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Young Campers Forced to Act Like Slaves in the Underground Railroad

Summer camp lesson on slavery goes too far for some.
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

When Curtis McHardy signed his daughter Naima up for camp at the Blue Ridge Educational Center in Georgia, he probably thought she'd be taking hikes in the woods, getting nature lessons, and generally avoiding all cafeteria food like the plague. (You know, your usual camp experience.)

What he definitely didn't expect was that on one such nature hike, Naima would suddenly be told to "act like a slave" along with other camp-goers—while walking through the woods, for 30 to 45 minutes.

Um...

According to reports, the "orders" came during an outdoor history lesson on the Underground Railroad. But it didn't help matters that A) none of the campers were warned about the exercise beforehand and B) the camp counselors leading the exercise were all white, while the campers were all African-American girls.

"We were just really confused and scared because we didn't didn't know what was happening," Naima McHardy told Georgia's local Channel 2 News. "He started yelling. He had a whip in his hands. He was dressed in overalls and we were just like, 'What is going on?'"

Channel 2 News also spoke with the camp's director, Rich Bowerman, who admitted that parents and campers should have been forewarned, but defended the practice and even noted that it's their most popular exercise. "The point there is, we want the students confused and frightened—I would imagine, just as a slave would've been," Bowerman said. "To give the students an opportunity to experience this kind of firsthand is a pretty lasting lesson."

But to the McHardys and many other parents, that's one "lasting lesson" that probably doesn't need to be brought to life with quite so much realism.

Catch the Channel 2 News clip here:

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