Geographies of Slavery and Freedom Project
On Juneteenth 2015 (June 19th) fifth graders from the Morrisville-Eaton Central School (MECS) extended their "In My Backyard" program by performing and recording their original song at The Auburn Public Theatre in a program featuring other elementary classes involved in the project.
The project started with an invitation to Peterboro heritage sites from Martha Swan, Executive Director of John Brown Lives, to join In My Backyard: Geographies of Slavery and Freedom, a program created by John Brown Lives and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. The Smithfield Community Association / Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark, in collaboration with the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, received a CNY Arts in Education grant which is made possible, in part, with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by CNY Arts.
After weeks of planning, and with strong support from Michael Drahos, Superintendent for the Morrisville-Eaton Central Schools, and the enthusiastic 5th grade teaching staff (Heather Keefe, Amy Markowicz, Carrie Martin and Julianne Taylor) an artists-in-residency week began June 8 with Magpie performing The Battle Cry of Freedom concert for several grades at the MECS auditorium in the morning. Magpie is the musical duo of Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino who have been performing folk, history, social justice, and environmental programs for the public and schools for forty years.
After the concert fifth grade students and staff, along with Magpie, traveled to Peterboro to gather information on Harriet Tubman and her relationship with Gerrit Smith. While standing where Tubman stood, touching structural artifacts that she touched, walking where she walked, and reading about her Underground Railroad and abolition activities with Smith, the students assembled information and gained an understanding that Harriet Tubman was right here in their own backyard! For the next three days, Magpie and the students worked in two one hour sessions composing a song that explained that Harriet Was Here with Gerrit Smith. The students Skyped with Kate Clifford Larson, Tubman scholar and author whose book Bound for the Promised Land is in the process of being filmed, asking many question and deciding that Larson was a “good guardian for Harriet.” Norman K. Dann, Gerrit Smith scholar and author, visited the class to discuss the Tubman-Smith friendship. Much lively and serious discussion about choice of lyrics and notes created a musical message with which all had been engaged.
On Friday morning June 12, the MECS students performed their song Kinder Heart at the Peterboro United Methodist Church for fifth graders from Hamilton, Madison, and Stockbridge Valley schools for the opening of the annual Peterboro Civil War Living History Day. The Living History day provides over 150 students from four schools small group scheduled rotations with Civil War reenactors, historical characters, 19th C. domestic life demonstrations, etc.
As a culmination to the In My Backyard project Martha Swan and the Harriet Tubman Boosters organized a Juneteenth event in Auburn. Morning recording sessions with Magpie were arranged in the morning. In the afternoon Laurel Ulleyette, President of the Boosters, introduced Auburn Mayor Michael Quinn. Dr. Larson Skyped in again and Dr. Margaret Washington from Cornell University explained Juneteenth. Max Smith, Mayor of Oneida City and Co-chair of Peterboro Emancipation Days related his slave ancestry and sang a participatory freedom song. Then students from Genesee Elementary in Auburn and Newport Central School in the Adirondacks performed their Harriet was Here songs for each other. The spirit of Harriet Tubman was assuredly present.