Sunday, February 08, 2009

Wait just a cotton picking minute!



What the hell is going on down there in Mississippi?
Do you believe this shit? In celebration of Black History Month, a Mississippi grade school was actually going to have a cotton picking day. And to make it worse, some of the elementary school students at Lillie Burney Elementary School of Hatteisburg were going to actually dress as slaves.
Thank goodness for Roy Coleman who was so upset about the whole idea of a Cotton Picking Day celebration that he actually made a real stink about it, and forced the school to reconsider and change the day to a more conventional career day.
Now that sounds better. Teach children about careers instead of how to pick cotton.
The nerve of some of these Southern white folks......but field, it was a predominantly black school doing this. Well I will be damned. Just when you think you catch whitey slipping, it turns out that we are the ones who are teaching our kids that we should be celebrating and memorializing the picking of cotton.
I swear, the age of Obama has me all fucked up.

97 comments:

Christopher Chambers said...

Field,

Many millions of bammas and ghettofab folk, tools, et al haven't gotten the memo. From the thugs in Killadelphia, to the principal of this school, to Chris Brown today slapping himself and your girl Rihanna out of Grammy appearances (felony assault, man)--we just aren't getting the message. I'm sure there are still some fools out there who want to be like Lebron or Lil Wayne, rather than our president and the brothers in white collars in the White House, Executive Office Building and Cabinet offices.

Which is why I really think the Prez should use the bully pulpit and speak some Bill Cosby-type words to the folks. It might not be as visceral as Bob marley getting my boy Seaga and your boy Manley (the younger) together on stage, but it wouldn't hurt.

La♥Incognita said...

When I read the first paragraph, I didn't for one minute think it was white people behind of it (Even the most racist have some kind sense, I would think). I figured it might have been some black people who wanted to pay some sort of tribute to their poor ancestors by way of what they had to endure during slavery. If you think about it in that twisted way, it might actually make a little sense.

Even so, I don't agree with it either. I think our ancestors would be more honored by having us showcase all the positive contributions black people have made despite slavery.

Christopher said...

Damn!

What's next? A hangin' day?

hennasplace said...

Field:

I am going to shock with my opinion, but it just may a good idea. Let the kids get a first experience and a better understanding about the history of slavery. Reading about history is important, but sometimes it is not enough. I know it may seem extreme, but we need to think outside of the box in teaching history because a lot of people do not like it. The biggest complaint it is boring and there is no reason to learn about the past. Williamsburg within the past 15 years finally put the peculiar institution as part of the colonial reenactment, and I always believed no wanted to face the dark past. If the experiment invokes the kids to learn, and get them to discuss the subject, then it is worth doing. We all have to face the past whether we like it or not.

Hathor said...

Experience in history? Black people may be still picking cotton in Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

I'm OK with it. Combined with a knowledge of slavery and share cropper experience, it's not a bad thing. Maybe throw in some information about the mechanical operations that replaced labor. That started the migration north so they could find jobs. The cotton plants today are modified to not grow as tall as they used to so there's more bending over now if you do it by hand.

szpork

hennasplace said...

Hathor

You may right that sharecropping or peonage system may still exist in Mississippi, and the reason to the reenactment. I think the problem is that the word celebration is used. History is history with some wonderful moments and dark moments. I think students should know and fathom how arduous a life for a slave was. I met a 23 year old man who did not know slavery existed in this country, and shook my head in disbelief because there is generation beyond me who knows very little about history of any kind, nevermind about black history. In fact, someone my age did not know who Matthew Henson was so he probably that Henson was the relative of Josiah Henson who was the inspiration of Harriet Beecher Stowe's book "Uncle Tom's Cabin". We have to look at it from practical perspective than an emotional one.

Black Diaspora said...

Christopher said...
Damn!

What's next? A hangin' day?


Alright Christopher...but that was funny!

Okay, here's my take. Remember the movie, and documentary, Scared Straight ?

In scared straight, kids were taken behind prison walls with an opportunity to talk with
once-hardened criminals, who wanted to rescue at-risked kids who were now walking in their shoes.

The sessions were rather intense, because the street thugs believed that they were the worse of the worse, until they actually met up with the worse of the worse.

If you have never seen either version, it's a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon, preferably with your own kids, so that you might offer them object lessons in what happens if you walk on the "wild side."

When I was a pre-teen, living down South, I saw my first black chain gang.

It was every thing you've seen in the movies, complete with white guards riding atop horses, with shotguns resting across their lap.

What they put those prisoners through in terms of "hard labor," working in the community, convinced me then and there, that pursuing a career as a criminal was not a career choice.

Now fast-forward to today...

Although I don't think it's a good idea to dress kids up as slaves, this "Cotton Pickin' Day" could pretty much serve the same purpose as the movie Scared Straight.

What better way to impress on young tender minds the necessity of staying in school, and doing something with their lives, than by letting them spend a day or two in a hot cotton field?

I actually picked cotton, and the work was backbreaking, the sun merciless, and the cotton pickin' hard on the fingers (those dried-up
cotton bolls are as sharp as razors), and can leave them, at the end of the day, if not careful, sore and bloody.

Now, both of these experiences kept me in school, out of trouble, and living a reputable, straight-arrow life.

I say: throw the kids into the cotton patch!

Ernesto said...

Field, I can't believe you don't see the educational potential here. When coupled with training as house servants, and a crash course in shuffling and grinning, this will prepare them nicely for a career as conservative pundits. How do you think Jesee Lee Peterson et al. got their start?

Cheron L. Hall said...

Definitely homeschooling.

Anonymous said...

A cotton-picking day?? WTF

I surmise that many of those folks at that Hattisburg school have not move beyond that mentality. I would have to say that there are hardly any teachers in the school who are creative thinkers and could have very well created and exercised a more substantial lesson for their students to learn the history.

Jmee said...

LMAO........... Christopher a hangin day is definitely a coming ;)

I'm not sure how this was a scared straight moment. I'm still trying to here my teachers come at me with we're going to pick cotton tomorrow. My momma would have been up at that school so damn quick....

