Klein ISD dad upset after child was told to play a field worker in Black History Month musical

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Just before he was leaving for work early Tuesday morning, David Pickens' wife told him to read a letter their 6-year-old daughter said needed to be signed.

It was an announcement for McDougle Elementary's first-ever musical salute to Black History Month, and it had a part for their daughter.

"Your child has been chosen for the part of field worker, singing 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot.'"

"Chosen to play a slave -- that's what a field worker is, basically, and sing Negro Spirituals," Pickens said. "I had to explain to my daughter that she wouldn't be doing that."

She was upset, he said, and that upset her parents. He then contacted the school principal.

According to the letter the parents read, the musical was created by the McDougle Elementary Cultural Awareness Committee, which also requested parents' feedback on the project.

Pickens gave his, and early Tuesday afternoon, he received his feedback from Klein ISD. In a statement sent to ABC13, the district stated, "As a result of this feedback, the group determined that no students will sing or portray field workers."

The musical, it explains, will begin with the portrayal of Harriet Tubman as 'conductor' of the Underground Railroad during the 1850's. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" will remain in the production because it was used to help direct slaves to freedom. The musical will recognize other important periods of history, including the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights movement, up to contemporary times, highlighting African American leaders, musicians and artists.

Parents waiting outside the school Tuesday included one mother, whose child was also asked to portray a 'field worker.' Like Pickens, she did not give her permission. She asked she not be identified.

Another mother said her daughter was given a different role, but she was unaware of the controversy. "It's best they dropped that part," she said. "We have too much going on now."

The musical is scheduled for the evening of February 23, "to celebrate the diversity of our schools and our community," according to a district spokesperson.

Because of the change, David Pickens said his daughter will participate in the musical. He said he considers all this a teachable moment, in which his 6-year-old learned the importance of standing up for what you believe in.
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