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Local teachers learn about pre-Civil War slavery at Somerset Place

Staff report
CRESWELL ó Two Rowan-Salisbury School System teachers recently joined educators from 18 counties for a Teachers Institute Summer Seminar where they learned more about slavery and its legacy at a former plantation.
The N.C. Humanities Council provided scholarships for the teachers to attend the July 13ń18 seminar at the Somerset Place State Historic Site in Creswell.
Nikisha Leak attended as an Alice Smith Barkley endowed scholar, and Taylor Lankford was a We the People scholar. Both teach at Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Elementary School.
Once one of the upper South’s largest antebellum plantations, former home to 850 enslaved people, Somerset Place hosted the weeklong interdisciplinary professional development program.
Enrichment events included scholarly sessions, poetry readings, museum tours, film presentations, dramatic and musical performances and hands-on activities designed to bring to life the daily work of an enslaved African American in the pre-Civil War South.
From 1785 to 1865, Somerset Place was home to three generations of slaves and owners. It once included more than 100,000 wooded, swampy acres bordering Lake Phelps in present-day Washington County, where such crops as rice were cultivated. Today, the 31-acre site offers a realistic view of 19th century life on a large North Carolina plantation before emancipation.
Featuring seven original buildings, Somerset meshes the stories of all of the plantation’s residents into one concise chronological social history. Somerset has a Web page at www.nchistoricsites.org/somerset/somerset.htm.Teachers prepared meals by an open hearth; churned butter; made baskets, rope, candles and brooms; ginned cotton; and ground corn by hand.
Contributing seminar scholars included: Somerset Place Executive Director Dorothy Spruill Redford; East Carolina University medical historian Todd Savitt; Duke Divinity School professor Timothy Tyson; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill associate professor of history Heather Williams and Gospel and traditional spirituals singer Mary D. Williams.
The N.C. Humanities Council Teachers Institute offers eligible public school educators free access to continued intellectual growth, combining content-rich programs with lectures from scholars across the state.
Since 1996, the Teachers Institute has involved teachers from 73 public school systems in 61 of the state’s counties.
For more information about Somerset Place State Historic Site, call Redford, the executive director, at 252-797-4560 or e-mail her somerset@ncmail.net.

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