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'Spirit of Freedom' provides interactive history lesson for IPS students

The IPS field trip to Crown Hill Cemetery shares the accomplishments and triumphs of Black heroes during the Civil War.

INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time since the pandemic, Indianapolis Public Schools students got to enjoy the "Spirit of Freedom" field trip, which is in its 24th year at Crown Hill Cemetery.

It shares the accomplishments and triumphs of Black heroes during the Civil War.

Experiencing history firsthand is often the best way to learn.

At Crown Hill Cemetery, after a two-year pandemic pause, 600 IPS fifth and sixth graders enjoyed a field trip through time.

"It's a celebration! That's what you're seeing here today! It celebrates African-American men and women who fought and died in the Civil War. We call it 'Spirit of Freedom,'" explained Dr. Pat Payne, Racial Equity Office director for IPS. "We bring our fifth and sixth graders out here to enjoy history and they're learning perhaps that kind of history that's still not included in textbooks as it should be."

Crown Hill is a perfect backdrop since more than 200 Black Civil War soldiers are buried at the cemetery.

"It was a really big war and I didn't know so many would be from Indiana," said fifth-grader Harper Dennis. "I really like learning about history and the 1800s."

Credit: WTHR

"There's a certain part here that we're going to a look at about the Black people that fought in the war," added fifth-grader Leland Stone. "We learned about that mostly from the 54th Infantry."

This is an interactive experience for students, so they can relate to historic characters, with re-enactors portraying Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Richard Gatling, Sarah Elizabeth Brown Cuffee and Harriet Tubman.

"This is from 10:45 until 1:00. In that short time, they will have talked to Frederick Douglass. They will have talked to Sojourner Truth," Payne explained.

"We heard from Harriet Tubman's point of view," Dennis said. "Parts of her experience when she was doing the trips. That was pretty cool."

Credit: WTHR

The kids not only heard powerful speeches from the re-enactors, but they also learned about the powerful Gatling gun, invented during the Civil War.

"Are we ready?" the Gatling re-enactor asked a crowd of students.

A resounding "yes!" was followed by a flurry of shots from the gun.

"I'm not gonna lie, I jumped," said sixth-grader Christian Bradley after the demonstration with his friends. "He got scared, too!"

The field trip is meant to bring kids hands-on history, while also helping them better understand the fight for freedom during the Civil War.

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