Four years before Donald Trump became president, a teacher in a small Wisconsin community was reprimanded for telling two students they couldn’t play Abraham Lincoln in school plays because they were “too dark-skinned” to play the famed president.
According to an investigation by Wisconsin’s Marshfield News-Herald newspaper, it wasn’t the first time teachers in Marshfield, a small community of about 20,000 people located 160 miles northwest of Milwaukee, were discriminatory towards their students.
Documents about the 2012 incident, in which music teacher Pam Nikolai at the town’s Lincoln Elementary School told students they were “too dark-skinned” to play the school’s namesake, were turned over to the News-Herald after they requested records regarding a similar event in 2016. That year, school investigators found “substantial evidence” that two teachers casting a student performance of The Sound of Music violated policy after casting an all-white Von Trapp family — a fact parents took offence to.
“The person playing Lincoln should be white,” one student recalled Nikolai saying after the school district launched an investigation into the incident.
“I feel undermined, my reputation damaged, my job security threatened and it’s making me physically ill,” Nikolai, who continued to work at the school until her retirement in 2016, wrote in a letter to school investigators.