Gugulethu Moyo, who until very recently served as the first Black, woman executive director of Tuscon’s Jewish History Museum recently announced she had resigned from her post. The news came during a talk on diversifying leadership positions in museums, called “Space Makers and Risk Takers.” Instead, Moyo told the audience that she wasn’t sure how to make inroads in the industry, as she had left her job after being criticized for attempting to make connections between historical discrimination against Jewish people and the recent police murders of Black Americans, including George Floyd.
In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Moyo described telling the audience about the disconnect she felt between the optimistic subject of the event and her own personal experience. “I told them, ‘I can’t talk about that because I was unable any longer to make space for me,’ she said. Moyo resigned just six months after a unanimous decision by the board of the Tuscon museum to promote her from operations director to executive director. Moyo said that a culture of racism made it impossible to do her job, and the same board that once fully supported her now threatens to sue her for “leaking private information,” according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“I faced gender discrimination and racism, and it was a toxic environment with the board never letting me run the organization I was hired to run. I was not treated as a leader,” Moyo said, adding that she is being blamed for problems that existed before she stepped into her role.
A letter sent to Moyo by the board’s attorney listed her shortcomings, which reportedly included failing to add two employees to the payroll and not giving them the employees the proper tax forms, but the real motivation behind the suit seems to be what the board describes as attempts to “use confidential JHM materials to pursue a negative publicity campaign.”
That negative publicity could have to do with the fact that wealthy donors would like Moyo to shut up about Black Lives Matter. Wayne and Amy Gould, donors with a surname appearing on the museum’s Holocaust History Center, took issue with Moyo’s approach to connecting Jewish history to contemporary culture, namely a presentation about racism and cash bail:
“I saw a presentation from the center about bail bonds and I’m thinking, ‘What does that have to do with Holocaust education?’” Gould told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We donate to anything that helps educate people about the horrors of the Holocaust, as long as it is apolitical.”
After the Goulds took back their little nameplate, shit hit the fan for Moyo. Despite being assured via email by museum’s board chair, Eric Schindler, that people like the Goulds wouldn’t be “placated,” Moyo says that Schindler gave Moyo a “compliment” involving her “past trauma” that was apparently so offensive that even a board member who witnessed the exchange emailed Schindler about its inappropriateness.
Moyo also says she was expected to work weekends and clean toilets at the museum, tasks that are not generally expected of executive directors:
“Has it occurred to you and the rest of the JHM board that I am a human being and I cannot work 24/7 even if I could be adequately compensated for giving all my waking hours to JHM business?” she wrote to Kirshner, the museum’s president, on April 22. “I never thought I would have to say this at work, but it seems necessary to say this to you: Slavery was officially abolished in the USA quite some time ago.”
The board is currently demanding that Moyo return communications and records, among other conditions, or she will not receive a promised 90-day payout from the museum and the lawsuit will go forward.