These remarks were prepared by sociologist and SNCC veteran Joyce Ladner for a commemoration of Vernon Dahmer on January 8, 2016, hosted by the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.
By Joyce Ladner
I want to thank the Dahmer family, particularly Ellie Dahmer and the Dahmer children who had to find ways to go on after his life was cut short. They kept his life and legacy in the forefront of our minds. They ensured that those who took his life were prosecuted. I also want to thank Jerry Mitchell, Clarion Ledger investigative reporter, who played a key role in the conviction of the Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard Sam Bowers who ordered the fatal firebombing of the Dahmer family.
January 10, 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of the murder of civil rights martyr and American hero, Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer. He was a civil rights leader, community leader, and businessman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. In the early hours of January 10, 1966, members of the Ku Klux Klan shot into and firebombed the home he shared with his wife and children in the Kelly Settlement section of Hattiesburg. It occurred soon after he announced on local radio that he would accept poll taxes at his grocery store and take them to the Forrest County Voting Registrar, Theron Lynd. He offered to pay the poll taxes for those who could not afford them. In doing so, he was going up against the formidable Lynd, who had a reputation for failing most blacks on the literacy test when they tried to register to vote. I was a college senior when I “failed” the literacy test in 1964.
Registrar Theron Lynd (right) finds one way or another to “fail” the Black applicants. Freedom Day, January 22, 1964, Hattiesburg. By Winifred Moncrief, from the MDAH.
I will never forget the 6 A.M. call to my St. Louis apartment from my mother back in Hattiesburg who told me that the Ku Klux Klan had torched the Dahmer home and store to the ground and that Mr. Dahmer was in critical condition. Her next call later that day was to tell me he had died. His murder caused me to have a loss of innocence because I was reminded that the civil rights struggle could still cause the unleashing of the most virulent racial violence against activists. I could not understand how he had survived for so long when others like Rev. George Lee, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Herbert Lee, Clyde Kennard, Louis Allen, Mack Charles Parker, the three civil rights workers (two of whom I knew), and others had died. I always saw Mr. Dahmer as a big bear of a man who was courageous, outspoken, and indestructible. How could they kill him too? I thought the most violent era of the Civil Rights Movement had passed. But his murder let me know that it hadn’t.
Mr. Dahmer was president of the Hattiesburg NAACP chapter and led local and statewide voter registration campaigns at a time when one signed a death warrant by doing so. His mantra was, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” He was well known to Sam Bowers, the Ku Klux Klan leader in the area who ordered his murder. For a long time Vernon and Ellie took turns sleeping so that one could be awake if their home was attacked. However, they had stopped guarding their home shortly before the Klan attacked. That night at around 2 A.M., Molotov cocktails and gunfire were shot into the Dahmer home. Vernon helped Ellie and their young daughter and sons get out of the house through the windows. Then he went back into the house that was in flames and shot at his assailants to give his family time to find cover. His elderly aunt who lived in the family grocery store next door managed to get out safely as it also erupted in flames.
It was Vernon Dahmer’s courageous trip back inside the flaming house that was fatal. He was only fifty-eight years old. Four of his six sons, who were serving their country in the United States military, arrived home in time for the funeral to grieve for their father, the ultimate patriot, and to help to pick up the pieces from the devastating psychological, emotional, economic, political and family carnage the Klan caused.
Four of Vernon Dahmer’s sons, who were serving in the armed forces at the time of his murder, observe the family home burned to the ground. (Six of his seven sons served 78 years in the military). Photo by Chris McNair, courtesy of Jerry Mitchell.
In his short fifty-eight years, Dahmer launched voter registration drives, and adhered to the philosophy that it was his responsibility to be his brother and sister’s keeper. Perhaps it was also his economic independence that made him a target for the Ku Klux Klan. He annexed large tracts of land, built a commercial farm of cotton, owned a sawmill, a planer mill, and a grocery store. He hired his Black neighbors from Kelley Settlement to work for him, thereby carrying out his philosophy of being a good neighbor. This was largely unheard of in the fifties and sixties because very few Black people owned businesses. The jobs he provided reduced Black flight to northern cities and strengthened the local community. Vernon Dahmer was a generous man who believed in the power of a united community. He was also a leader in the Shady Grove Baptist Church as leader of the choir and Sunday school Superintendent.
Joyce Ladner, Tougaloo College.
I met the man I still call “Mr. Dahmer” when I was in my early teenage years. His sister, Eileen Beard, was a member of our church and she and my mother were best friends. She invited my sister, Dorie, and me to go with her and her husband Kenneth, their neighbor civil rights activist Clyde Kennard, and her brother, Vernon Dahmer to several statewide NAACP meetings in Jackson. As we rode up the old two-lane Highway 49, they talked about the importance of finding ways to get Negroes registered to vote. For Mr. Dahmer, voting was the only way to move from second class to full citizenship. I was spellbound as I listened to them talk about a subject that was so verboten that one could be killed for it. You see, this was the late 1950’s when the NAACP was outlawed in Mississippi. These were extremely dangerous times.
