Their young bodies swayed slightly as they bent to their work, the crack of the master's whip setting the tempo of the task.
Picking cotton was back-breaking work, but the slaves had little choice as the boss demanded they finish the large field before sunset.
In the dark recesses of the night, the young slaves plotted their escape. They would try for freedom even though failure meant they would be tarred and feathered. Or worse.
This was the stark depiction of slavery presented by a dozen Compton kids on Feb. 27 as part of an assembly celebrating Black History Month at Nogales High School in La Puente.
The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders came from the First Christian New Life Academy of Compton.
Shaquan Henderson performs a dance during a black history month celebration. (Greg Andersen / Staff)
They proved to be one of the highlights of the school's celebration.
"I know Nogales teacher Donna Nelson and she asked us if we would perform at her high school," said Sandra Shackelford, the drama and dance instructor at First Christian.
"Our students were very excited to perform at a high school," noted her principal Sandra Mode.
And their performance was appreciated by the Nogales students, who applauded the youngsters.
But the show was only a small part of the many activities planned for Black History Month.
"Every day, the school has been reading about African-American's achievements with the announcements," said Adura Awosika, a senior who originally came from Nigeria.
"I think it's good for everyone to know the many things that African-Americans have created," the tall 17-year-old explained.
Such as the stop light.
Did you know the traffic light was invented by an African American? Garrett Morgan of Cleveland developed the device after he saw an automobile collide with a horse and carriage.
In 1912, Morgan also invented the gas mask, a device that saved the lives of thousands of soldiers in World War I.
Or how about the potato chip? Thanks to the work of African-American chef George Crum we can all enjoy this tasty treat.
On a more serious note, the school held a evening event to celebrate this special month. The activities had been planned by teachers Donna Nelson, Carla Haywood and Corey Cofer.
"We asked Dr. William Frankin, director of the Educational Opportunity Program at Cal State Dominguez Hills to be our guest speaker," Nelson noted.
The event was titled "A Call to Action Starting With Me: Celebrating the Enduring Success of African Americans Past, Present and Future."
"Although African Americans make up only 6 percent of our student population, we believe it's important to celebrate our diversity," said Haywood.
Ivan Jenkins, 15, a member of the poetry club, reads a poem for Black History Month.
celebrate they did with an evening of singing, dancing and poetry.
"My students even wrote some special poems for the event," said Cofer, advisor for the school's poetry club.
Ruby Franciso, a performance poet from San Diego, was scheduled to perform.
"All these activities help raise awareness of black history," Cofer said.
He said the Nogales teachers and students were excited by the special events.
Nogales junior Randal Guillory thought the events were "cool."
"It's nice that they're focusing on the success of African Americans," the 16-year-old said.
The young African-American teen was planning to bring his whole family to the evening activity.
Special performers included Courtney King, a dancer from the School of Performing Arts, and Shaquan Henderson, a lyrical dancer from Faith Center Ministries.
They were joined by student singers Ace Barro and Kyle Oyama, as well as songstress Patricia McQueen.
Vice Principal Mark Anderson thinks the special events are good for everyone.
"We already have a big Latino Ball. I think the students appreciate when we widen our awareness of different cultures," Anderson said.
Principal Nancy Padilla thought the activities helped students see how far we have come as a nation, as well as how far we still need to go.
Inside, the young students swayed as they remembered the harsh history of slavery. Outside, African Americans looked to the future as Barack Obama made his bid for president of the United States.
What a fitting way to celebrate Black History Month.
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