Students on April trip to capital gain an insight on black history

Fifth-graders from Yvonne C. Reed Christian School spent five days in Baltimore and Washington.

Published May 15, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Sofia Forte's fifth-grade class has read all about the history of slavery in the United States.

They've learned about President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery. And time and again, they've seen footage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the Mall in Washington, D.C.

But those lessons gained relevance for Forte's students after a five-day trip to Baltimore and the nation's capital in April.

The students from Yvonne C. Reed Christian School were particularly affected by a day trip to the National Great Blacks In Wax Museum in Baltimore. The museum has exhibits on the Middle Passage, the Underground Railroad and the Jim Crow era.

"It helped me understand things about the way black people were treated, " said Morgan Floyd, 11.

Though some of the exhibits included graphic depictions of the treatment of slaves, parents and teachers who chaperoned the trip thought the students would benefit from the dose of reality, school leader Yvonne Clayton said.

"They're learning the truth, " Clayton said. "Once you see it, it comes to life."

Hydeia Thomas, 10, said she was astonished to learn more about African history. "We used to be kings and queens and pharaohs (before the slave trade), " she said.

Hydeia said she found it disturbing that slaves weren't allowed an education. "They didn't want us to learn how to read. They wanted you to stay ignorant."

In Baltimore, the students also visited the NAACP headquarters, the Frederick Douglass Isaac Myers Maritime Park, and the Orchard Street Church, which was a stop along the Underground Railroad.

Several of the children said it made them "sad" to see how blacks were treated during slavery and the segregation era. "Some of that stuff I didn't really know about, " said India Williams, 10.

The museum also has several exhibits on African-American leaders in science, business, education and other areas. It was valuable for the kids to see people who look like them doing great things, Clayton said. "They don't see very many positive things that represent the black race, " Clayton said.

In Washington, the kids stood at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his powerful speech in 1963. They also visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the National Museum of the American Indian and the U.S. Botanic Garden.

The trip for the 22 students was funded through donations.

Clayton said that traveling to new places broadens the mind and she hopes each class of fifth-graders can take an educational trip in the spring. Clayton said she'd like her students to go to Birmingham, Ala., a center of the civil rights movement.

The students kept journals and took pictures with donated cameras to document their trip for a class project. They'll share their scrapbooks with family members at their graduation ceremony Monday night.

Forte said the trip sparked insightful discussion with the kids about the history - and future - of African-Americans.

"I think they learned a lot more about their own culture. What I've talked about, they got a chance to actually see, and it was even more extended."