When we arrived in Jackson, I surveyed the large number of cars and trucks bearing license plates from throughout Mississippi. I couldn’t help but wonder if the white people would soon learn the names of those who attended these meetings. The police wrote down the tag numbers of all the vehicles and made sure that the police in each town knew who was present at the meeting. It led to attendees being fired from their jobs and violent harassment. This can be confirmed by perusing the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission records. I worried if the Hattiesburg police were going to have my father fired from his job. The harassment did not intimidate Mr. Dahmer, the Beards, or Clyde Kennard because they were determined to forge ahead in the uphill struggle for civil rights.
Those rides to and from the mass meetings in Jackson had a deep effect on me. Although I had a strong racial consciousness from the time I was a young child, meeting Vernon Dahmer and Clyde Kennard strengthened my desire to find ways to help my people take a stand against racial discrimination.
That time came in 1958 when Mr. Dahmer and Clyde Kennard invited Medgar Evers to Hattiesburg where they organized a Hattiesburg NAACP Youth Chapter. Teenagers from throughout the area came together at True Light Baptist Church to meet Evers, who was already a civil rights legend. Mr. Dahmer also invited Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members Hollis Watkins and Curtis Hayes (Muhammad) to Hattiesburg in the early 1960s to stay at the family’s farm and do voter registration organizing. These acts of courage launched a new generation of young people who were poised to strike a blow against segregation and discrimination. This would not have occurred had it not been for Vernon Dahmer.
Ellie Dahmer with photo of her husband. From the Clarion Ledger.
Dahmer’s contributions to the civil rights movement were substantial. He was dedicated to the proposition that everyone should have the right to vote, irrespective of his or her race or social standing. He was courageous at a time when courage was in short supply. He helped to lay the groundwork for the protracted civil rights movement that officially came to Mississippi with the arrival of the Freedom Riders in 1961. Most of all, he paid the ultimate price for the cause of civil rights by giving his life.
While Dahmer never had the chance to vote, his impact was evident when Ellie Dahmer was elected in 1992 to serve as the election commissioner. She served for more than a decade in the same district where her husband had been killed.
Today, we celebrate the life of Vernon Dahmer, without whose sacrifice fifty years ago there would be no Black legislators, desegregated schools, or a large Black professional class throughout the state. It is on the shoulders of Vernon Dahmer that young people continue to organize today for justice for all.
The Adams County Board of Supervisors voted to make October 23 Dorie Ladner Day.
Dorie Ladner spoke in Natchez on October 24, 2015 at Jefferson College along with Reverend Dr. Al Sampson. They spoke about the Civil Rights Movement in Natchez 50 years ago, including the formation of an armed organization called the Deacons for Defense and Justice, an economic boycott of white owned businesses, and enforcement of the boycott in the Black community. These methods were used in Natchez and later in Port Gibson, Woodville, Centerville, Hattiesburg, and other areas in Mississippi.
On top of their full course load, these teachers rolled up their sleeves and made that vision a reality.
In early September, teacher fellows in Kosciusko, Laurel, and Hattiesburg organized full-day workshops for teachers and/or students in their respective school districts. Teachers in Harrison, Hinds, Marion, Benton, and Sunflower counties hosted sessions at the end of the month.
At the launch of the teacher fellowship, SNCC veteran Hollis Watkins urged the project partners to “make sure that we spread the work out so that we have a lot of hands on the plow.” The teachers (who had the honor of meeting Watkins this summer) took that advice to heart. Rather than simply bringing lessons on the Civil Rights Movement to their own classrooms, they are introducing the Mississippi history and interactive pedagogy to their peers.
Teaching for Change is assisting the teacher fellows with planning and implementation of this district based outreach. Mississippi teacher fellowship project director Julian Hipkins III traveled to each of the districts to conduct workshops. Here are highlights from the sessions.
Fantastic, energizing, refreshing…..great strategies and tactics to use in the classroom.
The day was a perfect balance between content, pedagogy, self reflection, and conversation. At no point was I bored or ready to leave like many professional development sessions.
This was a really great seminar. Probably the best I’ve been to in 22 years of teaching.
Jones County teacher fellow Raymond Brookter arranged for a day of lessons to expose students to the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement in the library of Laurel High School. Using the meet and greet activity about the southern freedom movement, students were each assigned the role of a Mississippi activist. Individuals such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and Medgar Evers were brought to life as students donned name tags with images of their historical figure and met others involved in the freedom struggle. Students also had an opportunity to take part in the gallery walk on the history of race and education in Mississippi. This led them to share stories and insights about their own schooling. “Have the textbooks really changed?” asked one student.
Throughout the day, approximately 200 students participated in the lessons. “Thank you for sharing this history with us,” one student said. Another added, “I have never heard of these people before. We don’t learn, see, or hear about this part of Black history.”
In Hattiesburg and Jackson, high school students engaged in a gallery walk about the history of education in Mississippi. One student wrote “#BlackEducationMatters” next to an image about the unequal distribution of funds in the state during the early 20th century.
At Indianola High School, students explored the roots of contemporary wealth inequality with respect to race. Hipkins engaged them in a lesson on the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot when deputized whites killed more than 300 African Americans and destroyed the thriving community known as Black Wall Street.
