TILTON – Southwest Elementary School’s fourth-graders will spend the next few weeks learning about the people who were instrumental in the civil rights movement of the 1960s as part of a month-long black history project.
On Tuesday, the fourth-graders at the school on Catlin-Tilton Road created a menu-style folder containing handwritten thoughts, observations and points of view about the lunch counter sit-ins as student teacher Maria Parker read them the book, “Freedom on the Menu.”
The activity allowed the youngsters to learn what four young African-American students experienced 60 years ago when they were denied service at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in February 1960 in Greensboro, N.C., and staged a sit-in.
That first sit-in fueled a movement with more sit-ins and civil rights protests in college towns across the South. The effort eventually led to the desegregation of Woolworth’s lunch counters in July 1960.
Parker, who is completing her student teaching requirements through Eastern Illinois University, teaches at Southwest on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. She decided to develop a different activity each day to engage students in black history.
“I came up with them on my own,” Parker said of the activities, which are divided into weekly themes: Father of Black History and Women, Road to Freedom, Dreamers, and Influential People.
“Everyone knows about Martin Luther King and his dream, but there were others who had a dream, too,” she said. “I’m trying to give them something different to think about than Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.
“I wanted to give them a different perspective,” she said. “We’re also learning how to overcome obstacles.”
So far, students have learned about Carter G. Woodson who established Black History Month which initially was only a week long in 1926, civil rights activist Ruby Bridges who became the first African American child to integrate an elementary school in the South, and the Little Rock Nine who were a group of black students that enrolled in September 1957 at the formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.
The fourth-graders also learned about the Green Book that was written by a mailman and provided blacks with listings of hotels and restaurants “where they could stay, where they could eat and where they would be welcome,” Parker said.
“No one wants to feel not welcomed,” she told the students during a recap of what they had already learned from the prior week.
Next week, the youngsters will learn about Madam C.J. Walker who became a millionaire after inventing a hair product that was made in Indianapolis, author Langston Hughes and Alvin Ailey who danced on Broadway.
During the last week of the month, the students will learn about the Tuskegee Airmen and the African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA and calculated rocket trajectory that assisted in winning the space race of the 1960s. Southwest’s project will wrap up with a Juneteenth celebration on Feb. 27.
Continuing on the Road to Freedom this week, Parker engaged the fourth-graders in conversation Tuesday after showing them a historical news clip about the lunch counter sit-ins and while reading the book aloud about it.
In explaining the effectiveness of the Greensboro sit-ins, “This shows you could make a stand by sitting down.”
Parker then gave an example of segregation. “If we wanted to go to the movies together, I would have to walk through the back door. We wouldn’t be able to walk through the same door.
“I would have to sit in the balcony and you would sit below, so we wouldn’t be able to sit together,” she said. “I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like that.”
Fourth-grader Hannah Porter blurted out, “That’s sad.”
Another student gave a sympathetic, “Aww.”
The stories and historical information dispensed by Parker gave the youngsters a better understanding of the impact of the civil rights movement.
“When there were changes, people were surprised,” Hannah said of desegregation.
“It’s sad there was segregation and people had to go to different schools and had different rights,” the astute fourth-grader said. “The Jim Crow laws were wrong.”
Classmate Gabby Brown, who said her favorite black historical figure was Ruby Bridges, agreed with Hannah. “It was sad, but when they changed the rules, it was better.”