Updated – LIVING HISTORY: AES students take on roles of America’s most famous, influential historic figures

Published 7:30 am Wednesday, May 4, 2022

(UPDATED LOCATION/SCHEDULE CHANGE: Due to rain in the forecast, the Andalusia Elementary School Living History program will be moved to the school’s gym, beginning at 9 a.m.)

An assortment of history’s most important figures is coming to life on Andalusia’s downtown square, courtesy of Andalusia Elementary School sixth graders.

The event is a return to tradition for the sixth-grade students and teachers at AES after the public portion of the event had to be canceled in recent years due to the pandemic.

The event is organized and sponsored by the AES’s sixth grade teachers: Casey Athearn, reading; Lynn Castleberry, math; Kayla Craig, resource; Shanna Davis, science; Matthew McQuay, social studies; Vanessa Snider, English; and Josh Sheffer, band.

The program began about 16 years ago when it was started by teacher Linda Kyle and involves every sixth grader at the school, a total of 110 students.

After months of working on their projects and learning about their assigned historic figure, the sixth graders will share their knowledge with guests of the Living History event on Friday, May 6. The event begins at approximately 9 a.m. with a parade from the Andalusia City Hall to the downtown square. Once on the square, the students will be available until 10 a.m. to share with the public the stories of their historical figures. The Andalusia Middle School band will lead the parade.

Students will be featured telling the stories of such people as Anne Frank, Sitting Bull, Harriet Tubman, Elvis Presley, Rosie the Riveter, and many more.

“Over the years, the program has changed and has turned into a speaking project. The kids read a book as part of the process. From there they are given a quiz and then begin working on a rough draft,” McQuay said.

Snider has been involved in the program for eight years and she said this year’s students have put a lot of work into the project.

“We have a lot of really detailed costumes. They have been working on this since the beginning of March and we try to keep it within an eight-week time frame. That gives them the time to do their research. At first they don’t seem to excited, but as time progresses they do get more excited,” Snider said.

Among the famous people highlighted on the square will be Walt Disney, who will be played by Thomas Turner.

Turner said he only knew that Walt Disney was the person responsible for Disney movies when he first started the project.

“I read a book about him and started writing down all of the important things he did. I learned that he created ‘Snow White’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I really like that he had the passion to create things he wanted,” Turner said.

He said learning about Disney makes him want to learn more about the Disney family, including Walt’s daughters.

Turner is the son of Cindy Turner.

Naimah Bradley will be sharing the story of one of America’s most beloved poets and authors, Maya Angelou.

“She was a poem writer and received a lot of acting awards and nominations,” Bradley said. “Her real name is actually Margaret Johnson and she stopped speaking for a while when she was a kid because she had been mistreated.”

Bradley said she came to appreciate Angelou’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and other ways she supported African-Americans.

“Her and a friend raised money for Dr. King’s Southern Leadership Conference and she created her own group to help Black Americans,” she said.

Bradley said creating her presentation on Angelou required a lot of reading, note taking and memorizing.

“I had to write a lot of notes and learn important facts. I put everything into a graphic organizer. It took me about two to three days to memorize the speech. I’m a little nervous, but excited at the same time,” Bradley said.

Bradley is the daughter of Brittany Bradley and Brandon Sims.

Destini Hourel will tell the story of America’s first Black female millionaire — Sarah Walker.

“She created hair products for herself and African-Americans. She was the first to create the hot comb,” Hourel said.

She also learned that Walker’s reputation as a entrepreneur was matched in her philanthropy efforts.

“She visited military camps before they left for battlefields in France and she participated in silent protests to raise awareness of racial violence against African-Americans.”

Hourel said Walker is inspiring because of the things she had to overcome before becoming a successful businesswoman.

“She was born in May 1867. She didn’t get to go to public schools in Louisiana. She learned her ABCs at her church. Learning about all of the creative things she did was very interesting,” she said.

Hourel is the daughter of Kemisia Robertson and Michael Hourel.

Emma Blankenship was assigned the role of one of America’s most famous first ladies, Dolley Madison.

“Mrs. Snider gave me a book. It was a little short so she gave me a documentary about her. It was very interesting. I had no clue she had two husbands. All I knew about her was that she had saved a portrait from the White House during the War of 1812. She was very brave to do what she did to save the portrait,” Blankenship said.

She said learning about Madison and preparing for the Living History event required a lot of work.

“Writing the speech was hard. I had to start with notes on the book and documentary. Then I had to start my rough draft and then work on the final draft. It was a long process,” Blankenship said.

For many of the students, this is their first time to speak in public, which has them a little on edge.

“I’m a little nervous and anxious, but mostly excited,” she said.

Blankenship is the daughter of Robert and Melissa Blankenship.

The public is invited to learn more about America’s history by attending the Living History event on Friday, May 6, with the parade beginning at approximately 9 a.m. and presentations on the downtown square from approximately 9:15 to 10 a.m.