“I am a country boy, so silo has a serious meaning for me. Everything that’s in a silo is either dead or dying and is expected to be eaten. So we want to make sure we don’t find ourselves in a silo. We want to make sure that we spread the work out so that we have a lot of hands on the plow. There is much work to be done. Make sure that we go on and on and on.” – Hollis Watkins, board chair of Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc.
These words guided a convening of historians, activists, museum staff, and educators at Tougaloo College on August 12, 2014. This diverse group had signed on as partners for a program to support teaching about the civil rights movement and labor history in Mississippi. While legislation on teaching about the Civil Rights Movement passed in 2006 and civil rights movement questions are now on the state test, teachers have had limited support on this new content. Thanks to a two-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to Teaching for Change, a teacher fellowship on civil rights movement and labor history will be launched this fall to fill the gap. In addition, the grant provides funding to develop and post lessons online for free teacher access. Chauncey Spears of the Mississippi Department of Education told the group that this initiative is long overdue. He added:
The fellowship program will help to provide a select group of Mississippi teachers the resources, opportunities, and networks to support stronger instruction concerning the civil rights education standards in our social studies framework. I hope that the fellowship will also help to provide impactful educational experiences for our students and enhance race relations and civic engagement in communities around the state.
Before launching the initiative, Teaching for Change brought key partners (see list below) to the table to consider the obstacles and best strategies.
To break down the “silos” referenced by Hollis Watkins and build a collaborative planning team, the partners wrote and shared stories on paper footprints about “in whose shoes am I walking” or “ways I have walked for justice in my shoes.” Here are just a few examples:
Filling others’ shoes can be quite overwhelming. However, I walk in the footsteps of my great-grandfather who was a master carpenter and the only African American to own property in Shuqualak, Miss. I walk in the footsteps of my great-grandmother, who along with her sister, was resourceful enough during the height of the Great Depression to acquire more than 100 acres of land for their children. — Daphne Chamberlain, Tougaloo College, coordinator of Civil Rights and Social Justice Initiatives
I am walking in the shoes of my aunt, the late, great Alberta Bingham, an English teacher at Jim Hill High School in West Jackson. This educator was brutally killed in her home in W. Jackson. She had given her very best to nurture the youth in that community. I attended Jim Hill High School after my aunt died and now, too, I am an educator living in West Jackson seeking to nurture youth in my community. It is through education and love that we will heal our communities. — Rico Chapman, academic director, Fannie Lou Hamer Institute @ COFO Human & Civil Rights Education Center
I took a very bold stand in 1966 when Freedom of Choice was implemented in Amite County. The people (white) in my little community bought a school bus and painted it white, and their children rode that bus 13 miles to school. I was ostracized by the white community, relatives, and the KKK for not riding the bus. A cross was burned in my yard to warn me, but it did not work! That decision that my parents let me make helped mold me into the person I am today. — Gloria Stubbs, retired educator from the McComb School District
More shoe stories follow this article.
Feedback on Overall Plan
The group examined the draft working plan, using a “chalk talk” format to share reflections. This led to a discussion of challenges and ideas. Just a few of these are listed below.
Will learning local history in depth also prepare them for broader U.S. history questions on the state test?
How can we ensure that school-based administrators are on board?
How can we make sure that the struggle for civil rights and human rights is not limited to the textbook era of 1954-1968?
How do we prevent the local history from being sanitized?
Hands-on, inquiry based U.S. history instruction will be difficult in a “hi stakes” standardized testing environment.
Engage students in uncovering, documenting, and recognizing the unknown soldiers and victims of the Civil Rights Movement and of random acts of violence against people of color in each school community.
Introduce students to young people in local communities who have dedicated themselves to positive social change.
Have students travel outside of the classroom and write about their experiences around the particular history theme.
Offer visits to historic sites and opportunities for students to meet and engage in dialogues with people who helped to make history.
Involve teacher ed programs.
Expand labor and civil rights to human rights.
This feedback will be used to guide and evaluate the initiative moving forward.
The partners reviewed the rubric for the selection of teacher fellows and read a dozen of the applications received to date. The project will continue to accept applications for the teacher fellowship through August 29, 2014. While it was encouraging to see that there are strong applications in hand, everyone insisted that due diligence be exercised (such as interviews of top candidates and reference checks) to ensure the strongest possible fellowship team.