In a human geography class at Gulfport Central Middle School, Hipkins made a world history connection to the Civil Rights Movement with an interactive lesson on the legacy of colonialism in the Congo. Reflecting on the current conflict and who is responsible, one student asked, “What is our responsibility as consumers?”
Journalism students at Murrah High School in Jackson examined historic Mississippi cases related to race and the media. They were shocked to see that the role of the media had been to suppress, rather than share, news about civil rights movement activism.
To bring these issues to an African American Literature class, Hipkins had the students read children’s picture books about the Civil Rights Movement. The students (in Benton County) were asked to critique the books based on content, illustrations, and overall impact. This led to a rich discussion about the appropriate age for young people to learn about racism.
In most of the school districts, administrators as well as teachers observed the classes and shared their enthusiasm. In Harrison County, Superintendent Glen East left a note for teacher fellow Cristina Tosto:
Ms. Tosto, What you are doing today is tremendously important in our Democratic society. You are providing a great compass for your students. Glen East
In Attala, Harrison, Hinds, Jones, and Marion counties, the teacher fellows also scheduled professional development sessions to introduce their colleagues to this content and pedagogy.
The fellowship program is still open for Mississippi teachers who would like to apply. This work is made possible by grants from the Kellogg Foundation and the Open Society Foundations and guidance from our project partners.
There are more photos from the sessions in first three school districts here and the next five districts here.
Fellows with Civil Rights Veterans. From L to R: MacArthur Cotton, Flonzie Brown Wright, Ineva May-Pittman, Hollis Watkins.
In July 2015, eleven middle and high school teachers from the across the state of Mississippi met to share resources and stories about how to bring a deeper understanding of the rich history of civil rights and labor movements in Mississippi to their students. During the course of the week they created a strong bond based on their shared commitment to introduce students to the bottom-up and often hidden history of the state. As Kosciusko (northeast of Jackson) teacher Jessica Dickens said on the first day, “I’m in heaven to be among so many like-minded educators.”
Modeled on the philosophy of the Mississippi Freedom Schools, the activities throughout the week were participatory with a focus on examining not just history, but also issues of race and equity in schools today. They included writing stories and poetry, role plays, guest speakers, field trips, lesson planning, uncovering local history, and more.
The institute was designed to help participants deepen their understanding of Mississippi civil rights and labor movement history, explore interactive pedagogy, develop a collaborative teacher community, and plan for statewide expansion.
Unsung hero Wiley Mae Foard. Her story was researched and posted on the Historypin online map by teacher Glendolyn Crowell.
The exploration of Mississippi history began with local untold stories in the teachers’ home communities. Before coming to the institute, fellows were asked to research an unsung s/hero from their town. They placed the people and stories they found on the online Historypin map page dedicated to uncovering Mississippi’s hidden history.
A few of the teachers had to dig deep to find their unsung hero. When they began, they were told that there was no activism in their community. Motivated by the assignment and the knowledge that people are active everywhere, they went to the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission files. (This is the state agency that spied on and documented the actions of more than 87,000 civil rights volunteers.) Sure enough, names surfaced. Webster County native Glendolyn Crowell recognized one name on the list–her own elementary school principal. With that lead, she reached out to the Mayor and her Facebook friends to learn more. On the final day of the institute, the unsung heroes sprung to life in a lesson prepared with the fellows’ research. Each person was given a bio of one of the Mississippi unsung heroes and invited to interview their peers (all in the role of an unsung hero) with a set of guiding questions. (The format for the lesson was based on Unsung Heroes by Bill Bigelow.)
The fellows engaged in role plays related to some of the stories in Mississippi history that are seldom included in mainstream history textbooks. For example, in a lesson on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), the fellows took on the on the role of Mississippians at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. After interviewing each other and listening to the memorable testimony by Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer to the Credentials Committee, they had to decide whether or not to accept the offer by LBJ to have two delegate at large seats. Most soundly rejected it, saying that two seats did not even qualify as a compromise.
Dr. Roy DeBerry and Glendolyn Crowell interview each other during the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) lesson.
One of the special guests for the day, project partner Roy DeBerry, engaged in the role play as himself. At the age of 16, DeBerry was on the boardwalk in Atlantic City with the MFDP.
After the lesson, DeBerry responded to additional questions and shared favorite memories, such as Mrs. Hamer stepping out of the Convention Center to lead the group in song.
The lessons introduced in the institute were selected based on issues surfaced by the fellows. With the Confederate flag in the daily news, one request was for lessons to explore the impact of racism on white allegiances in history—particularly working class whites. The lesson on the Southern Tenant Farmers Union was ideal. It introduced a seldom taught story of Black and white sharecroppers uniting during the Great Depression. Role playing conversations between union organizers and sharecroppers, participants could see the benefits and risks of coming together.
Judge Carlton Reeves
As another rich source of history, guest speakers and field trips were featured throughout the week. Judge Carlton Reeves described his own education and political awakening, Dr. Daphne Chamberlain shared stories and photos about the role of youth in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Roy DeBerry introduced classroom friendly resources on the Hill Country Project website, and Albert Sykes provided a detailed overview and analysis of the politics of education in Mississippi today.
