The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and Labor History Teacher Fellows came from across the state for our mid-fall convening in Jackson from October 18-20, 2015. In just two short days, the fellows explored new lessons for the classroom, learned about opportunities for students to showcase their work, heard from inspiring guest speakers, wrote stories from their own classrooms, and planned the future of the fellowship. Throughout, they deepened their teacher community, truly sharing and building a sustaining fellowship. These sentiments were shared in the closing reflection:
Thank you again for allowing me to be a part of this fellowship. I have always felt as though I wanted to be an agent for change but was lost on how to do it, especially in a place like Mississippi. This organization and fellowship has helped me find a place where I can feel as though I have a greater purpose. It has literally brought me “fellowship.” I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.
I am so proud to be a part of this! It is making me a better and a happier teacher.
Here are some of the highlights from the two days, participants:
- Tried out lessons they can bring to their classrooms on Freedom Schools, Challenging Racism in the Media during the Civil Rights Movement, and teaching about history with picture books.
- Wrote about their classrooms. A story from Rethinking Schools served as the prompt for writing about their own teaching and they had dedicated quiet time to write, get peer feedback, and revise. The stories will be shared in upcoming Mississippi e-newsletters.
- Met with Jacqueline Dace, project manager of the upcoming Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson and Chauncey Spears from the Mississippi Department of Education.
- Heard an informative and moving presentation by award-winning investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion Ledger. Mitchell’s work has helped put numerous criminals behind bars including Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of NAACP leader Medgar Evers. When speaking about the racism that led to the murder of Civil Rights workers in the 60’s and the murder of nine people in Emmanuel AME in Charleston, SC, Mitchell stated “When people dehumanize, they give themselves the right to hate.” During his talk, Mitchell spoke of the courage civil rights workers in the face of state sponsored terrorism. He opened and closed his presentation with the inscription on the gravestone of Civil Rights Movement martyr James Chaney, “There are those who are alive, yet never live. There are those who are dead, yet will live forever. Great deeds inspire and encourage the living.” The teachers wrote to Mitchell about the impact of his presentation. One said,
Thank you so much for taking the time to sit and talk with us teachers. As someone who admires your work and has taught about the difference you have made in history and in people’s lives, it was an honor to meet you and hear your stories.
- Learned more about National History Day in Mississippi from the new state co-coordinator, Alan Wheat. His presentation, based on his own experience as a classroom teacher, was inspiring. All the fellows agreed to either work with students on a project to enter for this year or to serve as a judge.
- Reflected on the impact of the sessions they hosted in September and October with Julian Hipkins to introduce more teachers and students to resources for teaching about Mississippi’s Civil Rights Movement history.
- Designed plans for the year ahead to deepen their own education and to engage others. Key ideas were a summer bus tour of Mississippi historical sites for teachers and a video to show policy makers how excited students are when they engage in interactive lessons based on grassroots Mississippi history.
- Discussed a name for the fellowship. After much consideration of various options, they settled on Mississippi Teachers for Change. The next step is getting a logo and posters for outreach.
Thanks to the support of Cynthia Palmer, executive director of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc., we were able to convene at the historic Woodworth Chapel on the campus of Tougaloo College.