No matter how back breaking and degrading that activity was there would be no lesson learned for me other than this is some racial Bull Sh*t, and somebody is about to get fired!

Black Diaspora said...

"I'm not sure how this was a scared straight moment." Jmee

Jmee, I don't think you've picked cotton before.

Those cotton fields sure scared the crap out me--if this was all I had to look forward to for the rest of my life.

GrannyStandingforTruth said...

Henna, I think you have a point there in an odd sort of way. Let them experience for a day what the slaves experienced in the cotton field, and they might learn to appreciate what their ancestors died and fought for to make it better for them, instead of taking it for granted. Maybe, people do need to be a little more opened minded about it.

GrannyStandingforTruth said...

BTW, Henna I've been meaning to ask you if you know of any good books written about African American teachers during reconstruction and Jim Crow?

dalit said...

...I can't believe I'm reading some of these comments...people it is seriously not okay!!

during the holocaust, people had to dig graves to dump the bodies in. Are we going to remember the holocaust by digging giant ditches?

They would not be learning anything about what their ancestors did. Nothing. At. All. Slaves endured the selling of their spouses, brothers, and children. They endured starvation, the whip, and rape, from which the bastard children were sold off to be raped by some other man. And after slavery, they endured decades of humiliation and inferior status that continues to this day.

Picking cotton is good, clean, respectable work. Do you want to teach the children that manual labor is a symbol of oppression? Do you want to tell them that the white man is forcing them to get a real job?

Picking cotton is NOT a tribute to black history. It has NOTHING except the most trivial connection with black history. It SHOULD MAKE YOU UPSET that anyone would equate slavery to simple manual labor!!

Cotton picking is fine...as a simple field trip, and an exercise in discipline and manual labor. NOT as a symbol of slavery.

field negro said...

hennasplace, nice try. You must be an atty.:) I do see your twisted logic, but I disagree. I agree with what some of what the other folks said about it, I just don't see cotton picking as a day to celebrate. Maybe a field trip to the cotton fields or something, but not a cotton picking day.

"Field, I can't believe you don't see the educational potential here. When coupled with training as house servants, and a crash course in shuffling and grinning, this will prepare them nicely for a career as conservative pundits. How do you think Jesee Lee Peterson et al. got their start?"

Ernesto, who writes your material?You should have your own HBO show.

Swiff said...

James Brown, Bobby Brown, Jim Brown....what is it with that last name?

Dick Wolf is prepping the Law & Order script as we speak.

thismayconcernyou said...

I'm so glad that I live in a free state where such foolishness is less likely.

Black Diaspora said...

dalit said..."...during the holocaust, people had to dig graves to dump the bodies in. Are we going to remember the holocaust by digging giant ditches?

Simmer down, a bit, dalit. I'm willing to bet that I'm closer in age to slavery than you are, and I'm not throwing a conniption fit over what's being written here.

And I'm willing to bet that I've picked more cotton that you.

But that aside.

You write:

"Are we going to remember the holocaust by digging giant ditches?

No. it's not necessary.

The Jews have rightfully created remembrance centers to educated people on just how dangerous it is to demonize a people as inferior, so that you may treat them that way.

We don't have to "dig graves" but a visit to one of those center, online or otherwise, can certainly concretize their holocaust experience in a more personal way.

And that is what I think the school was attempting to do--concretize a history that should be relevant to these young people.

What better way to do that than a trip to a cotton field, where they're taught before, during, and after, just how important "King Cotton" was to the South, and how "cheap labor" became the excuse, and the impetus for keeping a people in a brutal, and horrible slavery.

Picking cotton is good, clean, respectable work. Do you want to teach the children that manual labor is a symbol of oppression? Do you want to tell them that the white man is forcing them to get a real job?

No, but you can use the occasion to stress the importance of all labor, manual, or otherwise, and that work, in an of itself, is honorable, but that nothing prevents thems from striving to do more, if that is their choice--that if they wish, they may aspire to be the president of the United States.

Picking cotton is NOT a tribute to black history. It has NOTHING except the most trivial connection with black history. It SHOULD MAKE YOU UPSET that anyone would equate slavery to simple manual labor!!

Tribute, no. But King Cotton played a pivotal role in the slave trade, and served as one of the main reasons for the slave trade.

Not to make the point, and the connection, is to mis-educate, not educate.

I don't think that slavery is being equated to "manual labor," just to "slave labor"--and cotton played a central role in perpetuating that kind of labor.

Blacks picked cotton before slavery and after slavery. So it's not "cotton pickin'" that's being denigrated, just the slave labor aspect.

Have you ever picked cotton, dalit? Although I made it sound pretty bad up thread, and mostly tongue in cheek, I have picked cotton.

That experience taught me a great deal. You can bring a sense of excellence to any task, be it cotton picking, shining shoes, or discovering a cure for cancer.

It's not cotton that is the problem, nor manual labor, nor the method that was used to make the slave experience more real to some grade school children, but the intent. What lessons were to be learned by the experience, and how would the children be allowed to digest and process that information.

I think that not only grade school children, but adults of every race, should take a turn or two in the cotton fields, the cabbage fields, the apple and orange orchards, the grape vineyards, and so on.

We all need a greater appreciation of the importance of manual labor in bringing us the nutrients vital to life.

I'm planning a trip. Do I have any takers?

RC said...

I thought that machines took over the picking and deseeding long ago.
I haven't picked cotton {other than a few plants that like weeds here} but I have cut cane. It always amazes me that a number of people in my town want to return to the cane era. Cutting cane is a living hell I can assure you. Always, the nostalgia for that era is maintained by the dreamy eyed persons who imagine that the past was more romantic or simpler or honest. Predictably, these are the non natives or the descendants of the engineers or town merchants here, not the children or grandchildren of cutters. And of the few cutters who are still around {they haven't cut in decades, but you can tell who they are by the enormous shoulders} none
ever want to cut again.
Cutting cane and picking cotton may be honest and honorable to some minds, but in reality, those who are forced to do the work because of circumstances are at the bottom of the status totem because the work is very degrading
and no one who can escape it would choose to continue.
Again, can't somebody let us know if picking still occurs using human hands? I can tell you this: in Puerto Rico {I live on an island off of Puerto Rico} coffee is still picked 100% by hand on steep, but cool, hillsides and the
job is now done by prisoners, no one else will do it for the low wage. Yes, I have also picked coffee, it is rather pleasant. But if that easy but low paying job has no takers, I am sure that cane and cotton are not jobs one would ever want to suffer.
There IS still plenty of stoop labor in the US and all over the world. But I think cotton is now almost all mechanized.

ch555x said...

