Lawmaker calls controversial cotton field trip "insensitive," "terribly wrong"

A South Carolina lawmaker reacted to a FOX 46 report about a controversial field trip involving fifth graders picking cotton while singing slave songs, first reported by FOX 46, calling the trip "insensitive" and "terribly wrong."

"What happened on this field trip was insensitive and inaccurate," said representative John King. "The true history of slavery and sharecropping is one of violence and oppression; it is a history that needs to be taught with appropriate weight."

For the past 15 years, fifth graders attending Rock Hill Schools, have taken a class trip to the Carroll School. The historic school, built by and for African Americans during the Great Depression, is used as a teaching center.

FOX 46 obtained video of kids singing a slave song with lyrics like: "I like it when you bend your back, I like it when you fill your sack, I like it when you don't talk back, make money for me." Jessica Blanchard was outraged when she saw her 10-year-old son singing the song and picking cotton as part of a "game" to see who could do it the fastest. 

York County Councilman William "Bump" Roddey told FOX that aspect of the field trip "comes off as offensive to the community" and should change. 

"I think the song singing really tips the scale when it comes to the concern of what are we really embedding in our young men and women?," asked Roddey. "I wouldn't sign a petition slip if I knew my son would be picking cotton singing a slave song."

There was no discussion of slavery of Black History Month during the trip, according to Blanchard's son and the school district. The focus was on the Great Depression.

Blanchard's son said he was not told about the history of slaves forced to pick cotton.

"Something has gone terribly wrong when slavery is treated as a 'game,' when children leave a field trip with the impression that a mockery can be made of their ancestors' oppression," said King. "When we portray a sugar-coated version of history, one of happily picking cotton and singing songs, then we miss an opportunity to teach the truth."

As a result of FOX 46's story, the district reached out to Blanchard to apologize. A top district official pledged to work with her to make changes to the controversial field trip. 

"If parents/students took offense, then something went wrong. There is a way to teach this subject with the respect and seriousness that it deserves," King said in a statement.