A wide range of strategies were used throughout the week so that teachers could “try them on” and determine which ones could be adapted to their own classrooms. These included:
Lynne Schneider adds her comments to the gallery walk.
A gallery walk invited fellows to explore the history of education in Mississippi, leading up to their role today. The text and images of the gallery walk began with pre-Mississippi in the ancient city of Timbuktu, moving through Reconstruction to present day issues such as Initiative 42. Participants wrote their thoughts on chart paper next to an image or text and were encouraged to comment on what others wrote as well.
Participants stepped into history with role plays, such as the lesson on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Each role play had dozens of characters, immediately shattering the narrative of a handful of heroes making history. The role plays also show history as a set of choices or dilemmas, rather than an inevitable sequence of events.
Community building activities were used every day so that the fellows could get to know each other. These included people bingo, concentric circles, and writing about “in whose shoes I’m walking.”
Diana Dombrowski, Falana McDaniel, and Sarah Blanc.
Finally, fellows took time to design their own lessons or map out their semester based on the institute ideas generated during the institute.
Fellow Lynne Schneider commented,
What I am most pleased with is so many ways to create a student-centered classroom and a new focus on youth activism. I can’t wait to work with students on movements they are hungry to be a part of.
When teachers signed up for the fellowship, many spoke of the isolation they felt in their respective school districts and the desire to be part of a learning community. Therefore, a focus for the week was finding ways to deepen and sustain a nurturing, collaborative community among the participants.
It began with activities to help the fellows get to know each other, including People Bingo and Big Shoes to Fill. Fellows wrote a story about a time that they stood up against injustice or a person in whose shoes they are walking. As each person read their story, the life stories began to walk a path together. Here is the “big shoes to fill” story from Hattiesburg fellow Raymond Brookter:
Although these are big shoes to fill, I am following in the footsteps of giants. I am following in the footsteps of my mother, Mary Lee whose early recitation about how her father was returned to their home split down the face and neck for what was supposed to be an accident at the woodmill, affected me greatly. I follow in the steady but sure footsteps of Abraham, my father who had to lift a Model A Ford from his brother’s chest after three jealous white men pushed it upon him while he repaired a tire. I follow in the footsteps of these dead “too young” and “too soon” as the scourge of drug addiction and alcoholism tore about families, communities, and futures. It is upon Ricky, Bean, Dot, Karl, Monk, Dennis, Mark, Joe and Mike that every step I take to tutor one more student or write one more recommendation letter is not in vain. It is the footsteps of Aunt Genie, Aunt Mamie, and Aunt Ida that hold my pace as I walk through my teaching of youth, and it is the small footprints of a little boy that didn’t talk like a Negro child to walk like a Black man.
In preparation for the final day of the institute, fellows wrote poems using a mirror or “write that I” refrain about the unsung hero from their community. Fellows were moved to tears as the tributes to the unsung Mississippi heroes filled the room. Gulfport fellow Cristina Tosto wrote about Dr. Gilbert Mason:
Dr. Gilbert Mason
Write that I,
Born in the slums of Jackson
I too, had a dream.
Write that I,
Experienced the degradation of Jim Crow
And was strengthened by
My Black community.
Write that I,
Doctor and activist,
Led my people to the beach.
Not once but four times.
I cared for my people
As blood dripped from my own head.
I saw the bloodshed
And felt the cold metal on my wrists.
Write that I,
Together with Medgar Evers, Dr. Felix Dunn,
And hundreds of other Mississippians,
Desegregated the beaches and the schools
And registered voters
Write that I,
Longed for equality and respect,
Wanted to heal
Not just my people
But the hate.
Write that I
Am Dr. Gilbert Mason.
By the end of the week, teachers testified to the strength of the collaboration. Tosto said,
The fact that I know that my fellows are all over Mississippi teaching civil rights and labor history through higher-level, interactive lessons is a great comfort to me. To know that I won’t be alone in attempting to change the state of education in Mississippi and that I have a group to lean on and help me I think is the most valuable thing I have received from the institute.
On the last day, the fellows affirmed that not only do they want to deepen the work in their own classrooms, but they also want the effort to expand. They set to work brainstorming outreach strategies, key allies, and a name for the initiative. Some drafted designs for posters and t-shirts. The group will reconvene in October to finalize those plans. In the meantime, the fellows are coordinating professional development in their respective school districts with the project director Julian Hipkins III.
Lynne Schneider and Marsha McNail discuss classroom strategies.
Alma McDonald and Maryam Rashid in the roles of unsung Mississippi heroes.
Teacher fellows Jessica Dickens and Philip Mohr with partner Von Gordon (center).
Partners Jackie Byrd Martin, Von Gordon, and co-facilitator Jenice View.
