Black History Month Program

Black History Month Program for Elementary and Middle Schools in Utah
By Margaret Blair Young
With excerpts from the original words of Black heroes from the past

The program should last about 1/2 hour, though if individual schools choose to add to it, they are certainly free to. It might be beneficial to have all students learn “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and to have various classes learn the songs [c.d. available for help]–one song per class. The songs are:

Amazing Grace
Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
O Freedom!
[Follow the Drinking Gourd]
Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen
Lift Every Voice and Sing

Set requirements: One roving microphone (though two would be better) and either chairs or blocks for all actors. Narrators can turn microphones over to the actors at the appropriate times. Lighting can be general or, preferably, spot-lit. Narrators may dress in contemporary dress, though actors should be costumed in clothes fitting the times in which their characters lived.

Characters: 4 women, 6 men
Narrator 1 (black male)
Narrator 2 (black female)
Nat Turner
Frederick Douglass
Sojourner Truth
Harriet Tubman
Green Flake
Booker T. Washington
Rosa Parks
Martin Luther King, Jr.

We recommend that upper grades (or preferably the whole school) learn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for the conclusion.
Prelude music should be traditional “Negro Spirituals” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” is a good possibility.

Program

Narrator 1 (black man): We were here. Before the pilgrims came on the Mayflower, we were here. Before the first cannons fired in the Revolutionary War, we were here. Some of us were slaves and some of us were free, but we were here. Many of our people fought in that Revolutionary War for the issues stated in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Narrator 2 (black woman): Most of our names have been forgotten by now, for the majority of us were slaves. We were listed only as property, not people. We could not write our own names, because we didn’t know how to write. And now, it seems time has forgotten our names. Yet we have a great history in this country. Ours is the heroic history of survival. Our history travels the length of a whip and the vastness of a dream. It spans oceans and centuries. It is the history of the human spirit’s quest for freedom. It is the history of our souls.

Narrator 1: We began in Africa, though most of us don’t know where our ancestors were when they were kidnaped and brought across the ocean as slaves. We know the slave ships were overcrowded and our people were abused. The sight was terrible. One man who worked as a slave ship captain knew the sight well. He grew to hate the slaving business, and wrote a song we still sing today. His name was John Newton, and the song is “Amazing Grace.” He wrote it one stormy night when it seemed the ocean would swallow him and all his ship–with hundreds of slaves–whole.

Song: Amazing Grace
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see

Narrator 2: The names of the slaves on Mr. Newton’s ship were African. Most received new names once arrived at their destination. Their own children did not have African names, and were raised speaking English. They had names like “Frederick.” or “Harriet” or “Nathaniel.” Perhaps you have heard of Nathaniel–Nat–Turner, who led his fellow slaves in a dangerous and bloody rebellion.

Nat Turner: I was born the property of Benjamen Turner. I had a vision, and I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle. The sun was darkened, the thunder rolled in the Heavens, blood flowed in streams, and I heard a voice saying, “Such is your luck, such you are called to see, and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bear it.”

Narrator 1: Nat Turner and many other slaves were executed after this rebellion, but many people, white and black, were listening anew to the message of slaves and former slaves. Many people wanted to abolish slavery–to get rid of it. They were called “Abolitionists.” One of the most important men of our race was Frederick Douglass. Like Nat Turner, he was born a slave. But he ran away from his master and became a great speaker for the Abolitionists. Standing before large audiences like this one, he would tell about his childhood, and about the evil of slavery.

Frederick Douglass: My mother’s visits to me were few, brief, and mostly made in the night. Yet I shall never forget her expression when I told her I had had no food since morning and that the mistress meant to starve the life out of me. There was pity in her glance at me. She gave me a large ginger cake. That night I learned that I was not only a child, but somebody’s child. The sweet cake my mother gave me was in the shape of a heart. On my mother’s knee, I was a king upon his throne. But my triumph was short. I dropped off to sleep, and waked in the morning only to find my mother gone. I do not remember to have seen her after this. I learned, after my mother’s death, that she could read. That a “field hand” should learn to read, in any slave state, is remarkable. But the achievement of my mother, considering the place, was extraordinary.

Song: Sometimes I feel Like a Motherless Child
Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child
Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child
Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child
A long ways from home
A long ways from home
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone
A long ways from home
A long ways from home

Frederick Douglass (Continued): Still, the dark night of slavery fell upon me. I languished–until I felt a resurrection from the dark tomb of slavery to the heaven of freedom. I was not afraid to die. Bruises I did get, but this spirit made me a free man.

Narrator 2: Mister Frederick Douglass sometimes took off his shirt during his speeches and showed the deep whip marks on his back. Sometimes, this caused some women in the audience to faint. And sometimes another former slave, a woman, joined him in speaking of human rights. Meet Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a woman? I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed. Can any man do more than that? I tell you, the meanest child of glory outshines the brightest sun!

Narrator 1: Another great woman of color did not make many speeches, but she did make many journeys. She herself had run away to where freedom was, but returned time and again to the slave world to rescue other slaves. She took them from one hiding place to another, using what we call “The Underground Railroad.”

(Note: The song “Follow the Drinking Gourd” can be sung here if desired.)

The Underground Railroad was not a real railroad with tracks and trains. It consisted of many safe houses where runaway slaves could stay on their way to freedom. Some called Harriet Tubman “Moses.” Like Moses of Old, she led slaves to a promised land.

