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Music Class Offers Lesson On Activism

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Shepherd Elementary School teacher Ken Giles has enlisted help from his students to get African-American activist Paul Robeson's name included in their music book. Robeson popularized the song Old Man River, from the musical Showboat.
Jessica Gould
Shepherd Elementary School teacher Ken Giles has enlisted help from his students to get African-American activist Paul Robeson's name included in their music book. Robeson popularized the song Old Man River, from the musical Showboat.

By Jessica Gould

At a District elementary school, music students are learning to be the instruments of change. Students at Shepherd Elementary School in northwest D.C. are practicing their rendition of Old Man River, from the musical Showboat.

Every year, music instructor Ken Giles teaches his students about Paul Robeson, the African-American activist who popularized the song. But Giles always goes off book for the lessons.

Paul Robeson is not mentioned at all in the D.C. Public School music text book.

Now Giles and his students are on a campaign to make sure their next book includes Robeson. Fourth grader Autumn Parrish reads a letter she wrote to the school system's music director.

"I really want Paul Robeson in our music text books because he was an activist for peace and human rights," says Parrish.

Giles says students have delivered 120 letters pleading their case.

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