Negro league baseball player, Tuskegee Airman bring history to life at Howard elementry

February 25, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Black History Month came alive for students at Columbia's Swansfield Elementary School yesterday with an interactive look black accomplishments -- from inventions and military feats to music and baseball.

A retired Negro League baseball player described the days of segregated sports. A former Tuskegee Airman recounted dogfights against the Germans. A storyteller delighted youngsters with a tale about a Tanzanian girl. And parents gave pupils a tour of African and African-American history through displays in the hallways of the school.

"We're giving [the children] another opportunity to learn more about American history, because that's all black history is -- just another part of American history that often gets left out," said Denise London, one of two parents who organized many of the day's activities.

"We're just filling in the gaps. The school does a good job, but it's particularly important because this school has such a large number of black students," London said.

About 39 percent of Swansfield's 660 students are black, more than twice the countywide elementary average.

Black History Month activities are scheduled at every Howard school this month. But few schools devote an entire day to learning about black history -- as Swansfield did yesterday.

Hubert Simmons, who pitched and played outfield with the Baltimore Elite Giants in the Negro League in the early 1950s, told groups of students about the inequities of playing baseball in a segregated league -- saying his $200-a-month salary forced him to work other jobs.

He also recalled his meetings with famous players of the day -- Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson.

"I met Satchel Paige in a ballgame. He was pitching and I was trying to hit," Simmons said in response to one question. "Satchel Paige was very good, and I found out the hard way. I struck out."

But like many of the day's speakers, Simmons gave the students a lesson in the importance of continuing with their education, telling them how he was able to become a fifth-grade teacher after his baseball career ended because he had graduated from college.

"No matter how good you are in sports please get an education first," said Simmons, 72, of Ellicott City. "It's easier to be a doctor than to be a professional baseball or basketball player."

Harry Sheppard, a former Tuskegee Airman, told students about the famous all-black 99th and 302nd Pursuit Squadrons, which had unparalleled combat records in more than 1,500 missions over Europe and North Africa during World War II.

L "I was scared every single morning," Sheppard told students.

For the kindergartners and first- and second-graders, Natalie Woodson, chairwoman of the county NAACP chapter's education committee, told a story called "Bimwili and the Zimwi." Dressed in an African buba dress, Woodson tapped a drum to emphasize portions of the story.

"I liked the story a lot," said second-grader Angele Seriki, 7. "I've learned a lot today -- the Negro baseball league, the cowboys, the inventions."

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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