LAURINBURG – While some Black History Month programs are dry recitations of facts, students at Sycamore Lane Elementary School got to hear from someone has lived that history for the past century.
Annie Mae Armstrong, who is 100, spoke at the school’s celebration on Monday about life as a black woman in rural Scotland County in the 2oth century. Armstrong was born in September 1916. As a student, she was top of her class in mathematics and reading. Over the years she worked as a beautician, a cook at Camp Monroe and as cafeteria manager at South Scotland Elementary School.
With the aid of a walker, Armstrong told the 619 young students what it was like to grow up on a farm. She said in her day, people had to grow or make everything they had.
Armstrong told the children that her family grew its own corn and wheat. She said they would take the wheat to Raeford to be ground into flour, and they ground cornmeal and yellow grits themselves at home.
“We used to have chickens, hogs and cows,” Armstrong said. “We had two cows we would milk and make our own butter. You couldn’t cook by pushing buttons,” she said.
Prior to her talk with the students, Armstrong said life was hard for people of color during those times.
“You used to go to McNair’s for a hotdog and they would hand it to you out the window; things are quite different from that now,” she said.
Armstrong spoke a little about racism.
“It seemed like they didn’t want colored folks to have nothing,” she said. “But by the help of the good Lord, we made it.”
Although Armstrong cannot remember what year she first voted she was pleased to have an opportunity to exercise her civic duty so much so that she became a poll worker.
“I worked the polls in John’s Station for some 20 years,” Armstrong recalls. “It meant a lot to be able to work the polls.”
Snapshots in history
Monday’s program was called “Dreams Do Come True, a Snapshot of Black History” and its used two skits to illustrate that African American notables once started out as students too.
The first skit showed a young Ella Fitzgerald, Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah Winfrey, and Barack and Michelle Obama in a classroom together where they share their dreams.
The second skit portrayed other notables like Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and George Crum inventor of potato chips.
“You never know who you are teaching great students could be the next Obama or Ella Fitzgerald,” said Tracey Williams, one of the event’s organizers.
Rev. Terence Williams shared the challenges he faced in school due to learning disabilities and a teacher who ridiculed him. He told students that he had to learn to use those challenges as motivation to be a better student.
The teacher’s mockery pushed Williams to “surround myself with books and be inquisitive so nobody would ever mock me again.”
Williams encouraged students to work hard and not to lose focus when working toward their dreams. He urged them pay attention to their teachers because those teachers would be key to the student’s future success.
“These adults here in this place can help you build good foundations,” Williams said. “Take it all in.”
Williams closed his remarks by telling the children that since their school mascot was a buck they have to “Buck against everything that is wrong and make your dreams come true.”
The program ended with a performance by Springhill Middle School’s gospel choir.
The mother of fifth-grader, Jaiquez Caldwell, said the program was “lovely” and said she loved that Rev. Williams spoke to the young people about making their dreams come true.
“Some kids need that inspiration,” she said.
Kindergarten teacher Lindsay Spangler said she found the program was motivational and “lined up” with what Sycamore Lane tries to do in the classroom. Spangler said they encourage students to dream big “even in kindergarten.”
“I love those stories,” she said. “The students can see the person and hear what they lived through, especially for them to see someone who has lived through diverse and difficult times. We talk about it [in class], but it’s good for them to have the actual experience.”
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169