A powerful teacher community was launched which can directly impact classrooms and engage more educators statewide. Here are some closing reflections:
The impact of the institute was tremendous for me. I was left with an excited feeling in which I could not wait to return to the classroom. — Marsha McNail
I was struck by the emphasis on untold or “undertold” stories of civil rights activism. At the end of the Summer Institute, I was able to see how closely Mississippi’s local resources (people, events, landmarks, stories) could be used to engender new activism among young people today. Even more than the AP Institute and my Master’s degree courses, this was the best (most effective, efficient, and inspiring) professional development opportunity that I have had in five years of teaching. — Philip Mohr
On March 4, the SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University launched a new documentary website, One Person, One Vote: the Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights. The site tells the story of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) commitment to organizing local people in the Deep South around the right to vote. One Person, One Vote weaves together stories with primary source documents, highlighting who SNCC was, what they did, why they did it … and the relevance of SNCC’s organizing to today’s continuing struggles.
The SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University are now planning to expand the site into a larger SNCC Digital Gateway. We’d like your feedback on a short survey to help ensure that this site is an engaging tool that teachers can use to bring SNCC’s grassroots organizing and bottom-up history into the classroom.
By leaving your name and e-mail address, you will be entered into our raffle. This survey should take 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Your responses will help guide the partnership of the SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University, over the next three years, as it tells SNCC’s story through the SNCC Digital Gateway. We look forward to your response!
Should you have any technical problems with either the website or the survey, please contact Karlyn Forner.
Watching the film, it is evident that Leone-Getten and Lor did extensive research. They started with books and primary documents at the library and then conducted numerous interviews. Here, in their own words, is a summary of their interviews and production process.
Our first interview was with Julian Bond, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who worked closely with Baker. We also spoke with these SNCC members who worked alongside Baker: Hollis Watkins, Judy Richardson, Dorothy Zellner, Penny Patch, Claire O’Connor, Leslie McLemore, and Connie Curry. We learned about her work with students, her leadership style and how she influenced them as activists. Professor J. Todd Moye, her most recent biographer, explained to us how she organized SNCC and influenced people and organizations with her grassroots leadership. Dr. Shana Redmond, the Ella Baker Visiting Professor at USC, focused on the importance of Baker’s organizing style today. We also spoke with Taylor Branch, who has written extensively about the Civil Rights Movement, and who helped us to understand about the organizational differences that Ms. Baker had with Dr. King. We both have enjoyed creating documentaries. This year, we were able to strengthen our research skills, finding interesting footage, photos and documents. After writing the script, we recorded our voiceover, edited interviews, compiled footage and images, and selected music.
Leone-Getten and Lor’s hard work paid off. They produced an award-winning film that will inspire viewers to learn more about the life and legacy of this remarkable woman.
The best part of teaching this activity was to see the students buy in to it so much. It was more than just a brief overview of a time in history. With both the film (Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot) and the role play, students were able to step into the shoes of the characters in Selma. With the movement in Selma being started mainly by teenagers their own age, it was made more relevant to them.
Also, understanding how the government failed to protect the citizens of Selma, we were also able to make connections to events today, such as Ferguson.
Her students shared reflections too.
I enjoyed this lesson because I got a chance to be someone who I have never heard of before. Amelia Boynton was one of the women who led the Civil Rights Movement, specifically in Selma. During the film, I actually got to see some of the brutal beatings that happened in the 60s. In the film, it showed how my character, Amelia Boynton, was shoved by police officers. Some of the things on the film I already knew about, but I also learned about a lot of lesser known people other than Dr. King and Malcolm X. My character in the activity showed me that women can do just as much as men can when it comes to leadership. —Feria M.
I enjoyed this role play activity because I learned details about African Americans who fought and marched for equality and the right to vote. I played Malcolm X in the activity and learned there were many faces to the movement in Selma. To learn the hardships that black people went through inspires me to do the best that I can with the rights I have now. —DeVontaye S.
I enjoyed playing the role of John Lewis. I learned how bad Bloody Sunday really was. I also learned that John Lewis got struck in the head with a billy club and had to be hospitalized. I think it is impressive that he was such a huge part in the movement in Selma and now serves as a U.S. Congressman. The events of the Selma March really opened my eyes to how unjust our country has been in the past. —Blake S.
The release of the film Selma in this 50th anniversary year of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has helped generate great interest in these pivotal stories from the Civil Rights Movement.
Schools across the country are taking students to see the film. Commemorative events will be held all year.
Today, racial equity and voting rights are front and center in the lives of young people. There is much they can learn from stepping into the history of the Selma voting rights campaign and the larger Civil Rights Movement. We owe it to students on this anniversary to engage them in the history in a way that allows them to look critically at the world today and equips them to carry on the struggle for justice.
All too often, students think that two people (Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks) were responsible for all the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement. Given this “master narrative,” their response to injustices is often to hope for the next savior to come along.
A march of 15,000 in Harlem in solidarity with the Selma voting rights struggle. World Telegram & Sun photo by Stanley Wolfson. Library of Congress.
By Emilye Crosby
On this 50th anniversary year of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act it helped inspire, national attention is centered on the iconic images of “Bloody Sunday,” the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the interracial marchers, and President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act.
