Natchez dentist teaches Robert Lewis Middle School students about black history

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 17, 2005

An effort to inspire young black students to achieve led Dr. Bennie Wright to the classrooms of Robert Lewis Middle School.

On Friday, he rewarded some of the students he teaches regularly with a trip to two Natchez black history sites, Forks of the Road and the William Johnson House.

&uot;I started out by just giving a little talk to the football team,&uot; said Wright, a Natchez dentist. &uot;I showed them a photo of myself playing football in 1954 at Dunbar High School in Fort Meyers, Fla.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

Wright told team members that he had only two choices in Florida to try out for a scholarship. Only Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman College took black students. &uot;The idea was to show them they can go anywhere they want,&uot; Wright said. &uot;But then one of the youngsters asked me if I played football with Martin Luther King; another one said he didn’t know they let you play during slavery time.&uot;

Wright got the message. The young students could use a few lessons in black history.

He worked with the social studies teachers at the middle school and arranged to give short lessons to them on a regular basis. &uot;I wanted to give them some fundamental information,&uot; Wright said. &uot;The principal liked the idea. I met with the social studies teachers and worked out a schedule.&uot;

Bettye Bell, Robert Lewis Middle School principal, said Wright’s contribution includes bringing students his first-hand knowledge of the Civil Rights era. &uot;He is another member of the community who can bring something to us that we otherwise wouldn’t have,&uot; Bell said. &uot;It gives us a richer environment for our kids.&uot;

Wright began his classes by showing videos that highlighted things that happened during the 1960s Civil Rights era in Mississippi.

&uot;I asked them questions and offered prizes of dollar bills,&uot; he said. &uot;We covered a range of things I thought they ought to know and I put it on a level appropriate to them. I had visited the Johnson House and thought it would be a good thing for them to see.&uot;

Students didn’t know much about Mississippi and Natchez Civil Rights history, he said. &uot;They didn’t know about James Meredith. They didn’t know about Wharlest Jackson,&uot; he said. &uot;I thought this was an opportunity to project something positive.&uot;

Bell said black history is for all students, black and white. &uot;White students are very interested in this history, too,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s an enlightenment for all the students.&uot;

Some in the older generations want to keep history a secret, Bell said. &uot;But it is important that we know all our history, whether it’s about whites, African Americans or

Native Americans. It’s all our history.&uot;