They were dressed in lab coats, baseball uniforms, dresses and coats and ties. When you pushed the buttons on their shoulders, you got a history lesson.
“Hello, my name is George Washington Carver. I was born into slavery in Diamond, Missouri around 1864. I was a prominent scientist and inventor. I was known for discovering countless uses for the peanut and other important crops during my time working at the Tuskegee Institute. I died in 1943.”
“Hi, my name is Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks was born in Alabama in 1913. She started school in 1918. Rosa Parks married her husband, Raymond Parks, in 1932. In 1964, the Civil Rights Bill becomes law. Rosa Parks started the bus boycott when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on the bus. Rosa Parks then passed away at the age of 92 in 2005. Thank you for listening.”
The best way to learn is by doing, and the students at Holloway Elementary School learned about Black History Month this week by becoming, for a week, some of our country’s greatest African-Americans and sharing their stories in a “wax museum” exhibit in the school gymnasium.
“We decided we wanted to do something a little different than a formal program. We wanted it to be more of an educational process for the kids,” said Holloway fourth-grade teacher Alfreda Davis. “We just wanted the kids to know more about the African-American contribution to American history as a whole.”
Students researched famous African-Americans and created posters, cereal boxes, brochures and other projects to show what they’d learned. Each morning this week, students in the third, fourth and fifth grades dressed up as those historical figures, buttons on their shoulders, and stood in the school gymnasium while parents, community members and other students filed in.
When their button was pressed, they told their story.
“Hank Aaron was born on February 5, 1934. In 1951, the manager of the Mobile Black Bears, a local semi-pro team, saw him playing at Carver and asked him to join. In 1954, Hank Aaron’s dream came true as a professional baseball player. From 1954 to 1976, Hank Aaron hit 755 home runs and was awarded the Most Valuable Player Award. Thank you.”
“Hi, my name is Bessie Coleman. I was an American civil aviator. I was the first woman of both African-American and Native American descent to hold a pilot’s license. At a very young age, I developed an interest in flying by listening to many African-American war heroes tell stories about the war. Because African-Americans and women were not allowed to attend flight school, I worked hard to save money and go to France to become a licensed pilot. After I achieved my goal in 1921, I soon became a successful airshow pilot in the United States. I wanted to start a school for African-American fliers, but I died in an airplane crash in 1926 while testing one of my new aircraft. My pioneering role was inspirational to the African-American community and still is today.”
The historical figures represented ranged from Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, to athletes like Hank Aaron and Jesse Owens, to entertainers like Eddie Murphy and Ruben Studdard, to pioneers like Bessie Coleman and George Washington Carver.
One even portrayed his great-grandmother, and brought his grandmother along to watch.
“Mattie Richardson Diamond was born on February 25, 1922, in Prichard, Alabama. Mrs. Diamond was educated in the public school system. Mrs. Diamond was appointed the first African-American to the Board of Registry on Oct. 3, 1983. Prichard, Alabama, dedicated a street in her honor – Mattie R. Diamond Boulevard. This event happened on August 5, 2008. Mrs. Diamond was a widow, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.”