This version of history, emphasizing a top-down narrative and isolated events, reinforces the master narrative that civil rights activists describe as “Rosa sat down, Martin stood up, and the white folks came south to save the day.”
Today, issues of racial equity and voting rights are front and center in the lives of young people. There is much they can learn from an accurate telling of the Selma (Dallas County) voting rights campaign and the larger Civil Rights Movement. We owe it to students on this anniversary to share the history that can help equip them to carry on the struggle today. Continue Reading 15 Points.
Today, fifty years later, with the Voting Rights Act under siege, daily reports of police brutality and racial inequality seen in all realms of American life, we take a look back at the struggles for civil rights and social justice and look at the barriers that still endure.
They began by showing clips of the film Freedom Summer side-by-side with videos from Ferguson, MO.
The only thing that will make our lives or our deaths meaningful is that we tell the story of why we did what we did and why the others died.
Charles McDew describes the terror of imprisonment and threats to the lives of Civil Rights Movement activists and others during the freedom struggle in a Moth Radio Hour story, “Why The Others Died” (9/30/2014).
In the conclusion to his chilling and tragic story, he notes, “It gave me to understand that it is not a struggle of black people or white people dominating black people; it is a struggle of people without power being exploited, run over, and destroyed.”
Background on Charles McDew
Charles McDew led his first demonstration in the eighth grade, to protest violations of the religious freedom of Amish students in his hometown of Massillon, Ohio.
Charles McDew 2/17/1962.
McDew’s career as an activist expanded in scope while he was a freshman at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, SC. Inevitably involved in the newborn sit-in movement, he was elected as student leader by his fellow demonstrators.
1963 SNCC fundraiser at the home of actor and activist Theodore Bikel. (l-r) Ivanhoe Donaldson, Chuck McDew, Lorraine Hansberry, Nina Simone, Theodore Bikel, and James Forman. (c) Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust (LHLT) private collection. Click for more info.
McDew has been active in organizations for social and political change, working as a teacher and as a labor organizer, managing anti-poverty programs in Washington, D.C., serving as community organizer and catalyst for change in Boston and San Francisco, as well as other communities.
He has appeared on countless radio and television programs as a speaker against racism. McDew recently retired from Metropolitan State University, Minneapolis, MN, where he taught classes on the history of the civil rights movement, African-American history, and in social and cultural awareness. [Bio from SNCC 50th Anniversary website.]
The coming of the twentieth century saw great changes throughout the state—social, economic, and industrial. Mississippi’s constitution was rewritten and adopted in 1890 to codify the privileges of white men and institutionalize the impediments to women and African American citizens. The United States and Mississippi were drawn into a world war. Natural disaster ravaged the fertile Delta counties. And a new, native art form was born in the blues.
Cary, Mississippi, May 1, 1927, ten days after the flood. Courtesy MDAH.
The sessions include:
Political analyst Jere Nash, “The 1890 Constitution and the Rise of Jim Crow Mississippi”
Mississippi Armed Forces Museum director Chad Daniels, “Mississippi in WWI”
University of Southern Mississippi associate professor Pamela Tyler, “Woman Suffrage in Mississippi”
The workshop is sponsored by Mississippi Department of Archives and History in conjunction with the Mississippi College School of Continuing Education, Mississippi Department of Education, and Mississippi Historical Society.
The Lillian Smith Book Awards were established in 1968 by the Southern Regional Council to recognize authors whose books represent outstanding achievements demonstrating through literary merit and moral vision an honest representation of the South, its people, its problems, and its promise.
This year’s Forty-Sixth Anniversary Awards Ceremony is a partnership between the Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries, and the Georgia Center for the Book. It will be presented in connection with the Decatur Book Festival at the DeKalb County Public Library in Decatur, Georgia on Sunday, August 31, 2015 at 2:30 p.m.
Below is a description of We Shall Not Be Moved:
Once in a great while, an image captures the essence of an era. Three people–one black, two white–sit at a lunch counter while a horde of cigarette smoking hot shots pour catsup, sugar, and other counter condiments on the sitters’ heads and down their backs. The image strikes a chord for all who lived through those turbulent times of a changing America. And for those too young to have endured that period, it evokes an era, not that long ago, when the ordinary act of getting a cup of coffee with a friend of another race could spark a riot.
We Shall Not Be Moved is a triple threat: part biography, part history, and largely just good old fashioned storytelling. The book enables the reader to get behind the iconic image of the Jackson Woolworth’s sit-in and into the hearts and minds of those participating in this harrowing event. It’s history from the bottom up. We Shall Not Be Moved tells the entire story of the Jackson Movement, which the sit-in sparked to life, and the three weeks of demonstrations that put Jackson on the front page of every major newspaper in America.
Sadly, this uprising led to severe retaliation. Two weeks after the Jackson Woolworth’s sit-in, Medgar Evers, the local leader of the movement, was assassinated. We Shall Not Be Moved chronicles this horrific event through first-person accounts of those who endured it, and then reveals how these movement figures carried on after their leader was taken down.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision. Too often marked as the launch of the Civil Rights Movement, it is important to teach about the Supreme Court ruling in the context of the decades long struggle by people across the United States. This anniversary is also a key time to look at the progress that has been made and the inequities that continue today. Here are some lessons (three from Rethinking Schools), books, films, and articles that can be used to teach about Brown v. Board in grades 4-12.
