Jan. 15, 2005 — The group of third graders sat in rapt attention Friday as their teacher read from a large picture-filled book at the Evelyn M. Williams School in Frederiksted. The teacher, Jacqueline Ashe, sought, while recounting historic events to the youngsters, to maintain a balance between the horrors that were perpetrated against early civil-rights fighters and the message of love and peace that were symbolic of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ashe's class joined with teacher Mary Estaphan's class for the Friday afternoon story reading. Miniature chairs and desks were placed close together to accommodate all the children. The classroom walls were filled with learning tools and bright posters. There was barely an inch of wall space that didn't hold groups of spelling words, a world map or an encouraging saying. Taped to the blackboard was a large poster of Dr. King. Next to the poster, were the words "Prince of Peace" and "King of Love" written in neat block letters.
"The police tried to disperse the crowd using fire hoses. Do you know what happens when water from a fire hose comes at you?" The children had no idea. "It can sweep away this entire classroom in a minute, and, because your bodies are so small, it can damage your organs, it can hurt you very badly," Ashe told the students. The children listened in wonder as their teacher told them about life in the civil rights era. They learned how to say and spell a new word, "assassinated," and learned how some children went to separate schools and their parents did not have the right to vote.
The soft-spoken teacher who only raised her voice to emphasize a point in the story, passed out cookies to children who listened intently and answered questions correctly after the story was read. "What was Dr. Kings' message?" the class was asked. "That all of us are brothers and sisters," said one girl. A little boy said, "He wanted the black people and the white people to get along."
Carlos McGregor, school principal, said all the students in the school are receiving lessons on the life and times of Dr. King. "They are doing activities such as poetry writing, reports, discussions and stories." McGregor said the students will learn more about King during Black History month in February
Dr. King, a clergyman and civil rights leader, was born on Jan. 15, 1929 and assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Saturday is the 75th anniversary of King's birthday. The day is a federal holiday and celebrated this year on Monday, Jan. 17. Schools and banks in the territory will be closed.
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