Activity time: 10 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Handout 1, Follow the Drinking Gourd Lyrics
- Night Sky display (Session 1, Opening)
- Optional: A recording of "Follow the Drinking Gourd" and a music player
Preparation for Activity
- Copy Handout 1, Follow the Drinking Gourd Lyrics for all participants, or write the lyrics on newsprint, and post.
- Review the location of the Big Dipper and its position, relative to the North Star, on your Night Sky Display. Find Out More of Session 1 offers an explanation.
Description of Activity
Gather in a circle. Tell the children the song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" is a code song: a song with hidden messages related to escaping slavery. The enslaved people taught one another the messages. But the slave owners did not know about the codes. By singing to one another, people planning to escape could communicate their plans without the slave owners knowing about it.
Teach the chorus and sing it together a few times. Explain that the chorus refers to the Big Dipper as the drinking gourd. Show the children the gourd, if you have brought one. Say that in rural areas, people know how to scoop and dry a nice gourd to make a bowl for drinking. Ask if they think it is possible the constellation we call "Big Dipper" might have reminded some of the people who were enslaved of a gourd used for drinking.
Using your Night Sky display, show the children how the Big Dipper can be used to locate the North Star. Because the North Star always stays at the North Pole, someone escaping at night from the South could follow the North Star to make sure they were headed north where they would be free.
Lead the group to sing one verse at a time. After each verse, ask participants what they think the hidden message might have been. As needed, explain that the first verse tells what time the escape will take place (when the first quail calls... ). The second and third verses provide a map of where they will travel (by the river bank).
Sing the chorus together one more time.