‘How far we’ve come’: Colony summer camp takes fearless approach to community history

Colony’s summer campers show off their coloring pages and craft projects Tuesday afternoon. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

COLONY, Ala.  – More than once Colony Mayor Donnis Leeth has strapped a long harvesting sack over his shoulder to show kids how to pick cotton, something he actually did when he was their age.  He talks while walking back and forth in front of them, putting on a pantomime demonstration of plucking bolls from a row of plants.  When the very image of cotton has become taboo in some circles while talking about African-American heritage, Leeth believes it is important for his southwest Cullman County community to remember every detail about its history it can.  

His attitude reflects a widespread feeling in Colony that, as Leeth once put it to a group of area kids after his demonstration, “We know we’ve got a long way to go, but you need to know how far we’ve come.”

This week, Councilwoman Ethel Alexander, with the help of Leeth, Town Clerk Patricia Ponder, Summer Feeding Program Coordinator Linda Bradford and others, is teaching kids the whole history of Colony, from its founding by former slaves after the Civil War to the present.  Students are hearing from their elders the stories they heard from their elders before them, visiting places of interest around the town and doing craft projects related to community heritage and this year’s Alabama Bicentennial.

Alexander told The Tribune, “This summer camp is a week long, and we’re focusing on the 200 Bicentennial of Alabama.  We’re actually zeroing in on Colony, Alabama, and how it played a role in the whole state of Alabama.

“Yesterday, we did stars of Alabama, showing that we’re proud of being Alabamians.  The stars are going to say, ‘I’m a Colony Star.’  Each one will have their names on it.

“Then, today we did cotton sacks.  We talked to the kids about the reason why we came here in this area, and the majority of it was because we were picking cotton.  I wanted them to make cotton sacks, and just see the touch of cotton.  I’m sure they’ve touched it before, but, you know, to actually get their minds to thinking what we did when we first came to America, and how that cotton was king.

“Then we went from making our cotton sacks to coloring a picture of people picking cotton in the South.  We got to talk about: the children were picking cotton, women were picking cotton, men- everybody was picking cotton!  And then Ms. Hammonds- she’s one of our helpers- she came and gave the children a talk about how she grew up picking cotton with her grandparents and parents.  So they were able to relate the past to the present.

“We’re just having a good time!”

Student assistant Equoya Fitzpatrick shared, “I think it’s very educational, how you learn about your ancestors and how they built up the Colony, and how they became a town.  It’s very unique how they became one.”

The week will include a picnic, walking tours, visits to Colony’s growing community garden and presentations on the area’s native history.

The Tribune visited with the students, and some shared:

“Summer camp is really fun, and summer camp teaches me a lot of stuff.”

“I like summer camp, and we learn at summer camp.”

“I love making crafts, arts and crafts.”

“Summer camp is way fun, and it teaches a lot of things, and it makes us smart and learn words.”

“I enjoyed all the people in summer camp, because most of them are friends and they’re nice, and we learned about the place we live in.”

Colony’s summer camp continues at the Educational Complex Wednesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day.  Participants will get breakfast and lunch free of charge as part of the town’s Summer Feeding Program, which will continue through late July.  

Ponder is offering a high-tech program for teens featuring hands-on work with a computer-controlled 3D printer, laser engraver and digital pattern cutter, as well as a heat press students can use to make their own custom T-shirts and book bags using designs created with the digital cutter.  She will offer limited access to computers and equipment through the summer break.

For more information, call Colony Town Hall at 256-287-1192.

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W.C. Mann