On February 26th, the Starrett Early Learning Center’s (ELC) pre-kindergarten classroom was jam-packed with parents eager to see their children’s Black History Month performances. Pinned against the walls were paper landscapes adorned with rolling hills and stars shaped like the various constellations. Cascading from the ceiling to the floor were long, paper tree trunks, giving off the illusion of a forest.
Dressed in ragged costumes, similar to what a slave would have worn circa 1800, the students began to sing, “Follow the drinking gourd, for the old man is waitin’ for to carry you to freedom. Follow the drinking gourd.” One young girl, portraying Harriet Tubman, grabbed another student’s hand and guided him through the paper trees. “When the sun comes up, and the first Quail calls follow the drinking gourd,” the students sang as more children followed “Tubman” through the makeshift forest. This performance was based on a song slaves frequently used in the Underground Railroad. Hidden within the lyrics are clues on an escape route from Alabama to the Ohio River, and then to their freedom—the North.
“Watching them sing and act out the drinking gourd gave me goose bumps. These kids are outstanding, the discipline and knowledge they displayed was magnificent,” said Lyneth Cornwall after watching her granddaughter’s performance.
Tubman, the legendary abolitionist who escaped slavery and led hundreds to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad was one of many figures represented at the ELC’s show. The group of four and five-year-olds spent Black History Month learning about the innovators, civil rights activists and trail blazers who have shaped American History. Students donned outfits that represented the figures they were portraying, and then recited facts and quotes about their characters. Whether they were jumping into space as Mae Jemison, reciting literary quotes from Maya Angelou, or showing off the tenacity of Madam CJ Walker, the children were excited to exhibit the knowledge they gathered over the course of their history lessons.
“I thought their performance was great! It’s so nice that they are learning about history so early. It gets them thinking about their futures, and if they will follow in the same career paths as the characters they portrayed,” said Christine Moore, whose four-year-old daughter played Madam CJ Walker, an African American entrepreneur, philanthropist and beauty care inventor.
Photos by Amanda Moses