May 13-17, 2014
To mark the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, parents, students, educators and community residents are organizing actions across the country to continue the struggle for racial and educational justice and win the public schools all our children deserve. Teaching for Change is pleased co-sponsor the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools event in Washington, D.C. at Sousa Middle School.
by Willow McCormick
Second graders ask grandparents to write about their experience during the Civil Rights Movement. The letters bring surprising wisdom—and some thought-provoking issues—to the classroom.
There will be an historic convening at Tougaloo College from June 25-29, 2014 on the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Here is a description from the conference website:
In the summer of 1964, hundreds of summer volunteers from across America convened in Mississippi to put an end to the system of rigid segregation. The civil rights workers and the summer volunteers successfully challenged the denial by the state of Mississippi to keep Blacks from voting, getting a decent education, and holding elected offices.
As a result of the Freedom Summer of 1964, some of the barriers to voting have been eliminated and Mississippi has close to 1000 Black state and local elected officials. In fact, Mississippi has more Black elected officials than any other state in the union. While the Freedom Summer of ’64 made profound changes in the state of Mississippi and the country, much remains to be accomplished.
The Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference will convene in Jackson, Mississippi both to recognize the accomplishments of those who worked for changes to the politically segregated Mississippi and to discuss how to continue the struggle toward Mississippi reaching its full potential for all of its citizens.
The goal of the award is to deepen student appreciation of and exploration of the untold stories and role of “everyday people” in local Mississippi history, using the National History Day competition as an incentive and a focus for student projects.
As is explained on the Library of Congress website, “The activists interviewed for this project belong to a wide range of occupations, including lawyers, judges, doctors, farmers, journalists, professors, and musicians, among others. The video recordings of their recollections cover a wide variety of topics within the civil rights movement, such as the influence of the labor movement, nonviolence and self-defense, religious faith, music, and the experiences of young activists. Actions and events discussed in the interviews include the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963), the Albany Movement (1961), the Freedom Rides (1961), the Selma to Montgomery Rights March (1965), the Orangeburg Massacre (1968), sit-ins, voter registration drives in the South, and the murder of fourteen year old Emmett Till in 1955, a horrific event that galvanized many young people into joining the freedom movement.
“Many interviewees were active in national organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Other interviewees were key members of specialized and local groups including the Medical Committee for Human Rights, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, the Cambridge (Maryland) Nonviolent Action Committee, and the Newark Community Union Project. Several interviews include men and women who were on the front lines of the struggle in places not well-known for their civil rights movement activity such as Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Saint Augustine, Florida; and Bogalusa, Louisiana.”
On February 5, 2014, your class can join students across the country for a virtual National Youth Summit on Freedom Summer and civic engagement. Civil rights activists, students, and historians will participate in a panel discussion about the 1964 youth-led effort to end the political disenfranchisement and educational inequality of African Americans in the Deep South, and discuss the role of young people in shaping America’s past and future. The webcast will be hosted from the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson, Mississippi; young people from across the country will participate in the Summit through an online chat. Participating students will be encouraged to think of themselves as makers of history and asked to consider their ability to be active and engaged citizens.
SNCC staff leads volunteers in freedom songs during the SNCC Orientation in Oxford, Ohio. Fannie Lou Hamer (r) and Chuck Neblett (l). Photo by Herbert Randall, McCain Library and Archives, USM.
“Freedom High,” a civil rights movement play, will be performed Monday Feb. 24th at 10am at Queens College’s Goldstein Theater and will be open to selected high school classes*.
The play by Adam Kraar is set in Oxford, Ohio, in late June of 1964 at the orientation and training session for the young volunteers who are about to go south to help with Mississippi voter registration campaigns, freedom schools, and the challenge at Atlantic City Democratic Party convention. The northern volunteers and experienced civil rights activists have come together on a college campus to discuss the goals and risks of the Mississippi summer project and the tactics of non-violent direct action. The dramatic tension in the play builds from the announcement that three young people – two CORE staff (one black, one white) and one (white) summer volunteer – who had attended the first week of orientation are now missing in Neshoba County, MS (and are probably dead). Intense personal and policy decisions face the young volunteers and activists as they get ready to go south.
The dramatic reading with music is produced and directed by Professor Susan Einhorn. The cast is made up of a combination of Queens College students and professional Equity actors (including a number of QC alumni).
If teachers are interested in bringing a class, they should contact Mark Levy, Special Assistant to the President for the Civil Rights Initiative–2013-2014. There will be preparation and follow-up materials for classes selected to attend. (It is understood that this date may be difficult given the NYC public school calendar, but a number of outside criteria determined the date’s selection.)
*About 150 of the theater’s seats that day have been reserved for NYC-area high school students. There is no fee, but there will be a selection and advance reservation process. High schools in Queens are particularly encouraged to apply. Also, a community-focused performance is scheduled for Sunday afternoon Feb. 23 at 2pm, if any teachers are interested in seeing the play then.
