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Area tudents learn in various local venues during Black History Month

March 16, 2007

Young people were exposed to new perspectives on black history during a series of Black History Month programs sponsored in February by Contemporary School for the Arts & Gallery Inc.

In addition to programs at several Washington County public schools, the presentations were expanded this year to community centers at Noland Village, Frederick Street, the Memorial Recreation Center and Elgin Station, as well as at the gallery.

Dwain Esmond noted that Black History Month is usually a time when the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other black luminaries are celebrated for their historic nonviolent efforts on behalf of civil rights for all people.

However, Esmond said, it must also be recognized that black people "also contributed much to the life and commerce of America through the genius of their inventions."

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In a program at Elgin Station for members of the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County, Esmond discussed the contributions of largely forgotten black pioneers such as Benjamin Banneker, Charles Henry Turner, Joseph Lee, Lloyd Augustus Hall and others.

"The kids seemed fascinated to find out, for instance, that Lloyd Hall invented many of the ways used to preserve the freshness of the foods they consume."

Esmond also talked about some of today's most respected black inventors, such as Dr. Patricia E. Bath of Dew Medical School. She invented the cataract laserphacoprobe, a device used by physicians the world over to remove cataracts.

"The contributions of African-Americans in the area of science and technology is often overshadowed by black contributions to entertainment, sports and civil rights," Esmond said. "I wanted to show the kids in attendance that they have the mental ability to master the sciences in the same way that they may excel at sports or entertainment."

C-Safe Homework Club students at Eastern Elementary School were given a special lesson about African-American cowboys by volunteer artist Diane Hamilton.

As part of the lesson, the students learned of the African-American impact on the Wild West and they made friendship bracelets out of "roping" similar to the rope used in the days of the Wild West.

The Homework Club is made up of 25 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students at Eastern who receive after school assistance with homework and enrichment activities. The on-site coordinator at Eastern Elementary is school counselor Misti Winders. Carolyn Brooks is the community coordinator of the C-Safe grant.

At a program held at Contemporary School for the Arts & Gallery, Hampton Wedlock spoke about what life was like for young black people in Washington County in the 1960s and 1970s, and talked of local landmarks and influential people.

He said his most enjoyable years in school were his two years at the all-black North Street School, "not because it was all black; mainly because it was how were all treated each other, more of a family atmosphere and respect." The principal, Mr. Hodges, was "a man who demanded respect from all students." His teachers, Mrs. Bennett and Mrs. Hawkins, "were important people in my life that I will never forget."

Students walked to school in all weather, he said. "We were not important to the people of Washington County or the school board to have buses - not yet," he said.

He talked about the Harmon Hotel, the many churches "that helped mold the families in the area" and the two barbershops "where you could always find something or someone to talk about." He spoke of the late Bill Mason, Washington County's first black sheriff's deputy and "beloved friend of the community."

"Yes, we have come a long way but we still have a long way to go," Wedlock told the young people. "Washington County can be a great place, but it needs to be great for everyone."

Turtle's Subs Inc. provided refreshments for that program.

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