As part of Black History Month, the students in Catherine Wilkinson’s 4th grade class at Burlington’s Pleasant Grove Elementary put on a production of “Sitting Down for Dr. King” by Charles Ryder.
The play tells the story of the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-ins of 1960. With the North Carolina setting, she thought the play would be a perfect window onto history. And she didn’t limit the students to roles based on race. White students could play black students and vice versa.
“When I saw that we were celebrating Black History Month, I wanted the students to have a chance to participate and feel what it was like back in the 60s,” she said.
Wilkinson utilized Pleasant Grove staff members who had been public school students in the ’60s. They came in and shared their experiences with the children.
Principal Sharon Lamberth sat in on the play and gave her judgment of the finished product after the “curtain” closed.
“I thought the play was wonderful,” she said. “And I think when children can participate in something like a play where they are actually taking on parts and reliving it, it just makes it more real to them.”
Lamberth was joined by students from other Pleasant Grove classrooms who came in to watch the presentation.
After the play, the actors and actress gave some insight into what they learned from the performance.
One said: “I think the story feels to me like people shouldn’t judge their skin by their color because they have feelings.”
Another added: “If this never happened, our world would be different. Things would still be different between whites and African Americans.”
Lamberth said it’s important that students get a chance to learn about what has happened in America’s past. It helps them to understand the country they live in today.
“We always say that if we don’t teach children about our history, then it’s bound to repeat itself,” Lamberth said. “And so hopefully by exploring what happened in Greensboro, they’ll come away with a new appreciation of the hard fight for civil rights.”