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    The Drinking Gourd

    September 16, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]T[/dropcap]he folk song for this term of school {we have three terms per year, a new folk song for each term*} is called The Drinking Gourd. I had never heard of it before, but when I researched it, I found the story fascinating. The Drinking Gourd isn’t only a song; it’s also a map.

    Back in the days of the Underground Railroad, there was apparently an old man named Peg Leg Joe who traveled around the South, teaching slaves to sing The Drinking Gourd. Hidden in the words were directions to Joe’s own raft, where he would be waiting to ferry them across a large river and take them to the first house in a chain of houses making up part of the Underground Railroad.

    The Drinking Gourd, in other words, was a song that led the slaves to freedom.

    How in the world was I to explain this to my children? My precious children who have no clue that slavery even ever existed.

    I have to admit that I was unsure about introducing them to the subject. After all, they are effectively color blind. They don’t seem to notice the difference in skin color or other racial characteristics. I suppose there was that one time when we had first begun reading about Indians (the American kind) and E. saw someone at the grocery store and pointed them out. But he was simply excited. It was innocent and childish and it was fine.

    But how to tell them that once people of one color used to own people of another?


    Enter a beautiful book that tells the story of The Drinking Gourd, and also of the Underground Railroad, with beautiful illustrations and words that gently introduce the children to these concepts without assaulting their senses with the ugliest parts of slavery.

    Instead of dwelling on slavery and all its evils, it covers a successful and inspiring journey to freedom, making it appropriate for even my tiniest children.

    Highly suggested.

    *In 2012 this changed to one new song per month.

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  • Reply Brandy September 18, 2008 at 2:56 am

    Nanny Y.,

    It has been too long! Welcome back to the internet. 🙂 Wonderful idea, as usual. I read through the book with them this week, but I was hoping to add to their knowledge each week. The story of Joseph–and also Philemon–will be wonderful additions. Thank you for your input!

  • Reply Nanny Y. September 18, 2008 at 2:29 am

    Thank you for all your great posting :). Perhaps if you choose to teach your children about slavery you could teach it to them in its larger context through history not solely focusing on the American variety. Early Americans were continuing an evil they did not invent. Even Joseph, in the Bible, was sold and had to earn his way to freedom through no fault of his own. Just a thought.

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