Jessica Blanchard told WJZY that she is “livid” after receiving a video from Ebenezer Avenue Elementary in Rock Hill, which showed her son, Jamari, and his fifth-grade classmates picking cotton while being instructed to sing song lyrics like, “I like it when you fill the sack. I like it when you don’t talk back. Make money for me.” Especially considering the Rock Hill School district didn’t tell students about the history of cotton fields being harvested by African-Americans.
“I’m African-American and my ancestors picked cotton. Why would I want my son to pick cotton and think it’s fun?” Blanchard told the local Charlotte outlet. “I think it’s making a mockery. A mockery of slavery. A mockery of what our people went through.”
Administrators say that the annual field trip to the Carroll School — which was opened as part of the Rosenwald Initiative in 1929 and restored by Rock Hill Schools in 2004 — has nothing to do with slavery. Instead, they tell Yahoo Lifestyle that it’s an opportunity to learn about the Great Depression.
The Rosenwald initiative began in 1912, when Booker T. Washington approached the president of Sears Roebuck, Julius Rosenwald, leading to a foundation that underwrote and a series of schools, stores and teachers’ houses built in 15 states by and for African-Americans.
“As one of the only remaining Rosenwald Schools in operation, the school exists to promote understanding about our past, specifically the Great Depression and schooling in America,” a statement from Rock Hill Schools reads. “The students are afforded an opportunity to learn directly from two local men, one of whom is a former student of the Carroll School, who lead students through a variety of hands-on activities and experiences. As part of the fifth-grade curriculum, students study the Great Depression time period, and this field trip helps students make real-life connections to this era in American history.”
An instructor and former student at the Carroll School, Wali Cathcart, echoed the same message, telling WJZY that slavery is a topic that students learn about in third grade, and reiterated that this program is about something different.
“This program here is centered around the Great Depression of the 1930s, so slavery is not the predominant issue,” Cathcart said.
When pressed further about why the topic of slavery is completely skipped over during a program that encourages children to pick cotton, Rock Hill Schools spokesman, Mychal Frost, shut down his interview with the local outlet. Blanchard remains upset about the fact that her son viewed the program as a game and admitted to WJZY that his peers thought that the singing and picking cotton “was funny.”
Now, administrators from the school are having conversations with Blanchard about how to improve the program, after she told WJZY that she supports the Carroll School but believes the field trip is “misguided.”
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