Black History Month celebrated at Baldwin Elementary

LAKE COUNTY – February has been officially designated “Black History Month” in the United States, and all across the nation, commemorative celebrations are being held to recall vivid memories and honor the achievements of outstanding African-American citizens.

Last Tuesday, the Baldwin Elementary School gymnasium was the site of a gala presentation of music, poetry, and visual images showcasing highlights of Black America’s dramatic past. Musical director Julie Shaw welcomed a packed house of parents, relatives, and friends, reminding them that the arts have always played an important role in the culture of Black Americans and that the plantation songs, the religous hymns, the folklore, jazz, blues, and even children’s games they created have now become a part of our shared heritage.

The festivities began with a pre-recorded video of Baldwin’s pre-schoolers singing “Here we Go Loop-de-Loo,” a tune familiar to everybody. The ditty was delightful and the kids seemed to be having a wonderful time.

Next on the program was a more serious number, dedicated to the courage of little Ruby Bridges, who, as a 6-year-old first-grader in 1957, became the first student to challenge segregation in schools in the Deep South. Her story was sung by youngsters her own age, as the audience viewed still photographs of the tense situation that little Ruby faced.

It is hard to believe that anyone, especially people who are themselves parents of schoolchildren, could be so cruel and unfeeling as to vent their bigotry against a child, and the faces of these racists who taunted Ruby with vile epithets and taunts are a chilling reminder of the unreasoning hatred that once divided our country. Ruby Bridges was indeed a brave little girl and it was inspiring to see at last the picture of her as a beautiful, smiling, confident adult who did her fellow American students an immeasurable service by breaking the “color bar.”

The Second Grade’s contribution took the form of poetry honoring scientist George Washington Carver (famous for the amazingly creative uses he found for peanuts) and activist Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a crowded bus led to the famous Civil Rights boycott which eventually made integration in public transportation the law of the land.

One of the highlights of the morning’s presentation was undoubtedly the stirring rendition of “We Share a Rainbow: the Rainbow is You and Me” which was offered by pupils from grades K to 3. Mrs. Shaw noted that many observers around Northern Michigan (including, recently, a radio commentator from Interlochen) have noted that Baldwin is a community of great cultural diversity where we all live in peace and harmony and celebrate our oneness as well as our differences. The song was beautifully sung and generated rousing applause.

Highly informative was the third graders’ recital of “African American Firsts” which listed a number of Black trail-blazers including the first college graduates, Ph.D’s, Rhodes shcolars, airplane pilots, millionaires, billionaires, and sports heroes.

The show continued with additional lovely music offered by the fourth, fifth and sixth grades as well as the Honors Choir and the popular Drum Ensemble.

Other excellent selections included a fascinating “mini-documentary” – a Pictorial History of Harriet Tubman – and a “Memory Quilt.”

Watching all these happy kids performing together is always a poignant experience for senior Americans who can remember the “bad old days” when whites and blacks had little to do with one another, when black faces in the movies or on TV were rare and there were no black celebrities who were heroes to whites as well as blacks, when African Americans seldom found the opportunity to work in really good jobs, neighborhoods were segregated, inter-racial marriage was considered shocking, and the idea of a Black President was totally unbelieveable. How fortunate we all are that the monstrous injustices of the past are now history, and that our children known them only through such programs as those seen in Black History Month.