Loving case involving a law making mixed race marriage a felony. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge, and were sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years. The judge stated in an opinion that:

    “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

    The law was declared unconstitutional on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Wyoming’s 1913 law was repealed in 1965.

  10. Rep. Haroldson needs to crawl back under his rock! Based on talking with my nieces and nephews, and other young Wyomingites, there is already a dearth of education in civics in the state, to add ignorant and deliberate lies to the curriculum is malpractice at best. This man has no place in the the discussion.

  11. It isn’t just high school students who need Civics classes. Looks like some legislators need it worse than the kids. To suggest that there are two sides to the slavery question indicates some learning is required.

    1. Which “different views” did he have in mind? Did he propose a few? I’m curious to know what his suggested reading list would be.

  12. All of the scholarly, sensitive, humanistic and accurate comments expressed above maintain my heartfelt optimism in the intrinsic goodness of the people of Wyoming and their future. Those unfortunates who express the sentiments of ignorance as Mr. Haroldson should have no place in our government: local, county, state nor federal. The rub is getting reasonable folks to run for office. Let’s face it, politics is nasty business. Keeping politics out of education is our best bet.

  13. I, too, am doubtful that Haroldson will change his attitude, I suspect it’s deeply ingrained by right-wing propaganda and misinformation. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the only thing that will change attitudes of legislators like him in Wyoming and many of the other red states is the voters.

  14. I was incensed by this article and intended to voice my anger but after reading the eloquent replies above I have nothing to add save that these comments give me hope for our future.

  15. I’m embarrassed to live in the same state with Haroldson and even more concerned with what people from other states will think of Wyoming when they read his garbled comments. Unfortunately Haroldson is not alone in his opinions which may in fact be an accurate reflection of the majority in this state.

  16. I’m sure he’s in favor of every “sin tax” as well, but his time would be better spent working on his syntax. He’d still be wrong, but folks would have an easier time understanding that!

  17. I’m a historian of religions and Haroldson sits right there at the radicalizing edge of white christian nationalism (small c to indicate its lack of historical or doctrinal integrity). His comments are the dog whistles that encourage those on the violent fringe that they are right, and his comments lull the foundation of the Wyoming community whose silence = complicity in white supremacist ideology. See the chart on the variety of roles played by religious people in generating violence here, complete with advice for how to promote dignity when confronting such spokespersons

    See https://www.bioearthcommunity.com/post/how-trumpism-contributes-to-rise-of-the-radical-right-how-to-counter-radicalization-on-any-side?fbclid=IwAR19AzkZM26l0Y80Z8IMX-
    ws6x0X_UTLyZCA18WB9bo3LNTPlYLeoGvLXDo

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/us/how-white-evangelical-christians-fused-with-trump-extremism.html

  18. It’s obvious that Haroldson did not receive the “well-rounded” education that examines ongoing biases, systemic racism and inequalities that still exist today as a result of slavery. His perception of slavery holding people back is true – however it’s more so people like him trying to keep people of color from being able to move forward. All things being equal, people of color have a harder time getting a home loans, have property appraise lower, schools are funded unequally (the list goes on and on) AND are have to deal with a legislature (in ours and many other states) who are doing all they can to limit the right to vote of low income and people of color.. Haroldson has the right idea, but his finger pointing needs to take a 180 turn!

  19. I could care less what Jeremy Haroldson’s views are on slavery but I do find it offensive that he would use his position as a legislator to expand on his opinion of the subject. He is hired to make sure that State Government takes care of the needs of the citizens not to promote his twisted views.

  20. Wow!!!!
    I lived in Wyoming between 1978 and 1993, used to be proud of that.
    After reading this story, not so much now.
    If this is what as become of the state, dear God I’m glad I’m not there.

  21. Wow that is scary. His inability to speak in complete and comprehensible sentences should have everyone of his teachers cringing. Slavery wasn’t as bad as we make it out to be…sure, next let’s address the fact that the holocaust wasn’t that bad either, then we can get around to these socialistic ideas of treating minorities, women and people that, well, are just plain different from him, the same as all the other good old white boys in the state. Time to head back to school for a real education, better yet, don’t reelect him and see if he can function in the real, non-secular world. How about a couple years of missionary work in the SE USA, where Jim Crow still rears it’s ugly head?

  22. Representative Haroldson seems to dwell in the serene confidence of malignant ignorance. It’s hard to imagine how he got through school with such poor understanding of American history. Teachers can only do so much. The rest is up to family.

  23. There is this from Ballotpedia: Jeremy Haroldson was born in Wheatland, WY. Haroldson earned a degree in power plant technology from Bismarck State College in 2006 and a degree in Biblical theology from Global University in 2016. His career experience includes working as a senior pastor of Impact Ministries.

    According to its website, Bismarck State College (aka North Dakota’s Polytechnic Institution), the Power Plant Technology program can be completed in two years or less mostly online.

    According to its website, Global University will prepare you for a future of Christian outreach anywhere in the world with the resources of Global University’s School for Evangelism & Discipleship.

    Impact Ministries is a Kingdom-Minded Assemblies of God affiliated church;. The Assemblies of God is the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination.

    1. You are correct, and Bismark State says it is not a degree, but a certificate program. If Haroldson was really interested in education, he would make the effort to actually get one.

  24. You’re right. Slavery has not been portrayed accurately. Unless you visit the south and have real conversations with African Americans you will be on the wrong side of our history.
    It was much worse than depicted, more dehumanizing and horrifying than any movie has portrayed.
    It is the original sin of America.

  25. It would be good to know where Haroldson was educated. Did he go to a Wyoming high school? High school in another state? Homeschooled?

    I graduated from a Wyoming school and recognized his comments as “Lost Cause” apologia because of my Wyoming education. Where did he get it from?

    Also, this topic, I am 100% behind teaching the constitution, especially in regard to the Civil War. All discussions of the Civil War should start with Art III § 3 of the constitution. This is the definition of treason. It is important for students to understand Robert E Lee and his followers were a traitors, not romantic heroes. Then there should be an entire week on the horrors of chattel slavery, which is why they committed treason.

    Finally, Wyoming students should be challenged to compare the rhetoric of southern fire-eaters and traitors to that of their own leaders, defending their own obsolete economic model, aka coal.

  26. There were two very different sides to slavery. Slave, slave owner. Oppressed, oppressor. If the representative can’t distinguish or acknowledge the grave injustices, the profound scar that bondage has left on our nation I pray his constituents will and that they will demand he resign.