Mississippi's state flag should answer this question.

Eddie said...

My parents were picking cotton in Mississippi in the 50's and neither of them have said they wanted to do it again. You lived in a crappy house, always in debt to the guy who sold you supplies, had the owner basically stealing from you... maybe things haven't changed too much. I mean, you've got immigrants harvesting crops now and pretty much living on some master's handouts. So do I agree with what the school did? Not really because schools should be a place empowering young minds and the parents should be teaching their children that living in next to nothing willingly is not going to cut it in life. But I see where they are coming from everyday.

aunt mary said...

I'm a retired teacher. Experience is the best teacher. Reading and hearing about other's experiences is a distant second best. I've always thought that African Americans should claim their history proactively. Yes, blacks were slaves for hundreds of years. But it was not their shame. During their bondage they built America, served America, enriched the culture, graced the lives of those around them and survived! It should be a point of pride. Look where we came from! Look what we've achieved! Mississippi children may not be all that far removed from cotton picking. They know what it is, but urban children have no idea. I'd say it would be a learning experience.

hennasplace said...

Granny:

There are some books by the historian Eric Foner who has written a four or five books about Reconstruction, and there is W.E.B. DuBois's book "Black Reconstruction. Historians mostly focus on the politics of reconstruction, but education is discussed because of the disscusion about the Freedom Bureau along with Black College that came into existence during that period. I do not think anyone has written anything in great depth about African-American teachers doing that time.

uptownsteve said...

I went to Mississippi for the first time in 2004.

People, black and white, seemed to be stuck in a 1930 time warp.

I won't be going back.

Nan said...

And where did they plan to find cotton to pick in February? I can maybe understand the desire to experience the actual work one's ancestors may have endured, but in February aren't most Mississippi cotton fields still basically bare dirt? I agree that sometimes hands on experience is the best way to understand or appreciate something, but it seems like a good first step would be a basic knowledge of agriculture and the growth cycle of the crop in question.

Cotton picking's been thoroughly mechanized -- it's one of those crops that can tolerate rough handling so it was easy to design reapers for it. Stoop labor is still common in food crops that bruise easily or ripen unevenly: tomatoes, strawberries, etc.

hennasplace said...

Field:

No, I am not an attorney, but as a lover of history, I do see the value in the learning experience. Sometimes, I am with Aunt Mary, the retired teacher who knows better anyone us about teaching childre. So, I am going to rely on her expertise. As along as the children aren't so young, but for for six to eight grade students it will give them a concrete idea about the life of a slave during the antebellum period. Field, it's an re-enactment and please stop calling it black history celebration. That's the problem, the term black history celebration is a misnomer. You can not celebrate something when you do not know what you are celebrating in the first place. Hell, if you were to ask the average adult black person on the street, they could not tell me who Mary Stewart, David Walker or Martin Delaney were.

Field, I can understand the reason why the idea upset you because it's emotionally painful. However, the peculiar institution is a part of this country past and part of the black in experience. History is complex and I wouldn't put in the class of celebration because there are some things that should not be celebrated, but we should value the lesson that past has for us. You do not have a future unless you have an understanding about the past. I am still peeve that black history still isn't integrated with the rest of U.S. History taught in high school. Slavery is only discussed in passing because of the Civil War, and you might hear about the Compromises of 1790, 1820, and 1850.

Here is a question, you would still be upset if school decided to do a play about slavery where the kids were actors, portray slaves with the slave entire, and acted in scene they were picking cotton in the fields. Sometimes role play can be very effective to better understand the experience if taught correctly, and may make the kids in even more curious by asking more questions and want to know more about black history. All I ask is that you set your personal feelings aside and use your attorney's logic to see the practicality in the learning tool. Then if you still don't, it's fine.

hennasplace said...

Nan:

You are right that cotton is harvested from July to November, but planting begins in cotton February. By the end of this post discussion, we are going to learn a lot about cotton. However, it's was reenactment that probably involved role play, the article wasn't specific what cotton picking day involved. The school made mishap for naming the event cotton pick day. Perhaps, the should have named it "A Day in the Life of a Slave", might would have been more accepting.

Nan, since we both knit perhaps learning about cotton isn't a bad idea for us.

Jezebella said...

I generally lurk here, but I live in Mississippi, near Hattiesburg, so I just wanted to toss my two cents in. A few points:

- hell, no, there ain't no cotton to be picked in February.
- My (white) grandma picked cotton in the 20s and 30s and she couldn't look at a cotton boll without clenching up as long as she lived. It's not "good, clean work" it's dirty, exhausting, crippling work. Just, FYI.
- Mississippi isn't stuck in the 1930s (except maybe in the Delta), it's more like the mid-70s here.
- Finally, don't you Yankees dare pretend like we have some kind of monopoly on racist yahoos in the South. Just, don't.

La♥Incognita said...

' - My (white) grandma picked cotton in the 20s and 30s and she couldn't look at a cotton boll without clenching up as long as she lived. It's not "good, clean work" it's dirty, exhausting, crippling work. Just, FYI."

Just curious, how was that particular statement germane to the above thread?

Mildred said...

Rarely do I disagree with the field, but here I must. As slavery and the civil rights movement fade, we have to find a way to make these crucial histories real to the young people. For them to see what it was like, will put the slave struggle into perspective. Consider how whitewashed and homogenized most discussions of slavery are. I would urge people to read Slavery in New York. When visitors saw how the slave spines were crooked and stunted - even the kids - from living in crawl spaces and carrying loads, it was a whole different convo.

daedalus2u said...

