Report: Elementary school students told to pick cotton, sing ‘slave song’ on field trip

Report: Elementary school students told to pick cotton, sing ‘slave song’ on field trip

News Staff

Parents in South Carolina are outraged after an elementary school class took in a field trip in which students were instructed to pick cotton while singing “slave songs.”

Video obtained by Fox 46 shows fifth-graders from Ebenezer Avenue Elementary in Rock Hill picking cotton. In one video, the kids are being instructed to sing: “I like it when you fill the sack. I like it when you don’t talk back. Make money for me.”

“I’m livid right now,” said Jessica Blanchard, the mother of one of the students. “I’m African-American and my ancestors picked cotton. Why would I want my son to pick cotton and think it’s fun?”

Rock Hill School District said the activity at the Carroll School, which was built in 1929 by and for African-Americans, was meant to educate students on the Great Depression and wasn’t part of a lesson on slavery or Black History Month.

The district called the field trip a “unique learning opportunity” that promotes “understanding about our past” and “helps students make real-life connections.” The school district said parents had signed permission slips that noted students would be picking cotton during the trip.

Blanchard felt the entire ordeal was “a mockery of what our people went through.”

Wali Cathcart, 81, an instructor and former student at the Carroll School, said the cotton picking activity is meant to show what he and his parents had to do to survive during the Great Depression.

“This program is not about that (slavery),” he said. “This program here is centered around the Great Depression of the 1930s, so slavery is not the predominant issue.”

Blanchard still feels the activity is inappropriate.

“I support the Carroll School. I support everything else about it,” said Blanchard. “But I don’t understand, at the end, why do you make it a point to pick cotton and sing those songs? I think it’s misguided, and maybe ignorance on their part.”

The chief academic and accountability officer for Rock Hill Schools, Dr. John Jones, called Blanchard and apologized. Jones promised changes would be made so future trips would not be offensive to anyone.

Rock Hill Schools released a statement to WCNC:

“The Carroll School field experience is a unique learning opportunity for all 5th grade students in Rock Hill Schools’ elementary schools,” the statement said. “Students have been visiting the Carroll School for the past fifteen years as a part of studying the Great Depression in the school curriculum.”

“He did not intend it to sound like, or in any way be a ‘slave song’ as it has been characterized,” the statement continued. “The lyrics came from his experience as an African-American farmer picking cotton and making money for his family in the Great Depression time period.”

South Carolina state Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, responded by calling the field trip “insensitive” and “terribly wrong.”

Fox 46 reports the school had to be placed on lockdown Friday after the school received “threatening phone calls” regarding the controversial field trip.