Harriet Tubman: I was only seven years old when I was sent away to take care of a [white] baby. One morning, I stood by the table waiting till I was to take it. Just by me was a bowl of lumps of white sugar. I never had nothing good, and that sugar did look so nice, and my Missus’s back was turned to me so I just put my fingers in the sugar bowl to take one lump, and she turned and saw me. The next minute she had the raw hide down. I just flew, and they didn’t catch me. I run and I run and I run, and when I was clear tuckered out, I come to a big pig pen. I stayed from Friday till the next Tuesday, fighting with those little pigs for the potato peelings and other scraps. By Tuesday, I was so starved I knowed I’d got to go back to my Missus. I hadn’t got no where else to go. But :

years later, I did have someplace to go. Freedom land. And I took others with me. You see, there was one or two things I had a right to: liberty or death. If I could not have one, I would have the other, for no man should take me alive.

Song: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home

I look over Jordan and what do I see
Comin’ for to carry me home
A band of angels comin’ after me
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,
Comin’ for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home

Narrator 2: You may not know that there were slaves even here in Utah. When the pioneers came, they brought three “colored servants” with them in the very first company: Hark Lay, Oscar Crosby, and Green Flake. Green Flake was probably driving Brigham Young’s wagon. Years later, at a Pioneer Recognition Day, Green was honored. There, a little girl asked him a question. (Narrator turns to Green Flake) “Mr. Flake, what was it like to be a slave?”

Narrator 1 (standing up abruptly): You don’t have to answer that, Mister Flake!

Green Flake: No, I want to answer it. Being a slave is all right, if you just want to be a slave, that is. But many of us colored folk wanted a better life, if we could find one. I was raised a slave and had a master to tell me what to do. He gave me a place to sleep, fed and clothed me, worked me, and told me what to do each day. Sometimes I got whipped, and my master would give me a big kick in the pants if I sluffed off or made a mistake or if I was lazy. Slavery’s been around for a long time, and the colored folks got sold like they was a horse, a cow or some other animal. They become the owner’s property, and they work long and hard for the master. Most everyone don’t want to be a slave and be in bondage to another, because you can’t have even your own thoughts and dreams. You can’t plan for the future when all decisions gets made by someone else.

Narrator 2: You see, that need for freedom is deep in all of us. We sang about it often.

Song: O Freedom
O Freedom, O Freedom O Freedom over me!
And before I’ll be a slave,
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord
And be free

No more weepin’, no more weepin’
no more weepin’ over me!
And before I’ll be a slave,
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord
and be free.

Narrator 1: Freedom came, but not easy. It came with blood. It cost this nation the Civil War to free its slaves. Many of our race fought in that war, too. After it was over, we were emancipated, but we had new challenges. Most who had been slaves still couldn’t read or write. We didn’t have good schools, and we sure didn’t have money. Some still farmed the ground they had farmed as slaves, though now they could sell the crops they raised. Others moved elsewhere in search of a better life. Some found it, and some found only sorrow and trouble.

Song: Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen
Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen
Glory hallelujah.

Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down
Oh yeah, Lord
Sometimes I’m almost to the ground
Oh yes, Lord.
Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen
Glory hallelujah.

Narrator 2: We knew we needed education. We needed a vision of what we could be, not just the memory of what we’d been. There were many who built schools to educate the freed slaves and their children. One of the great ones was Mr. Booker T. Washington. He founded Tuskeegee Institute. He laid a foundation others would build on. Good people are still working and building to ensure that opportunities for education will be equal for white and black alike, and that all races will have equal say in the government.

Booker T. Washington: I do not believe that any state should make a law that permits an ignorant and poverty-stricken white man to vote, and prevents a black man in the same condition from voting. It will become apparent that the white man who begins by cheating a Negro out of his ballot soon learns to cheat a white man out of his.

Narrator 2: Booker T. Washington was famous in his day, and respected. But full freedom was still a long ways off for us. So there came a time when it was necessary to stand up for Civil Rights–or in one case, to refuse to stand up. Meet Rosa Parks.

Rosa Parks: December 5, 1955, was one of the memorable and inspiring days of my life. History records this day as the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement that transformed America and influenced freedom revolutions around the world. I had been arrested four days earlier in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to get up and give my seat on a city bus to a white man, which was a much-resented customary practice at the time. Martin Luther King said of me and others, “When the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say, ‘There lived a race of people, a black people, fleecy locks and black complexion, a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization."

Song: Reprise (3rd verse) “O Freedom”
There’ll be singin’
There’ll be singin’
There’ll be singin over me
And before I’ll be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord
And be free

Narrator 1: These are only a few names from our history, and a few words. There are so many others now–poets, musicians, artists, doctors, politicians, lawyers, professors. We call ourselves African Americans because we cherish our heritage–in its completeness. African and American. We were here, and we still are, building lives and legacies. Perhaps no one helped us realize our worth and our dreams quite like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. I am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…I have a dream that some day my four little children will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

Narrator 2: I have a dream today, too. I hope each of you has a dream. And I hope each of you has the knowledge that your dreams can come true. So dream high. Lift up your heads and dream high. And lift every voice and sing.

Song: Lift Every Voice and Sing [Negro National Anthem]–audience should be standing

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