I think it is a great idea. Those shit jobs are exactly the kinds of jobs that young children should be exposed to; jobs so hard and boring and dead-end that no one wants to do them. That is exactly what young children need exposure to so as to incentivize them to study hard, learn, read, write, do arithmetic and think so they can have better work opportunities.

At my work, we do separation of different materials and one thing we were considering working on was separating different kinds of plastic during recycling. The method that was used at the time was a “picking line”, where people stand next to a conveyer belt of bottles and pick bottles made of different kinds of plastic off of it. We went to a recycling center where they had such a line, and one of my co-workers asked the manager if he could get a summer job there for his children. He said that just seeing the line himself, he wanted to crack the books and start studying.

It isn’t about “honoring” the past. There was nothing honorable about slaves being forced to do back-breaking labor picking cotton. The purpose of education is not to honor the past, it is to educate the next generation so they won’t repeat the mistakes of the past. They have to learn about those mistakes, what they were, why they happened and why we now know they are mistakes.

I thought the statement was germane because it didn't romanticize the notion of picking cotton as a career. It is hard, backbreaking work for everyone, black, brown or white.

RiPPa said...

The age of Obama actually have some of our cousins questioning whether we should even have Black History Month. Now ain't that a bitch.

I kinda agree with you Field on the switch to making it career day. Lets just hope they didn't have a stripper pole present on that day.

Anonymous said...

The sad part is, I currently live here as a recent transplant from LA. When I saw this recently in the local paper, I was truly shocked and saddened for the children.These children deserve better than this, but they are at the mercy of these so-called educated teachers, who rarely get out of the state into the outside world. When I first moved here, I ahd my son in one of the local public schools. It was a nightmare!!! I had to make a painful choice and placed him in a private Catholic School. That is how bad the local school system is here.
My take on this is that there is lack of progressive black leadership in the area, and I do not think that it will change any time soon. Thank God I am relocating back to LA this year and get back to real grind.

hennasplace said...

Rippa:

Black history needs to be integrated into history cirrulum period and taught year around. Black History Month is only discussed once year than being taught the entire year. Did you know that Barnes and Noble and Borders place African American books in front of their stores during the months of January and February in lieu of Black History Month, they also do the same for Women's History month in February and March. History is a compilation, and people were upset when Williamsburg has the re-enactment of colonial times and conventiently neglected to add life of the slave during that time up until the past 15 years when they finally life of the slave. You cannot take parts of history convenient and only talk about part we like. We have to look at history as a whole. Slavery wasn't pleasant nor was it black and white (pardon the pun). It was a complex system where only few percentage of the white population owned slaves. I remember there was a controversy when Roots first aired on TV, and some parents did not want their children to watch the mini-series because it show the brutality of slavery, and it seems we have not learned very much in 33 years. Sometimes kids are fine until adults come along to complicate matters.

Constructive Feedback said...

Hey Filled Negro - are you telling the entire story about the school?

Principal: Deborah Woullard
Student Teacher Ratio 18 to 1 (take that excuse off of the table)

http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com/communities/schools/lillieburneyelem.html

Wait a minute now. The school ranks 5 out of 10 on Great Schools.net.
http://www.greatschools.net/modperl/browse_school/ms/328

I bet you that Burney Elementary School rates equal or better than every elementary school in Southwest Philly despite their choice to pick cotton.

When are you going to talk about something SUBSTANTIVE?

Even Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Philly is rated 2 out of 10!
http://www.greatschools.net/search/search.page?c=school&search_type=0&state=PA&q=philadelphia&lc=e&st=public


I wonder if I convinced all of the school administrators in the schools that are failing to dawn slave uniforms would this be enough for YOU to start actively campaigning to get them PURGED FROM THE SCHOOL SYSTEM?

Clearly them FAILING your kids has not been enough for you.

When are you going to shift from "Racism Chasing" over to "Chasing Quality and Effectiveness" Filled Negro?

Sharon from WI said...

Have you ever picked cotton, dalit? Although I made it sound pretty bad up thread, and mostly tongue in cheek, I have picked cotton.

I know enough to know that it's not like reaching into a bag of Johnson & Johnson cotton balls.

It can be very painful, from what I understand. Places in the Heart, which starred Sally Field and Danny Glover had scenes illustrating how painful picking cotton is.

uptownsteve said...

"Black history needs to be integrated into history cirrulum period and taught year around."

Amen.


Constructive Feedback

"When are you going to shift from "Racism Chasing" over to "Chasing Quality and Effectiveness" Filled Negro?"

So are you suggesting that "cotton picking" should be a part of the inner city school curriculum?

I'm sure that you could do a skillful job of instructing the class.

Throw in "shufflin' and buckdancin'" as an elective.

Sharon from WI said...

Just a thought.

What would anyone's take be on black kids (and others) visiting the site of a plantation and surveying the slave quarters?

They could even be assigned to write an essay afterward.

Of course, this would be for kids whose school is within a resasonable distance from such a place.

Incidentally, I see, from time to time, travel ads on TV promoting visits to old plantations as part of some romantic adventure.

They make me cringe.

uptownsteve said...

Sharon from WI

My family went on a trip 2 summers ago to Charleston, SC which was the birthplace and childhood home of my maternal grandparents.

We toured the Drayton Plantation right outside the city limits and also went to the Calhoun Mansion which was right off of Tradd St.

The Mansion had preserved the slave quarters as well as the horse and buggy stables.

My youngest son who was ten at the time did a school report on the tour that fall.

He didn't show a lot of emotion while we were there but he wrote in his report that it made him "sad to see how children his age were made to work in the fields from sun up to sun down and then have to sleep on a floor mat almost like what his pet dog slept on."

I could tell that the trip affected him deeply.

Eric said...

While I never had to pick cotton, I definitely have picked my fair share of peas among other hard work. I learned very quickly to appreciate what my ancestors had to go through for me to be here..Maybe some of these kids need to realize, just how hard life used to be. Then, maybe they will take their education more seriously. If one day of picking cotton, can some some young brotha/sista from screwing up their life, then it was worth it!!

A Go Bytch said...

