Black history is subject of contest Quiz: Pupils from seven Baltimore and Washington area schools competed in the Black Saga finals.

March 22, 1998|By Karen Masterson | Karen Masterson,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Professor Charles M. Christian had a question.

"In 1848," he asked nine teams of children sitting in front of him, "these two people escaped from slavery in Georgia. She impersonated a slaveholder, and he pretended to be her servant in one of the most celebrated slave escapes in history. What were their names?"

Team seven -- Marisa Greenway, Erick Cruz and Jamie Acevedo, all from Maryland City Elementary School in Anne Arundel

County -- answered correctly: William and Ellen Craft. Chalk one up for Maryland City.

Erick, Jamie and Marisa were among 63 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from seven Baltimore and Washington area schools competing in the final rounds yesterday of Black Saga, a black history competition, at Skinner Auditorium on the University of Maryland, College Park campus.

In addition to Maryland City, other finalists were from Featherbed Lane Intermediate in Baltimore County; Forest Ridge Elementary Howard County; Beltsville Academic Center, High Bridge, Potomac Landing and Templeton elementaries in Prince George's County.

About 300 parents and teachers watched tensely as the young competitors took their best shot at remembering events and people not mentioned in most mainstream history books.

For example, Christian asked: "P. B. S. Pinchback was sworn in as the first black governor of this state, after its governor was impeached in 1872. Which state was it?" A team from Templeton Elementary got it right: Louisiana.

But when another Templeton team was asked which state had the first black medical school, their answer, Pennsylvania, was wrong. It was Tennessee.

Howard's Forest Ridge pupils surprised everyone. This was the team's first year competing and, with only five weeks to study, William Bradley, Donielle Johnson-Chambers and Kenney Manning took second place. Each won $200.

Beltsville Academic Center took first and third places.

The teams answered questions from a black history book Christian wrote, "Black Saga: The African American Experience." Christian lives in Baltimore and is an urban studies and geography professor at UM.

Black Saga started in Christian's campus office in 1992 when he agreed to mentor 30 black boys from the Beltsville center. The boys had been identified as having trouble concentrating on school work, according to Pat Robeson, a language, history and geography teacher at Beltsville.

To occupy the boys, Christian used the research on his now published chronology of black history to formulate a quiz-like game.

He said the boys learned quickly and impressed their teachers, who asked Christian to deploy the game schoolwide. It grew and now includes seven schools in four counties.

Christian sponsors Black Saga through proceeds from his 600-page $35 book. He said this year the expanded competition cost nearly $10,000. The Maryland Geographic Alliance helped defray the cost with a grant of $1,500, according to Sari Bennett, coordinator for the alliance.

When asked why he puts so much of his own time and money into Black Saga, Christian said, "All these kids are excited about learning, and that's the bottom line."

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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