A school district in South Carolina has apologized after parents and community members expressed outrage over a field trip in which students were instructed to pick cotton while singing slave songs.
Video first obtained by Fox 46 last week shows fifth-graders from Rock Hill school district picking cotton at a historical schoolhouse during Black History Month as a nearby adult directs them to sing along: “I like it when you pick like that. I like it when you fill your sack. I like it when you don’t talk back. Make money for me.”
Jessica Blanchard, whose 10-year-old son Jamari attended the field trip, told Fox 46 that she was “livid” over the video, which was taken by a teacher and sent to parents of fifth-graders at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary in Rock Hill.
“I’m African-American and my ancestors picked cotton,” she said. “Why would I want my son to pick cotton and think it’s fun?”
Jamari told Fox 46 that the students thought the cotton-picking activity at the Carroll School, a school built in 1929 by and for African-Americans, was a fun game. He said instructors did not explain the history of slavery and how African-American men, women and children were forced to harvest the cotton fields.
“They thought it was funny,” Jamari said of his classmates. “Whoever picked the least amount of cotton had to hold a big sack called ‘Big Mama.’”
Rock Hill School District said the activity at the Carroll School was meant to educate students on the Great Depression and wasn’t part of a lesson on slavery or Black History Month. The school district also alleged parents had signed permission slips that noted students would be picking cotton during the trip.
But some parents, including Blanchard, said they would never have allowed their children to participate had they known they would be singing “slave songs” at the time.
“When I saw the video my jaw dropped,” Erica Poplus, whose 11-year-old daughter attended the field trip in September, told ABC News. “I immediately was frustrated, offended and was like, ‘Wow, this is what my baby was doing?’”
She added: “I feel like if they were going to sing slave songs and they didn’t feel like the parents would be offended that it would have been mentioned in the field trip permission slip.”
Blanchard said John Jones, the school district’s chief academic and accountability officer, called to personally apologize and vowed to take action so the field trip’s activities would no longer offend anyone in the future. A representative for the school district did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
“I support the Carroll School,” Blanchard told Fox 46. “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.”
A Virginia school district came under fire last week after elementary school students were instructed to participate in a Black History Month activity in gym class, which involved escaping through an obstacle course meant to represent the Underground Railroad.
Loudoun County Public Schools said the district will undergo bias training after receiving several complaints from parents who accused the school of having children pretend to be runaway slaves, including a small group of black students.