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The James A. Burran Bell Tower is located in the quadrangle at Dalton State College. / Staff file photo

This story was updated at 11:07 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, with more information.

A professor at Dalton State College has taken heat online and from some in the community for tweets he posted in 2017 and more recently amid racial unrest, police brutality and nationwide demonstrations.

Seth Weitz has been a history professor at Dalton State for 11 years. In that time, he's taught classes on U.S. history, African American history, the Civil Rights Movement, Latin American history and Georgia history.

After the Charlottesville, Virginia, "Unite the Right" rally where James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters and killed Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist, Weitz posted a profanity-filled series of tweets that criticized white people.

Fields was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Following the white nationalist rally, Weitz tweeted "white people have had everything handed to them in this country since the 1500s."

"I don't care if the white people are dirt poor, they still have privilege," he tweeted. "Excuse me if I don't care and lose sleep over their factories closing and someone forgetting about 'middle America.'"

Weitz, a white man, told the Times Free Press Wednesday that the collage of his tweets that went viral a month ago was taken out of context but admitted he let his emotions get the best of him and didn't use the best word choices to get his message across.

The collection of tweets from Weitz included four from 2017 following the Charlottesville rally. It also included more recent tweets including one from May 16 that read, "Recording the first lectures for my summer course. Two thoughts. 1. White people suck. 2. I hate the sound of my voice."

Other tweets echoed what Weitz told the Times Free Press about some students in the past criticizing him for "hating" white people after he taught a course on U.S. Civil Rights. 

Another tweet from June 16 read, "If you don't believe there is white privilege, you are racist."

Before Weitz posted his series of four tweets, he was going back and forth with someone else on Twitter who said white privilege does not exist, Weitz said. Another person had called Weitz, who is Jewish, an anti-Semitic slur, and that's when he decided to post the tweets in question.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga area college students face work/study challenges amid COVID-19)

"Obviously, a poor word choice on my part," Weitz said. "If I had it over again, I wouldn't have this profanity-laced tweet, but I'm unapologetic in fighting for social justice."

Since an anonymous Twitter user put together Weitz's 2017 tweets and a few others he posted this year, the professor has received threatening emails, texts and voicemails. He's even received death threats, he said.

Weitz filed an incident report with the police department in Chattanooga, where he lives.

Dalton State, through communications manager Misty Watson, said in a statement that the school is aware of Weitz's comments but doesn't plan on taking any disciplinary action against him.

"We do not condone language that goes against our mission to create a safe, diverse learning environment," the statement said. "As a public institution, we must uphold the First Amendment, which prohibits us from punishing protected speech, even if we do not like or agree with what is said. Should we find evidence of harmful language being used inside the classroom or on campus, we would take the appropriate action."

Weitz has since suspended his Twitter account.

He also emphasized that he has never brought his personal politics into his classroom. Weitz has had six or seven students in the last 11 years write in evaluations about how he has been critical of white people and their role in the country's history, which he said he welcomes.

"I've had students say I hate white people because I teach African American history. I've had students say I hate white people because I teach that slavery was the cause of the Civil War," Weitz said. "I stress this all the time: I do not bring politics into the classroom. I absolutely do not. I teach history, and if I say that something happens and someone disagrees with it because that's their political beliefs, that's not me bringing my personal beliefs into the classroom."

(READ MORE: Confederate statue in Dalton, Georgia, square comes under fire from activists)

Weitz also said he's been encouraged by the number of students who have supported him on social media in the past week. Some people in the community have been critical, and he understands why, but most of his former students know the viral tweets don't reflect his teaching philosophy, he said.

Reflecting on the incident, Weitz said he will always advocate for people speaking their minds, but those who might find themselves in a similar position should be more careful with their words.

"I want to always encourage people to stand up for what they believe in and to fight for what they believe in," he said. "Maybe don't let your emotions get the best of you. Choose your words carefully."

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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