I wouldn't be surprised if that had happend here in Louisiana but I think it would have made it to the news when De'Lexus (kids parent) came down to whip some azz!

Go B.

I. Langalibalele said...

That is funny because a dear relative of mine had recently suggested that maybe we should all try picking cotton to appreciate just how good we have it.

That old timey think process is funny. We all grew up on it but it ain't something we take to heart. It's just said to give you sumpin to mull over. They were jive to put them kids out in the fields. Don't see white folks making their kids dig potatoes.

Grata said...

The idea itsself isn't entirely bad. Its the age of the children. I think the appropriate age would be mid to late teens. Many of these kids are running around with no real concept of history and this kind of activity IMO would be eye openning.

Black Diaspora said...

I say keep the dream and the nightmare alive--the promise of America, and the horror of slavery.

Our past is who we were, our future is who we may be.

Both are needed to take measure of how far we've come--both as a nation and as a people.

Natasha said...

I don't feel that the school was out of line to suggest such an activity. All of these children do not appreciate the sacrifices their ancestors had endured. I won't mind taking my kids to cotton picking field or let them wash some clothes by hand. These kids need to appreciate the opportunities that are given to them today because it was not given without a price. Let the children go to fields and pay respect to their ancestors. I feel it is respect not insult. Sometimes I think we (black people) get upset too quickly. I agree with you Field about 99.8% of the time, but come on from one Caribbean person to another. These children are spoiled including my own and sometimes we need to remind them their history without reading but by labor: volunteering the less fortunate or doing something the old fashion way to appreciate what we have today.

Blah Blah Blah said...

They aren't all awake... didn't hear the alarm. Overslept and missed the part where slaves were freed...slavery was a bad bad thing.

Anonymous said...

To Aunt Mary:
I am a current teacher, and I see no educational value in having children pick cotton in an effort to school them. If my child was required to pick one ball of danggone cotton, I'd do exactly what the parent of the child did. I mean, this is absolutely ridiculous. I agree with one of the other posters that so much -- not all, mind you -- of Mississippi is stuck in some kind of friggin' time warp. There are NUMEROUS ways that the history of that action -- pickin' cotton -- can be taught to elementary school children w/o them having to go in some kind of danggone field and do it. And, of course, it doesn't matter what color the perpetrators of this activity are. Black. White. Polka Dot. Plaid. Doesn't Make Sense. Some of you people simply amaze me. Like you, Retired Teacher.

honeyindigo said...

ok, i can understand the overall point the school may have been trying to reach by having the children pick cotton, but it was a poorly executed plan.

D.Son said...

There are many ways to teach children about their history without succumbing to the deleterious treatment received by African Americans. Should we suppose stripping our children naked and forcing them to live in a ship for several months, stowed so close together that there is no possibility of their lying down or at all changing their position? Unacceptable!

Leave child rearing to the parents to teach one to be grateful of for their being.

“I am not a prisoner of history…I am a Negro, and tons of chains, storms of blows, rivers of expectoration flow down my shoulders. But I do not have the right to allow myself bog down. I am not a slave of the slavery that dehumanized my ancestors.” – Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

aunt mary said...

I remember one year I had my fourth graders grind corn with a stone mortar and pestle. We were going to make enough meal to bake a cornbread in an iron skillet on the hot plate in our room. I told them we'd need about 2 cups of meal. Oh, my goodness, were they excited. But did you know that grains of corn are very hard? Do you know that when you hit the grain really hard they fly out of the mortar and you waste corn? No you don't waste it. You go find it and put it back in. So pound a little easier. Ok? Well everybody took turns, and when you had some free time you could go back and grind corn. You could even stay in at recess to grind if you wanted to, but nobody did. It took a week and a half to get enough meal. Boy were we hungry! But it was soooooo delicious.

Anonymous said...

Y'all remember those PBS shows like Frontier House and Manor House, etc.
I've always thought a Plantation House would be interesting-really!
Of course, no beatings, rapes, etc., but I bet it would be an interesting exercise in human behavior.

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]
So are you suggesting that "cotton picking" should be a part of the inner city school curriculum?[/quote]

My son's kindergarten field trip in a 50/50 Black/White school last year involved going on a FARM TOUR.

DATED 2007:
Evidence Of King's Dream: Picking Cotton Together As A Learning Experience Rather Than As Child Labor
http://functionalculture.blogspot.com/2007/10/evidence-of-kings-dream-picking-cotton.html

The IRONY of it all was that WHITE KIDS and BLACK KIDS and ASIAN KIDS and HISPANIC KIDS went into a field and PICKED COTTON together.

Not for commercial reasons but for RECREATION.

Instead of SLAVISHLY looking at
*Cotton Picking and thinking about BLACK FOLKS (this has been grown and picked for thousands of years)

*Thinking about CRACK and thinking about BLACK PEOPLE....

Why not use it all as a LEARNING EXPERIENCE?

These kids would be able to relate to what their ancestors USED TO HAVE TO DO from sun up to sun down.

Now they can go to Wal-Mart and purchase their COTTON T'S made in Guatemala without worrying about getting their fingers pricked.

Are you ASHAMED of your ancestors?

Z said...

Well, re Plantation House the tv show, it exists. Go to any house in former slave territory that has servants, either in the U.S. or in points south, and you can see what the dynamic is.

Working in the fields, same thing. Give the illegal aliens and such a day off and send the class to go pick lemons ... or work in the strawberry or spinach fields. Have them try to live for a day or a week or whatever on the pay.

My point: it isn't over, so reenactment of the *past* isn't really necessary. What I dislike about the exercise is that it places all of these things firmly in the past, when they just aren't gone.

Z said...

"during the holocaust, people had to dig graves to dump the bodies in. Are we going to remember the holocaust by digging giant ditches?"

Dalit (this and the rest of the comment at 6:12 AM) is right on point.

On being scared straight ... this comment seems to imply that slaves deserved slavery ... as though it was a punishment for a crime ... ?
And note, many of my students have been taken to Angola in high school to be scared straight. What they learn: food served to visitors is really good, and the guys look great due to all the exercise and the lack of access to alcohol/drugs. My point: it doesn't take an actual visit to a prison to realize it isn't a good idea to be sent to one, and a school field trip may open some peoples' eyes on a lot of things but it's not going to be the main influence on what they do with their lives.

