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Belton ISD students participate in living black history lesson

Rev. Harrison leads students on tour.

The uplifting tone of Dr. Lela Butler’s vocal performance of “A Man Named King” welcomed Belton High School world geography students to their lesson on the civil rights movement Thursday morning.

Butler, a music teacher from Temple, led students in the Harris Community Center through verses praising the crucial work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who “sang a freedom song.” Those inspirational lyrics were followed by the line “One day Martin sang no more,” which prompted Butler to ask the group why “Martin sang no more?” One student replied that the lyrics alluded to Dr. King’s assassination.

The harsh reality in those lyrics mixed with messages of hope for greater equality were reflected in Butler’s stories of pain and progress living through segregation.

Butler was joined by Rev. Roscoe Harrison, pastor of Eighth Street Baptist Church in Temple, whom guided students on a tour of Harris Community Center, which once housed all 12 grades for black students until the Belton school district desegregated in the 1960s.

Harrison, who once interviewed Dr. King in 1968 for Jet Magazine, told students of the institutional racism perpetuated by segregation.

“We didn’t even think of going beyond high school to college,” Harrison said about the systemic limits put in place to keep African Americans from having equal access to education. “Our education was substandard, and we didn’t realize it until we graduated from high school because when I went to an integrated Temple College, I was trying to learn what the white students had already learned at their high school, it was kind of like catch-up.”

Harrison said it is vital for students to understand the struggles he and others experienced.

“They need to know their history,” Harrison said. “They need to know where we have come from, especially our African American students. They need to know that a price has been paid for them, and they stand on the shoulders of people who really paid a great price.”

Jaidyn Burgess, a ninth-grader from BHS, is Harrison’s granddaughter, and said she felt inspired hearing her grandfather talk about his experiences.

“I feel encouraged to hear him talk to everyone,” Burgess said. “I feel good because he’s sharing about his life, and I hope the stories can get through to everyone.”

That kind of personalized history is what BHS social studies teacher Rebecca Kidder wanted her students in attendance to experience.

“Anytime I can bring history alive for my kids is a whole lot different than me just telling them about it in the classroom,” Kidder said. “I want them to know history is not just something we read about in a textbook or something that we see on TV. It happened here, in our community, and there are pioneers that helped pave that way for them to have the opportunities available to them now.

“Belton ISD acknowledges this part of history by doing this event here today,” Harrison said about the benefit of Belton ISD not shying away from the topic of segregation and its role in this troubled past. 

Ultimately, Dr. Lela Butler said, education and acceptance are the keys to progress.

“I want these students to never stop learning about others,” she said. “Always be open to others and to learn something new from somebody else."

Joshua Wucher
February 22, 2019