Early on February 7th, the entire student body of St. Philip High School gathered onto two charter buses and headed to Detroit. After a brief tour of Wayne State University and lunch, they walked to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, where the real lesson began.
“We live in a diverse world,” said St. Philip social studies teacher Kyra Rabbitt, who secured funding for the trip through a Calhoun Intermediate School District grant. “It is important for students to study and understand history from a variety of backgrounds. If you only study history through one lens, you only get one side of the story.”
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the second-largest collection of African-American history in the world after the Smithsonian. It is a profound experience, involving an emotional walk through elaborate exhibits.
“The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is a jewel,” Mrs. Rabbitt said. “I heard a lot of students talking about wanting to go back with their family.”
Guides led the students through a busy tribal marketplace. Students walked by captured figures tied to trees or chained in cellars. They walked through the bowels of a slave ship were rows of figures slept on hard shelves. They stood on a slave ship’s deck, where traders branded people. They walked past a slave auction and through parts of the Underground Railroad. They went inside several Black-owned businesses in 20th century Detroit.
“Many of our students have learned about slavery or read about it in a textbook, but they haven’t learned it in that way,” Kyra Rabbitt said. “Some students talked about having a physical reaction when they were in the middle passage and saw all the bodies packed together.”
One student wrote afterward, “After we finished, the tour guide asked us how many slaves there are. He said there are zero. There are no slaves but people. Greed made people used violence and oppression in horrible ways.”
Students had been preparing for this trip for some time and in many subject areas, including history, government, and literature.
After reading Langston Hughes and other writers, St. Philip English teacher Angelique Finch took her Honors American Literature class to Rafaynee in downtown Battle Creek to eat traditional Southern cuisine and meet owners Charles and JoAnn Knox.
“We shared with the students the history of “soul food” and the preparation of the food they would be tasting from its raw state,” Mrs. Knox said. “We also shared our personal family migration from the south to the north.”
“[Charles and JoAnn Knox] were very gracious,” Mrs. Finch said. “What we learned in the textbook came to life.”
“Experiences like these are important to have because it gives real-time exposure to what students are being taught in school,” Mrs. Knox said. “This experience allowed the students to gain knowledge about another culture different from their own. It was an opportunity for the students to see how much more we are alike than different.”