Bringing History Alive

Como-Pickton students get a standing ovation for their Black History Month program

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Mar. 1, 2007 - More than two dozen youths showed their pride in and dedication to keeping alive their heritage during a Black History Month program featuring volunteers from first graders through senior students at Como-Pickton school this week.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

Como-Pickton 5th grade student Grant Russell plays the keyboard while his older sister Madalyn (not pictured), a high school student, directs other students as they sing during the Black History Program held Tuesday in the cafeteria.

The students presented the 30-minute special, which concluded with four contemporary praise songs that had the audience on their feet clapping and singing along. Grant Russell's impressive accompaniment on keyboards really made "Shake the Fountain," "Hold On," "Miracles," and "This Little Light" live, so much so that performers received a standing ovation.

This year marks the first time in several years C-P students have taken an active role in the Black History Month program. In recent years, special guest speakers have visited the school to talk on the topic.

The program recognizing influential African Americans who helped shape American history included brief portrayals of Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Green Flake, Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as two narrators.

The program began with narrators James Carter and Lanequia Bryant discussing the history of African Americans. They fought in the Revolutionary War for equality, and the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They also noted that the majority of African Americans trace their heritage back to slave ships, which brought kidnapped Africans to America and treated them as property.

They also noted slave ship captain John Newton, who out of hate for the slaving business wrote "Amazing Grace." "He wrote it one stormy night when it seemed the ocean would swallow him and all his ship — with hundreds of slaves — whole," Carter said. 

Bryant then noted how the slaves' names were changed from African to English, and their children were raised to speak English.

Kala George, as Nat Turner, told of a vision the slave, born Benjamen Turner, had of a bloody rebellion between "white spirits and black spirits" which Turner was compelled to lead.

Carter told how Turner and many other slaves were executed, but gained attention of abolitionists who wanted to "get rid of" slavery, including Frederick Douglass, a slave who ran away and became a well-known abolitionist speaker on the evil of slavery.

Kaycee Thomas, as Frederick Douglass, noted falling asleep as a child only to waken to find his mother dead, and later learned that, despite the fact that she as a field hand in a slave state, she could read.

Bryant then introduced Sojourner Truth, also a former slave who stood up for human rights.

Delandria Pryor as Soujourner Truth spoke of working just as hard as a men in the fields "I tell you, the meanest child of glory outshines the brightest sun!" she proclaimed.

Carter then introduced Harriet Tubman and her work on the Underground Railroad rescuing other runaway slaves, leading them to safe houses. "Like Moses of old, she led slaves to a promised land," he read.

Meghyn Robinson, as a very animated Tubman, got a good chuckle when she said, "... there was one or two things I had a right to: liberty or death. If I could not have one, I would have the other, for no man should take me alive."

Bryant introduced Green Flake, one of three "colored servants" who made the journey west to Utah with pioneers. He was later honored on Pioneer Recognition Day.

Brandon Bryant recited Green Flake's answer to a young girl's inquiry as to what it was like being a slave. "Being a slave is all right, if you just want to be a slave, that is. But many of us colored folk wanted a better life, if we could find one. I was raised a slave and had a master to tell me what to do. Most everyone don't want to be a slave and be in bondage to another, because you can't have even your own thoughts and dreams. You can't plan for the future when all decisions gets made by someone else."

Narrator Bryant explained that "the need for freedom is deep in all of us" and was often expressed in song.

Narrator Carter explained freedom for slaves during the Civil War meant a lot of death and war. While emancipation followed, new challenges presented themselves, in the form of illiteracy, lack of quality schools and money. Many freed slaves continued to farm the land and sell crops, while some moved in search of a better life. "Some found it, and some found only sorrow and trouble."

Lanequia Bryant explained that education and "vision of what we could be, not just what we'd been" were crucial. Booker T. Washington was one of many to build schools to educate freed slaves and their children, laying a foundation ensuring continued opportunities at Tuskeegee Institute which others continued to building upon.

Booker T. Washington, portrayed by Audra Smith, believed by placing educated men and women in southern communities, "everyone will benefit from their contributions. Conditions for all people will be improved. This is my goal for Tuskeegee Institute."

Bryant then explained that "full freedom" for all wasn't obtained until after the Civil Rights Movement, which included many people who were willing to "stand up" for those rights. Or, as was the case for Rosa Parks, someone refusing to stand up.

Madalyn Russell, as Rosa Parks, noted many consider Dec. 5, 1955 — the day she was arrested in her hometown of Montgomery, Ala., for refusing to give her seat on a city bus to a white man — "as the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement that transformed America and influenced freedom revolutions around the world."

Carter then introduced perhaps the most well known and influential African American to help "us realize our worth and our dreams" — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here," DeQuavian Mosley, as Martin Luther King Jr., recited from King's "I Have a Dream" speech. "I am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own hometown. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Narrator Bryant closed the play portion of the program out by encouraging each child to "dream high. Lift up your heads and dream high. And lift every voice and sing."

The choir, added to the program at the request of the students during the course of their month-long preparations, sang a moving rendition of "Shake the Foundation," "Hold On," "Miracles" and closed with "This Little Light," explaining that songs were often sung by the slave as means of keeping spirits up and communicating with each other, particularly during times of strife or when trying to escape.

The song concluded with nearly every person standing, swaying and clapping in time to "This Little Light," which the audience joined in on the last verse to "let it shine all around the the sleepy school." Then came a standing ovation.

All of the students who had reading or acting parts also performed in the choir which also included Telluah Bozeman, Dantae Hall, Zack Robinson, Selena Hernandez, Charity Sims, Melivn Jackson, Breanna Peoples, Malik Gray, Terrence Crater, Xsarrius Askew, Tamira English and Derrick Robinson. Alex Williams acted as sound man.

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