park creek play1.jpg

Karim Page, who is playing Harriet Tubman in a play in Dana Phillip's first-grade class at Park Creek Elementary, reads his lines while practicing on Friday. Misty Watson/The Daily Citizen

At one time, the color of Karim Page’s skin would have meant he wouldn’t even have been allowed in Dana Phillips’ first-grade class at Park Creek School.

But this month, Karim will “star” as Harriet Tubman in an informal class play Phillips’ students are doing for some fellow Park Creek students. Phillips said the idea for the play began with her basically putting on the play herself and having students help act out different parts so they could better understand the story of Tubman and her involvement in the Underground Railroad.

Georgia first-graders are required to study Tubman, a 19th-century black abolitionist and Union spy who helped smuggle black slaves to freedom during and before the War Between the States.

In the play, “Harriet” explains her situation.

“I am a slave,” she says. “I was born on a Maryland plantation. I lived there with my family. I have never been to school. I have to work on the plantation. I have to chop wood, cook and clean. I must do whatever my master says.”

Phillips said creating an original play using biographical information about Tubman was perfect for her students, who all enjoy performing.

The history of black education over the last century or so is filled with tales of segregation and eventual integration. In Dalton, the Emery Street School opened in 1886 as a public school to serve the area’s black students. That was several years after Whitfield County Schools began operating in 1872 and slightly before city public schools were created for white children.

Tulley Johnson, a Dalton Board of Education member and a former Emery Street student, said the school offered a solid education when he went there from first through 10th grade.

“Most of the students that graduated from Emery did well in society,” said Johnson, who served in the military, attended Dalton College and works at the Dalton post office. “It provided at that time exactly what students needed to be successful to be able to compete in society at that time.”

Teachers there impressed upon him the importance of being the best student he could be, of being able to learn no matter how old he got, and of having a positive outlook, he said.

“They always want(ed) you to achieve more and challenge(d) you to be more than what you are,” he said. “Those are things you carry on through life.”

Debate about integration was ongoing during Johnson’s high school years, and he and other Emery students eventually were integrated into the other Dalton schools. Emery Street School closed in 1968, the same year Johnson graduated from Dalton High School, having spent his junior and senior years there.

While black and white students in Dalton went to separate schools, they played against each other in sports and spent time together outside school, making integration easier than it was in some communities, Johnson said.

“Compared to most places, it went pretty smooth I guess because we already knew a lot of students that attended there,” he said. “I think it was a smooth transition because we were able to (be on the same level as the other students) in the classes.”

React to this story:


Trending Video