Dawn Comer Jefferson (L) and Dr. Rosanne Welch (R) present on their book, The Promise
On Friday March 21st my co-author, Dawn Comer Jefferson and I had the pleasure of making a presentation on “Slavery and the Oregon Trail” based on our book The Promise to the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades of Carpenter Avenue Elementary School as the guests of the non-profit Parents For Carpenter.
We discussed the origins of slavery in the Americas, the hardships of surviving the Oregon Trail (collecting buffalo chips was a topic of great interest as was the repetitive diet of bacon, beans, biscuits and coffee), and the patently unfair laws that kept enslaved African-Americans from learning to read and write and from testifying in court cases.
The question and answer sessions highlighted the success of teaching critical thinking to elementary students. Children asked about what happened when someone died on the trail, why no one listened to the Quakers who believed all men and women were created equal even before the laws guaranteed that point and one boy even made the connection between Jackie Robinson’s having been called a trailblazer and our fictionalized family taking the Oregon Trail as original trailblazers.
We even found that some teachers and parents on hand for the presentation were never taught that Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence (which listed crimes committed by the King that allowed us to sever our obligations as subjects) included the fact that the King condoned slavery and that during debate this was excised from the document or the Southern representatives would not sign.
These are things I take for granted from teaching American History every semester, but was happy to reiterate for this younger – and very eager to learn – audience. It is always gratifying to know that these presentations are engaging, entertaining and informative to both the children and the adults in attendance. In fact, one grandmother on hand bought 10 copies to take back to her classroom in Pennsylvania!