James Whitfield, a Black educator, said he was asked by his school district in 2019 to remove Facebook photos of himself and his wife, who is white, embracing on a beach.
In June 2019, shortly after James Whitfield, a Black educator, was hired as the principal of a middle school in Colleyville, Texas, an administrator with the school district called and asked him to take down photos on Facebook that showed him and his wife, who is white, embracing intimately on a beach.
Puzzled why someone had dug up 10-year-old images of the couple celebrating their anniversary in Mexico, Dr. Whitfield nonetheless complied by changing the settings to “Only Me.”
But the photos have now resurfaced amid a controversy over racism that erupted in the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District after Dr. Whitfield wrote a Facebook post on Saturday about the request. Some have publicly called for Dr. Whitfield to be fired, citing unrelated messages in which he invoked race, while others have circulated a petition in support of his work.
When Dr. Whitfield, 43, asked in 2019 what was wrong with the photos, “The response was ‘nothing,’” he recalled in an interview on Wednesday. “Then they proceeded to say: ‘We just don’t want to get stuff stirred up. So if you could take it down, we would appreciate it.’”
From that moment, Dr. Whitfield said, he had a sense that issues of race would overshadow his tenure as a Black educator rising in the ranks of the district’s public school system.
“I knew what would come one day,” he said. “I knew a day like this would be here.”
Dr. Whitfield said he wrote the post — the first time he has addressed his situation publicly — because he could no longer be silent after he was criticized on July 26 during a previously scheduled board meeting that was open to residents of the district, where he is now the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School.
At the meeting, Dr. Whitfield’s name was thrust into some of the most pressing racial debates in the United States, including loaded discussions of critical race theory, last summer’s protests after the death of George Floyd, and programs meant to ensure equality and diversity.
“For the better part of the last year, I’ve been told repeatedly to just ‘get around the fact that there are some racist people’ and ‘just deal with it and stay positive’ each time the racist tropes reared their heads, but I will stay silent no longer,” Dr. Whitfield wrote.
“I am not the CRT (Critical Race Theory) Boogeyman,” he wrote. “I am the first African American to assume the role of Principal at my current school in its 25-year history, and I am keenly aware of how much fear this strikes in the hearts of a small minority who would much rather things go back to the way they used to be.”