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5th-Graders Follow in King's Footsteps

January 17, 1998|CATHY WERBLIN

For Joanne Wilson-Bell, the equal rights march on Clinton-Mendenhall Elementary School's playground was a poignant reminder of an era when her white classmates refused to hold her hand.

Remembering a childhood fighting for her own equality and justice, Wilson-Bell, 38, said she hopes to pass the importance of the civil rights movement and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message on to another generation--specifically to the multicultural students in her fifth-grade classroom.

With signs and banners in hand, about 120 fifth-graders took to the school's playground Friday in a reenactment of a 1960s-era civil rights march organized by Wilson-Bell. The scene lacked fire hoses, police dogs or bystanders shouting racial slurs, but the 10- and 11-year-olds held hands and walked as they chanted and sang familiar words.

Fifth-graders at the school have been learning about King and civil rights as part of their lessons. The students learned about the importance of his hope that people be judged by their character rather than color.

"We are always studying about equality," Wilson-Bell said. "What happened in 1963 is still happening today. I told my class we'd be here rain or shine."

Holding handmade signs with slogans including "Born Free," "Live Free, Die Free" and "Look in Our Hearts Not at Our Skin Color," the students marched onto the playground. Students later recited segments of King's "I Have a Dream" speech and sang "We Shall Overcome."

"It meant a lot to celebrate the birthday of a great man--a hero for all black Americans," 10-year-old Amanda Hudson said.

Lorena Godinez, 11, said she learned a lot from the march: "Martin Luther King was a good man, and he was a good person. I believe in what he talked about."

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