Churches play large role in educating youth about black history

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Before there was a Black History Month, before the Jim Crow system was dismantled, even before the end of slavery Š there was the black church.

The church, say local leaders, has been a force &045; some would say, the force &045; that has worked throughout history to secure more opportunities for black Americans. So perhaps it should be no surprise that when it comes to conveying black history to young people, the church plays a pivotal role all year long.

Throughout the month of February &045; celebrated nationally as Black History Month &045; local churches are making a special effort to coordinate programs to teach youth about the key people, events and lessons of the African-American past.

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At Clarmont Baptist Church, Black History Month is being celebrated through a variety of means.

The Rev. Leroy White will preach on the topic of &uot;You Are Somebody,&uot; encouraging young people to pursue their dreams no matter what anyone thinks.

But this afternoon, the youth of the church will also present a black history program. That, White said, helps reinforce the lessons better than a sermon alone could.

As part of the program, the youth themselves portray key figures in black history, from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks to Natchez’s own Shead Baldwin. Event the youngest children get at least one or two lines to read.

Memorizing the parts and going through several practices helps ensure young people will remember the facts and lessons of black history, White said. &uot;With a sermon, you might pick up something here and something there, but (playing a part) makes them remember,&uot; he said.

Today, Mercy Seat Baptist Church in Ferriday will make black history the theme of its monthly youth service, which will include guest speakers, as well as running the theme of black history through the church’s other educational programs, said the Rev. F.D. Schiele. There are practical reasons to make young people aware of their history, he said.

&uot;We want them to be aware of their past Š because that can (inspire) them to pursue a good education to keep that progress going,&uot; Schiele said.

&uot;If you don’t know your past, you tend to go back and reinvent the wheel, and that slows progress,&uot; White said.

Besides, White said, the black church is a natural vehicle to convey such lessons.

&uot;The church, in the black community, has been where leadership has developed,&uot; White said.

&uot;It’s a place where you could stand and say what you wanted and needed to say. It’s where we formulated a plan to achieve our goals. And it’s where we focused on God and asked Him to give us His guidance.&uot;

While other organizations, such as schools and civic groups, hold black history-related activities, the black church has always been a major vehicle for such information, said Michael Winn of the Natchez Business and Civic League.

&uot;(The church) perhaps plays the greatest role,&uot; Winn said. &uot;When you look at the civil rights movement, the greatest catalyst has been the black church. As you go back and look at our history, that’s where people came together, and that continues to be the case.&uot;

And when it comes to teaching children black history, Winn said, &uot;I can’t think of a church that’s not doing it.&uot;

Even during slavery, before many organized churches were formed, enslaved people would find a way to gather to hold church meetings, White said.

Many enslaved people, he said, &uot;died in the faith believing things would get better. In the same way, we may not see the results of our work today. But maybe 50 or 100 years from now, it will happen. What we’ve done now is plant the seed.&uot;