South Carolina School Celebrates Black History Month By Having 5th Graders Pick Cotton to 'Slavery Songs'... No, Really.

Illustration for article titled South Carolina School Celebrates Black History Month By Having 5th Graders Pick Cotton to 'Slavery Songs'... No, Really.
Screenshot: Fox 46

Imagine dropping your 5th grader off at school for the Black History Month field trip that they won’t stop talking about, only to turn your TV on afterward and see your child on the local news picking cotton.


Because according to Fox 46, that’s exactly what happened to Rock Hill, S.C. resident Jessica Blanchard.

“I’m livid right now,” she said, while wiping away tears. “I’m African-American and my ancestors picked cotton. Why would I want my son to pick cotton and think it’s fun?”

ABC News has the scoop:

Parents in Rock Hill, S.C., say they are outraged after seeing a video of their fifth-grade students picking cotton while singing as part of a school district field trip that aired on a local news channel.

In the video, which first aired on a local FOX affiliate, students can be seen picking cotton while singing: “I like it when you pick like that. I like it when you fill your sack. “I like it when you don’t talk back. Make money for me.”

Nearby, one adult beat out a drum-like rhythm and another yelled, “I can’t hear y’all,” as the children picked cotton.

Erica Poplus is another outraged parent whose daughter attended the same field trip in September. She told ABC News, “When I saw the video my jaw dropped. I immediately was frustrated, offended and was like, ‘Wow, this is what my baby was doing?’”

Poplus said her daughter, who spent roughly five to 10 minutes picking cotton, told her that the children saw the cotton picking as a “game” because the adults participating in the field trip turned it into a competition between the fifth graders to see who could fill up their sack with the most cotton.

Jessica Blanchard is understandably pissed.
Jessica Blanchard is understandably pissed.
Screenshot: Fox 46

Meanwhile, Blanchard told Fox 46, “I think it’s making a mockery. A mockery of slavery. A mockery of what our people went through.”


Her son, Jamari, says he didn’t understand what he was singing and that the instructors present didn’t explain the correlation between the “game” and the historical context of slavery.

When asked how his classmates responded, he said, “They thought it was funny. It was a contest. Whoever picked the least amount of cotton had to hold a big sack called ‘Big Mama.’”


“I just can’t put my feelings into words,” his mother interjected. “That’s how upset I am.”

While a permission slip parents were required to sign prior to the trip does mention cotton picking as an activity the children would be participating in, its made in reference to the Great Depression, not slavery. Which Poplus feels is misleading.


“I feel like if they were going to sing slave songs and they didn’t feel like the parents would be offended that it would have been mentioned in the field trip permission slip,” she told ABC News. “So that right there shows the manipulation that they portrayed.”

But 81-year-old instructor Wali Cathcart—who’s black—denies having the students picking cotton ever had racial implications. He’s also convinced the influx of outrage is misguided.


We need innovation in the education system,” he told Fox 46. “Not just lecturing children in a classroom telling them something. There’s nothing better than hands on.”

And to those who find the trip offensive and believe it trivliazes slavery, he said, “One of the problems when it comes to African-American people is that they fail to understand history in its proper context, and, because of that, we are at a disadvantage today.”


Which, oddly enough, is exactly what the school is being accused of doing. But whatever.

In an attempt to extinguish the outrage, Rock Hill schools issued the following statement:

The Carroll School field experience is a unique learning opportunity for all 5th grade students in Rock Hill Schools’ elementary schools. As one of the only remaining Rosenwald Schools in operation, the school exists to promote understanding about our past, specifically the Great Depression and schooling in America. The students are afford an opportunity to learn directly from two local men, one of whom is a former student of The Carroll School, who lead students through a variety of hands-on activities and experiences. As part of the fifth-grade curriculum, students study the Great Depression time period, and this field trip helps students make real-life connections to ths era in American history.” -Mychal Frost, Director of Marketing and Communications, Rock Hill Schools.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for y'all to stop putting sugar in grits.


Archaeyopterix Majorus

Rock Hill schools has announced a new initiative, their statement:

“In order to ‘make amends’ for this perceived lack of historical awareness and ‘other’ insensitivity, we will be rolling out a program for racial awareness. Late this month our Jewish students will be participating in ‘camp day’, wherein we’re going to have them dig long trenches outside, then they will participate in a group ‘shower’ in our bathrooms, where we will have them all undress to their undergarments and gather as a group in one of the school bathrooms while we run a fog machine to simulate gas, so that they might better understand the tragic history of their people.

Our Native American students will go on a ‘march for freedom’ when we take them, as a group, hiking in nature in a single-file line 20 miles across town next winter, then we’ve set up a traditional teepee village by the river, where they will find blankets laid out for them to keep warm during the coldest night of the year.

Finally, our Mexican, or ‘Hispanic American’, students will have ‘garden week’, when we’ve gone ahead and had a half ton of planting soil trucked in. They will be digging out garden beds in front of the school, replacing the soil with planting mix, and then doing all the planting and tending to that agriculture for us. Some of the students have received a special dispensation from the school to not work outside, so they will be replacing our maintenance staff and custodians inside, and doing ‘learning’ work like mopping, cleaning the toilets, and washing the windows.

We tried to arrange for our Chinese students to be able to take a field trip to the local railroad yard so they could have a chance to see how fun laying track could be, but safety concerns raised by the railway management have prevented this, in spite of our strongest objections and insistence. Can’t win them all, I guess some people just don’t know how important it is to show children what their identity means in America.

These directives have come down from our superintendent and, we believe, will help the students to all better understand their history, as well as their place in the world, giving them a career path and having something to aspire to when they grow up!”