An overview was shared of the ways that the initiative will reach beyond the fellows, with teachers throughout the state having access to free downloadable lessons on Mississippi Civil Rights Movement history and a growing list of recommended resources for K-12 classrooms on the CivilRightsTeaching.org website. In addition, the initiative will encourage and support greater participation in the Mississippi History Day competition and the selection of local history topics.
The partners will continue to spread the word about the fellowship. In addition, the partners will invite some of their respective institutions to offer a Mississippi History Day Award. These awards can encourage a deeper exploration of Mississippi’s local history with themes such as women, the railroads, Muslims, school desegregation, etc. The partners will reconvene in January of 2015. All were in agreement that with the wisdom and commitment of the people at the table and the great need for this initiative, there will be many strong “hands on the plow” for history education in Mississippi.
* Attended the planning meeting.
Additional Shoe Stories
I walk in the footsteps of John Henry Boone Green, a man with a second grade education, who taught himself to read, write, and do math. I honor this man who walked with integrity and fortitude, a man who took care of his family. The hue of his skin was passed on to me and I walk proudly in it. Today, tomorrow, and yesterday I only move because of his movement and his legacy, for because of him I am me! — Pamela Junior
I am standing on the shoulders of the many sung and unsung heroes, especially in Canton, MS, where I was raised. In particular, Flonzie Brown Wright, who in 1968 at the age of 28, a single mother of 3, committed her life to standing up for freedom, despite the many death threats on her life and her children’s lives. The many courageous stands for civil and human rights that I witnessed by the beloved community of Canton compels me to do all that I can to speak to justice for all. — Cynthia Palmer
I am walking in the shoes of and standing on the shoulders of my grandfather who stood up to injustice and modeled the behavior, he wanted his children and grandchildren to exhibit. I am modeling the activism of my community, CC Bryant, Sarah Cotton, Patsy Ruth Butler, Mildred Williams, and others. — J. B. Martin
I stand in the footprints of Freddie Wilkes, music educator in Memphis, TN. Not only did he teach me music, but he taught me to pour myself into my passion, he taught me pride, and the importance of relationships. Without relationships, we cannot build each other up, learn from our history, and so love our collective problems. He taught me also that we can do these things with a back beat and a smile! — Chauncey Spears
I am walking in the shoes of Elmer and Booker Gordon who were the grandchildren of slaves and the parents of my family’s last generation of sharecroppers. Their shoes are worn and the feet in them died tired. The blood pumping through those feet has carried forth through future generations a spirit of courage, family, and love for everyday people. — Von Gordon
I walk in my mother’s shoes, as she walked in our ancestors’ who were forcibly brought here to America as enslaved West Africans. Many were Muslims, who had their own culture and way of life. This included a strong sense of God-consciousness and monotheism and zeal for education and human development. My mom, a sharecropper, always encouraged and said to us, “I want my children to be God-fearing and get an education.” — Okolo Rashid
I walk in the footsteps of my parents. My father was born in Edward, MS and raised in Jackson. Beginning at the age of 13, my father participated in the civil rights movement going on in Jackson. I’ve heard the stories of him walking out of school and marching in protest. My mother was one of the first students to integrate Hinds CC. Therefore, my spirit of activism and going against the odds is derived from their spirit. However, by the mercy and grace of God I fill my own shoes!
I am following in the footsteps of my maternal and paternal grandparents, participants in the Great Migration who maintained their South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee roots while building a new world in Washington DC. They each treasured whatever formal education they received and made sure that their children and grandchildren did the same. Grandma Minnie performed manual labor and loving cooking to sustain her family, Grandma Aquilah and Grandad Akbar performed manual and intellectual labor to grow the early Nation of Islam and racial justice. From each of them, I take inspiration and aspiration, hoping that my labors create positive change. — Jenice View
I’m walking in the shoes of:
Grandparents taught me independence.
Dad, Mom taught me love and respect.
Mr. Boyd who taught me history and sense of self.
Mr. Nero taught me courage.
In my shoes, I have:
Picketed the local theater. It closed rather than integrate.
Picketed in Jackson in 1965. Arrested and spent two weeks in jail (fairgrounds).
— Roy DeBerry