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Dallas-area school named after grandson of former slave is reviewing if his biography is 'appropriate' to teach

George Dawson didn't learn to read until he was 98 years old and published his biography the year before he died.

SOUTHLAKE, Texas — George Dawson was a lifelong Dallas resident, the grandson of a slave, and he didn’t learn to read until he was 98. He published his biography Life is So Good at more than a century old.

Carroll ISD, in Southlake, has a middle school named for him, but the district is now reviewing if his book is appropriate in its entirety for students at the school.

The district declined an interview but said in a statement the book has not been banned or challenged by a parent. It said some content was deemed inappropriate after a seventh grade teacher requested to teach it.

Much of Dawson’s surviving family still lives in North Texas. His great-grandson, Chris Irvin, wasn’t aware the district was reviewing the book.

“That’s hurtful,” he said. “You take away the bad and the ugly and you only talk about the good, that doesn’t add up.”

Irvin, who studied African American history in college, was also confused because he says he and his family have visited the school at least five separate times for a full cover-to-cover reading of the biography.

“Black history is American history. You can’t have one without the other,” he said. "I can’t go to your history and tell you, 'hey x that out of your life, that didn’t happen.'"

District administration said in an email it couldn’t share what content was deemed inappropriate until the review was complete, but said an evaluation is ongoing with options from removing sections to notifying parents.

“My question then would be when are they ready?” Irvin said.

“It’s not surprising to me,” said Raven Rolle, a 2019 Carroll ISD grad and former Dawson Middle student. “It’s disappointing, but I’m not surprised.”

Rolle is also a member of Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition, or SARC, which attempted to push a diversity and inclusion plan in the district for several years. Carroll is one of many districts to have highly publicized controversies over books in classrooms.

Last year, a district administrator was captured on a recording telling teachers to make sure to have books with opposing viewpoints of issues including the Holocaust and attempted to reprimand a teacher over a book titled "This Book is Anti-Racist.”

Rolle wishes the school and district spent more time sharing Dawson's story when she was a student.

“Just personally because of my family and my friends and stuff, I knew who George Dawson was,” she said. “Let’s also talk about why he wasn’t able to learn to read until he was 98. A lot of it has to do with his identity as a Black man.”

Irvin suspects chapter one, which describes a lynching, could the problem.

“His best friend was actually accused of raping a white woman,” he said of Dawson. “So, he sat there with his dad and watched his best friend getting lynched for a crime that he did not commit.”

Dawson was born in 1898 and died in Dallas in 2001 at the age of 103, just a year after he published his book.

“You can say, 'Hey, my life wasn’t all good. My life wasn’t all bad,'” Irvin said. “It’s the whole puzzle piece that’s puts this all together that makes this worthwhile, makes us human.”

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