Z said...

"Don't see white folks making their kids dig potatoes."

This is also key ... although I get the point about people now not appreciating, etc., and about how cotton is still being picked in Guatemala / Peru / etc. and we buy the end product at Wal*Mart.

Sharon from WI, a lot of the plantation museums around here have torn down the slave quarters, they aren't considered romantic / attractive / etc. It would be indiscreet to preserve them ... I of course think this is a strategy to preserve plantation nostalgia while also erasing Black history. (Clever move, that.)

Sharon from WI said...

Sharon from WI, a lot of the plantation museums around here have torn down the slave quarters, they aren't considered romantic / attractive / etc. It would be indiscreet to preserve them ... I of course think this is a strategy to preserve plantation nostalgia while also erasing Black history. (Clever move, that.)

That is so disappointing to hear, although I understand the mindset and rationale.

Anonymous said...

You're all EFFED up. Leave the president out of it.

Black Diaspora said...

@Z "On being scared straight ... this comment seems to imply that slaves deserved slavery ... as though it was a punishment for a crime ... ?"

You're clearly half-reading, or reading with only half of your brain engaged.

It takes a real stretch of one's reasoning capactity to make such a connection.

That conclusion was never made, nor suggested.

**big sigh***

Mista Jaycee said...

Damn Field,
Rememeber that Spike movie Bamboozled and how Black Folks loved the Y2K Minstrel Show? Well we have Black Folks who defend Nigga and Nigger to the death and White folks who will swear the stars and bars is Southern Heritage! It's all Bullshit!
By the way my Wife loves your site! Me too!
Jaycee

hennasplace said...

I think history is an interesting and eye opening subject because it allows you to learn about the past and a better understanding of the present. The present is forever linked to the past for better or worse. Many of us including me has ever experienced anything close that of a slave's life, and we sometimes behave as if we did. We have been giving a great oportunity learn from our ancestors and it means more than being angry about slavery, but continue with dignity, make them proud and not forget their sacrifice to bring us where we today. Yes the life of the slave is an integral part of black history and I am very grateful to those men and women because they courage and carry on inspite of the horror. The kids could have worn slave entire, pretended and even read the slave narratives to connect with their ancestors. It probably wouldn't hurt if the parents participated.

Hathor said...

Because we seem to be ashamed of slavery, the slave reconstuctionist have effectively made slavery romantic. The first thing that caught my eye on the web, was some people black and whites saying slavery was a good thing for blacks. They also refused to admit that slavery was the economic engine of the revolution and the new America.

Some of the comments here, remind me of a time some fifty years ago,when a dance troupe performed African dances at my Jr.Hi; how during the entire performance the music was drowned out by the laughter from the audience.

field negro said...

"My son's kindergarten field trip in a 50/50 Black/White school last year involved going on a FARM TOUR..."

Unconstructive...you never cease to amaze me. Are you serious? A FIELD TRIP TO A FARM? And this has what exactly to do with a day celebrating the picking of cotton where elementary school children dress as slaves? Please tell me. I am curious to know what goes on in the mind of a Negro like you...never mind. I know EXACTLY what goes on in your mind, and it's late, I don't feel like being scared before I go to bed.

Mista Jaycee, thanks for the kind words, and tell your wife thanks as well.

dalit said...

alright black diaspora...but why can't slavery recognition stick with the remembrance centers like everyone else?

You tell me this: what significance does the cotton picking aspect of slavery have to black people and people of color TODAY?

Black Diaspora said...

dalit said...
"alright black diaspora...but why can't slavery recognition stick with the remembrance centers like everyone else?"

That would be fine with me, dalit. I don't think, as some insist, and others suggest, that we should dump our black history observance, so that whites may feel comfortable with dialogging with us about things racial.

"You tell me this: what significance does the cotton picking aspect of slavery have to black people and people of color TODAY?"

I thought that I had provided an ample explanation up thread, but let me sum it up again this way:

King Cotton was at the heart of the slave trade. It was mainly why we were brought here in chains in the first place.

What better way to honor the travails of slaves than by symbolically lifting up the burden that they bore, in a kind of solidarity with their suffering, remembering that that suffering created bale after bale of white gold for Massa.

I don't think that we should allow that historical line to break, whether because of shame, or an eagerness to put slavery behind us.

Slavery is our legacy. It will be our legacy whether we embrace it or not.

I'm all for embracing it, and all of black history and the black experience.

It is who we are, and who we were, and it should be remembered for what it was--an ugly chapter or chapters in American history.

As we look back, we shouldn't forget to look forward, and build on the achievements of the past, remembering all the sacrifices, the suffering, and the pain that got us here.

That way, our progeny won't boast that they got here alone, without the long-suffering thousands who went before them, to make this day--where hope has risen in the East in the person of Barack Obama--not only possible, but sustainable.

Constructive Feedback said...

http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com/article/20090209/OPINION01/902090302

Filled Negro -

How does a "Slave Dress"?

If the school reenacted the signing of the US Constitution and this 99% Black school had their kids put on powered wigs just like our Great White Forefathers did - would this offend you? Clearly there is some inferiorization working in your head regarding how your ancestors dressed - per the resources that they had available to protect themselves from the elements.

If they had JUST a "slave dress up day" but NOT the cotton picking - would you be offended still? Please tell us what you are ranting about Filled Negro?

It is ironic that today we hear so many people say that CLOTHING should not indicate the intelligence or discipline of the person inside of the clothing yet you are unable to consider the question of the RESPECT by which the rendition of our ancestor's past might be carried out by this particular school. If they were cracking a whip and the student actors shucked and jived saying "Yes massa, yesa massa" I would join in with your protests.

IF the school put on a performance about "WHAT WE HAD TO ENDURE" in the context of showing HOW MUCH WE HAVE TO BE THANKFUL FOR TO-DAMNED-DAY as they position their BLACK KIDS with a note of WHAT THEY NEED TO DO TO KEEP THE TORCH BURNING to pass on something GREATER TO THEIR OWN PROGENY ......the DRESSING UP AS ENSLAVED PEOPLE is not an offense to me.

