Parent says slavery experiment at camp went too far

ATLANTA — Some Atlanta parents say an Underground Railroad simulation at camp in which their children were made to play slaves went too far.

"We were just really confused and scared because we didn't didn't know what was happening," Naima McHardy told Channel 2's Ashley Swann. She says said she and her fellow campers had no warning or explanation when a simulation of the

Underground Railroad began during their stay at the Blue Ridge Outdoor Education Center in early June.

"He started yelling. He had a whip in his hands. He was dressed in overalls and we were just like, 'What is going on?'" said McHardy.

For the next 30-45 minutes, McHardy says the group -- all African-American female students from Atlanta -- was told to act like slaves as they were led through the camp to "freedom" by their all-white instructors, playing opposite roles.

"We would have to get down and kneel and not look up from the ground," she said.

It wasn't until the girls returned home that their parents found out about the exercise.

"That's when the blood vessel kind of broke,"McCardy's father, Curtis McHardy, says. "I was like, 'What does that have to do with outdoor ecology?' I don't understand."

The center's director, Rich Bowerman, told Swann parents should have been informed beforehand, but defends the exercise, which he says said is one of their most popular with the thousands of Georgia school children all of all races who visit each year.

"The point there is we want the students confused and frightened, I would imagine 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."

The McHardys say said that lesson should be left to the history books.

"Nobody deserves to feel that way," said Naima McCardy. "I mean, it's a part of history but it doesn't mean that we have to experience it."

"I think they're actually incapable of seeing the damages they are doing," said her father. "That's why it needs to stop."

Bowerman says said they don't change their program based on the demographics of the students, but he is working on an apology to the families involved and will re-evaluate how the Underground Railroad simulation is carried out moving forward.