Black History Comes To Life

Students Learn An 'Unforgettable Lesson'about People Of Color

February 28, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff writer

King Ramses II was there. Matthew Henson was there. King Tut, Harriet Tubman and George Carruthers also came.

The famous and not so famous were on display yesterday at Meade Heights Elementary, as students put on "a living museum of black history."

About 75 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders dressed in period costumes to show the life and works of blacks throughout history. Tour guides led the school's kindergarten through third-grade students through the museum -- which had once been the school's gym.

The tour began with ancient leaders from Africa. There was Menses, played by 11-year-old Jason Calvery.

"It's really been fun," Jason said. "I didn't realize that so many of the Egyptians were black."

King Akhnaton, 12-year-old Sean Sims, said that before his class began its studyof ancient Egypt, he did not know that many items in use today had been invented by the Egyptians.

"I didn't realize that they had invented the ironing board, potato chips, gas masks," Sean said. "And I didn't know that some of them were black."

Jason, Sean and about adozen of their sixth-grade classmates were adorned in sarong-type skirts, jewelry and makeup as they tried to re-create the look of the ancient Egyptians.

Students researched their characters, wrote their dialogue and decorated the museum, said Maryland history teacher Debra Bunn.

"They really did a lot of the work themselves," Bunn said. "Another teacher and I helped make some of the costumes and parents donated some items, but this really was put together by the students."

Students touring the museum also stopped for a visit with the great Carthaginian general Hannibal, who crossed the Alps on elephants and invaded Italy. Grace Enriquez, dressed as King Tut's wife Ankhesenamun, said she had never heard of Hannibal until her class began studying ancient history.

"When my teacher asked who was Hannibal and what was he famous for, I thought it was Hannibal the cannibal," Grace said. "I said he was famous for eating people. How embarrassing.

"Now I know he was . . . famous for crossing the Alps. And he didn't lose one of his elephants," she added.

The next stop on the tour was the land of scientists and inventors. There was George Washington Carver with his peanuts, George Carruthers with his telescope andNorbert Rilliux with his sugar-refining machine.

Students then were taken through the fine arts portion of the museum, where they heard the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley and Langston Hughes and saw a painting by Alma Thomas.

The final stop was devoted to famous Maryland heroes and heroines. Frederick Douglass gave an anti-slavery speech and Harriet Tubman helped enslaved blacks escape through the underground railroad. Matthew Henson placed the American flag on top of the North Pole, and Thurgood Marshall became the first black to serve on theSupreme Court.

"The point we are trying to make is that history is not made up of one group of people," ancient history teacher Mary Giegerich said. "We want the kids to see that history is not made up of one group of people. It's made up of everyone."

Giegerich said the history books and filmstrips used to teach about the Egyptians often show them as all white. But in reality, she said, Egyptians were both black and white, often intermarrying and interrelating.

"The kids always ask if there was racism back then," Giegerich said. "I askthem what they think. They decided no."

Lucy Enriquez, Grace's mother, said she believes the living museum will stick with her daughter longer than anything she might learn in a textbook.

"It's an unforgettable lesson," Enriquez said. "I think it brought to her an awareness that people of color were great people in their own land, in their own right."

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