(I don't know about YOUR ANCESTORS but my ancestors were not SLAVES. The were ENSLAVED. ENSLAVEMENT is a force put upon an otherwise free person. They had the choice to do as the person who threatened them wanted them to do OR suffer the physical torture inflicted upon them OR the mental anguish of having their loved one taken away from them. MY FAMILY members retained their individual dignity but did what is necessary to avoid physical and mental torture until the LAW made it illegal for one EQUAL MAN to do such things to another EQUAL MAN in God's eyes)

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]what significance does the cotton picking aspect of slavery have to black people and people of color TODAY?[/quote]

Dalit - this is a RIDICULOUS question of you.

Cotton Picking ESPECIALLY in Mississippi is what kept the enslavement of our people alive.

DO YOU THINK that Freedmen STOPPED picking cotton once they were emancipated? King Cotton was and is vital to the agricultural underpinnings of the United States.


How about this:

The popular sentiment among Black people is the argument that millions of our ancestors WORKED to build up this nation without the grant of recognition or compensation for their efforts. As Reparation advocates ENUMERATE the value of this enslaved labor they point to COTTON as the key agricultural byproduct upon which MILLIONS were made in shipping cotton from the South to the North.

What if this school expanded their demonstration to show how the LITTLE GUY/Labor was exploited and was the vital cog in the wheel for the big scheme as they detailed the supply chain of how cotton got from the South to the North?

I can't help but assume that some of you are SHAMED by the historical truth. Some fear that the Black man's natural place was in the cotton field or something and by reenacting this - someone will get some ideas about reforming slavery.

Sharon from WI said...

alright black diaspora...but why can't slavery recognition stick with the remembrance centers like everyone else?

Milwaukee has America's Black Holocaust Museum which is a model other communities could use.

The late James Cameron, the museum's founder, was inspired to establish such a museum after visiting Yad Vashem in Israel.

Cameron, who was nearly lynched in Indiana back in the
'30s--there is a infamous picture of the victims, Cameron's friends, who were not as fortunate--certainly understood the value of history and remembrance.

Sharon from WI said...

It is ironic that today we hear so many people say that CLOTHING should not indicate the intelligence or discipline of the person inside of the clothing yet you are unable to consider the question of the RESPECT by which the rendition of our ancestor's past might be carried out by this particular school. If they were cracking a whip and the student actors shucked and jived saying "Yes massa, yesa massa" I would join in with your protests.

Would you think it appropriate for Jewish kids to dress in dirty, striped prison garb to commemorate the Holocaust? I think such an idea is just as tastless as having black kids dress as slaves.

Constructive Feedback said...

Sharon - do you believe that ALL "American Slavery" recreations should be banned? (Not by the government but by the Black community's efforts to suppress them?)

When I look back at portraits of my great, great grandparents I see Black people, years removed from Enslavement wearing "slave clothes".

Once again - some of you are expressing a bit of irrationality on this point.

You clearly don't want any depictions.

Sharon from WI said...

Sharon - do you believe that ALL "American Slavery" recreations should be banned? (Not by the government but by the Black community's efforts to suppress them?)

When I look back at portraits of my great, great grandparents I see Black people, years removed from Enslavement wearing "slave clothes".

Once again - some of you are expressing a bit of irrationality on this point.

You clearly don't want any depictions.


Oh please. I earlier stated that there is a remembrance museum right here in my hometown that recounts the travails of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation. This very museum certainly could be a model for other communities and I said as much.

So much for my not wanting any depictions.

I merely noted that dressing kids up in slave clothing is as tasteless as dressing Jewish kids and their classmates in striped, dirty garments to commemorate the Holocaust.

Sharon from WI said...

When I look back at portraits of my great, great grandparents I see Black people, years removed from Enslavement wearing "slave clothes".

For the record, I am the namesake of a woman (my maternal great-grandmother) who was born a day after the slave were freed. And I have pictures of my forebears just as most of us here at this forum do.

They certainly weren't wearing raggedly clothes and they had more than one pair of shoes to wear.

Anonymous said...

i am a huge obama supporter but today was horrible in florida. come one julio. do u smell joe the plumber. the poor lady living in her car and him kissing her. same politics as usual. i stil believe in yes we can but this was just wrong. julio was so excited he tried to sell his ticket

Sharon from WI said...

Who is Julio??

Mr. Freer said...

it's about understanding history.

Professor Zero said...

Black Diaspora -

"'I'm not sure how this was a scared straight moment.' Jmee

Jmee, I don't think you've picked cotton before.

Those cotton fields sure scared the crap out me--if this was all I had to look forward to for the rest of my life."

So you are assuming the kids of Hattiesburg are headed nowhere good and that that by having them pick cotton dressed as slaves one day, they will learn that they should ... study? There are so many erroneous assumptions and implications in what you say that ... *sigh*.

msladydeborah said...

Aw FN, say it ain't so!

WTF? I believe that these black folks have gone mad!

When I was in the first grade we had a southern white woman do her student teaching in our class.

She thought it was so cool to show us what cotton looked like in the field. She brought some in for show and tell.

Our parents were up in arms over this particular learning experience. I remember my grandfather being quite pissed about it. He felt that she was making an attempt to re-direct the teachings of the Race Man Politics that he believed in.

I am too through with this one.

Andrea said...

I wasn't offended by the intent of the concept. What disturbed me is having the children dress from home to school and back that I thought was too extreme. I believe in direct action...making people feel through simulated process...but it still could have been executed at a paced level. Young parents and people now don't want to know their culture. Roy Coleman is a disservice.

Right there in Philadelphia is where I learned how to teach little children to simulate history through various tools of the Freedom Theatre model. We used creative dramatics to teach adults and children to better identify and get in touch with an succinct emotion of authenticity and to be able to put your mind at matched levels in time and space.

I could always empathize but I did not feel the fear and desperation and confusion until I experienced the Freedom Theatre teaching method. It was raw.

But just last week, Bill Gates unleashed mosquitos on a crowd. The crowd of course was far more erudite and sophisticated to understand WHY Bill Gates would take drastic measure to take them hostage through an experience. There is very little you can do in a public school system when you have self-interested, self-posessed parents whining about their princes and princesses not needing to idea with our ancestors that much. It's not an appeal just for his child. He does not want to connect to the past that way. He wants to be in control of how he processes the fear, shame, and helplessness. He also wants a school system that will support his detailed design of how he wants to raise his child. Parents don't want their babies exposed to too much reality because it might show how powerless or self-interested in compromise they are.

You need to think a whole lot deeper, Field. I am so used to people crying righteousness under false pretempts.

The same way the gentleman and others did not want to wear the shirt in front of CERTAIN people is the same. People want to be in control to project illusions of themselves and project manipulations. People want that control. The shirts I made were active. They made you experience what those who were called Uppity Negroes felt. The way people looked at you made you feel what they felt. I wanted people to really start to walk in the shoes of the greats who could not just hide and pontificate in safe corners.

We have to expand and tackle our apprehension to understanding nuance. New ideas cannot flourish with our barren limitations in thought.

The concept needed tweaking. I understand why the school just announced it instead of brokering it for approval of the parents. They new someone would be the Roy Coleman. Still, they needed the experience of trouble-shooters in communications and social innovation who could have packaged this better beforehand (i.e. the name of the event; having a structured program with benchmarks they were trying to attempt to meet; explanation of what the parents and teachers had to do as "partners", etc.)

Andrea said...

And one more thing...on my old website I had an image on the first page of these little daycare children protesting. On my second page, I had an image of young children getting arrested.

In England there is the movement to do away with the Cotton-Wool Parenting. It is killing us here in America.

Roy Coleman sucks. People like him are the reason Blacks are so obsessed with assimilating to think they are connected to their roots. It's delusional self-righteousness.

I stand by the school that tried and put themselves out there to take the heat from their own cotton-picking parents that rather not have their babies experience authentic reconnection.

Andrea said...

And another thing...can you imagine what it feels like to escape slavery and flee...not knowing how to really read all that well. You don't know what direction you are going and will end up in. Maybe you would flee into dangerous territory. But there was a system of underground tunnels that ran from house to house to house in the backyards that had not more than a few inches room in circumstance for you to wiggle and crawl. Do you know what it felt like to have to crawl miles in such a tight spot with no opening to escape for air? And do you know how clastaphobic it was? How maddening? You never knew when you would reach the end of the tunnel and you could not even turn around if you wanted too because someone was behind you depending on you to keep moving. You could not scream because it would expose everyone and expose the underground tunnel. Do you know how dark it was and scary--not just of getting caught but just being underground and knowing you could have died in the tunnel trying to simply escape to freedom. Well this was simple in that it was for some the only alternative route to escape. It was simple and not so simple in being easy.

And we can't let our little ones fucking experience a little simulation? We are spoiled, pompous ancestors who don't deserved the luxury we have today. We can't simulate walking in their shoes for one day of re-enactment of the least embarrassing moments: picking cotton.

We need to experience what they did. We keep wanting to forget but market how we are in touch.

Ya-Akua said...

"The age of Obama has me all F***ed up"...I swear I love you Field...the ridiculousness of this story is unbelievable...

Black Diaspora said...

@Professor Zero: "So you are assuming the kids of Hattiesburg are headed nowhere good and that that by having them pick cotton dressed as slaves one day, they will learn that they should ... study? There are so many erroneous assumptions and implications in what you say that ... *sigh*."

No, I said no such thing, you did. You're projecting a position (a strawman) so that you may tear it down to attack what you perceive is my position.

Now, who's being dishonest!

I don't know where the kids of Hattiesburg are going and neither do you. I admitted up thread that my whole damn entry on that topic was more tongue-in-cheek, rather than an exposition of my actual position.

I could be facetious here, but I'm going to be polite, assuming that you haven't read all that I have written on the subject, before you made your *sigh" remark.

**double sigh**

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]She thought it was so cool to show us what cotton looked like in the field. She brought some in for show and tell.

Our parents were up in arms over this particular learning experience. I remember my grandfather being quite pissed about it. He felt that she was making an attempt to re-direct the teachings of the Race Man Politics that he believed in.[/quote]

Ms Lady Deborah:

That is an IRRATIONAL RESPONSE felt by the parents involved.

Did the teacher tell you that YOUR FATE was to be a cotton picker? Did she say that this is all that Blacks are good for?

It is nothing short of COGNATIVE DISSONANCE for someone to attempt to either:

* Associate Blacks with cotton

or

* Show offense or deny that COTTON PICKING was a substantive portion of the experience of Black Labor in the Southern Economy.


HEY FILLED NEGRO - I saw a MODEL T FORD today and I was outraged!!!

Don't you know that during that time the workers who built this car had NO LABOR RIGHTS as we know them today? The White man who was driving it clearly wanted to express White supremacy.

(Preemptive note: Of course some are going to say "So you are comparing the labor movement with SLAVERY?

NO!!! Cotton was picked BEFORE American Slavery!!! COTTON WAS PICKED during American Slavery. Cotton was picked WHEN SLAVERY ENDED IN AMERICA!

In America - cotton picking is mechanized. In parts of Africa - it is still done by HAND.

The point is that some of you are attempting to associate BLACKS/American Slavery with a fundamental part of our fabric industry and food industry [cotton seeds] that is going to continue REGARDLESS the labor arrangement that is set forth)

Cotton Industry In Africa Today:
http://www.aec.msu.edu/fs2/cotton/index.htm

Black Rose said...

No one mentioned the systematic dehumanization and degradation associated with so-called "cotton picking" as an experience. It is endemic to the Slave/sharecropper experience. Not good for children.

Suggested reading, "Up From Slavery" by Booker T. Washington and "The Miseducation of The Negro" by Carter Woodson.
Both relevant to this discussion , sadly.

Black Rose

Anonymous said...

Better than car jacking and raping.

Anonymous said...

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