On Monday, July 15, with many hearts still reeling from the announcement of George Zimmerman’s acquittal after killing unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin, Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad and Dr. Ernest Morrell addressed dozens of educators in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Black History 360° Summer Institute. Muhammad and Morrell invited teachers to place the Zimmerman case within a larger historical context and education narrative.
Read the paraphrased remarks and reflections made by Muhammad and Morrell from their conversation titled Critical Literacies: Socially, Culturally, Technologically Relevant Educationat Teaching For Change.
Korean War veteran Clyde Kennard wrote eloquent letters about the need for desegregation and his right to attend Mississippi Southern College (now the University of Southern Mississippi) in the 1950s. Instead of being admitted, the state of Mississippi framed him on criminal charges for a petty crime and sentenced him to seven years of hard labor at Parchman Penitentiary.
Medgar Wiley Evers was one of Mississippi’s most impassioned activists, orators, and visionaries for equality and against brutality. However many students learn little about his life and legacy in textbooks. Therefore, Teaching for Change prepared an interactive lesson to introduce students to his work and inspire them to learn more. The lesson is also designed as a pre-reading activity, providing an overview for students of the people, places, and issues in Evers’ life.
The goal of the award is to deepen student appreciation of and exploration of the untold stories and role of “everyday people” in local Mississippi history, using the National History Day competition as an incentive and a focus for student projects.
The year 1963 was pivotal to the modern Civil Rights Movement. It is often recalled as the year of the March on Washington, but much more transpired. It was a year dedicated to direct action and voter registration and punctuated by moments of political theater and acts of violence.
To support teaching about 1963 events, we describe here some of the key events and milestones in the Movement. Where possible we list recommended books, primary documents, film, and articles for learning more. Key among those resources is the Civil Rights Movement Veterans (crmvet.org) website, a rich repository of documents, photos, oral histories, audio clips, and other resources created and maintained those who worked on the front lines of the freedom struggle.
The year 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of significant events in the 1963 Civil Rights Movement or Southern Freedom Movement. Some are well known; others have received less attention. All offer opportunities for either framing or focusing study of the Civil Rights Movement.
A key resource for learning and preparing to teach about the 1963 anniversary events is the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website. Created and maintained by veterans of the southern freedom movement, the site features first-person accounts of the struggle, as well as documents, photographs, bibliographies, and other resources. The immediacy and personal nature of the resources make them highly engaging reading.
We begin by sharing dates and resources with a focus on Mississippi. Here are more 1963 anniversary events from other parts of the country.
“You read about it and you have it for a minute and then you lose it. When you experience it hands-on it stays with you forever,” said sophomore Sabrina Mays about the 3-day Civil Rights Movement tour in May of 2011 for 44 middle and high school students from McComb, Miss. The video above shows highlights of the tour and you can hear from the students themselves about what they learned.
Students spent the first day in Jackson, Miss., at the Freedom Riders’ Reunion where they met many veterans including Hollis Watkins. Watkins was one of the central figures in the Civil Rights Movement in McComb and continues to be very active today throughout the state in his work with Southern Echo. On the second day in Philadelphia, Miss. they met the town’s first black mayor, James Young (in photo with students) and visited historic sites. On the last day they toured the National Civil Rights Museum and the Cotton Museum in Memphis, Tenn.
Sabrina Mays also had this to say about meeting with veterans: “It is just not the same as reading a book or looking on the internet. When you sit down and you look in these people’s eyes, you have a connection. This is the best way to learn by talking to people that have been through it.”
Students attended the dedication and unveiling of the Mississippi Freedom Trail Marker at the Medgar Evers Home Museum. Randall Wanzo, a sophomore, commented, “When he took off the cover for the plaque, it felt like a historic moment.”
Funding for the tour and the video was provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Read more about the tour in an article on the McComb students developed website, McCombLegacies.org in an article by Assistant Project Director Gloria Stubbs here.
By exploring the historical connections between the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Occupy (We are the 99%) movementsnationwide, educators can create an important teachable moment to paint a more holistic picture of King’s legacy in terms of his fight for economic justice in America.
The original August 28 date for the Memorial’s dedication commemorated the famous 1963 “March on Washington.” The official name, “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” is often forgotten amid the celebration of the phrase “I Have a Dream” from his famed speech.
Similarly, textbooks and media often skim over the Poor People’s Campaign, organized by King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference beginning in 1967. The Poor People’s Campaign culminated after King’s death when demonstrators set up a shantytown called “Resurrection City” in DC for two weeks to protest for an economic bill of rights focusing on jobs, income and housing.
Tuesday, October 4: a panel discussion moderated by Robert Goldberg, director of the Tanner Humanities Center. The panel will include Clayborne Carson; Jon Else, a documentary filmmaker who served as producer and cinematographer for the PBS series, Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years;Vincent Harding, a Civil Rights Movement veteran, professor of Religion and Social Transformation at Iliff School of Theology, and author of many books including Hope and History; and Judy Richardson, a movement veteran, early staff worker with SNCC, associate producer of Eyes on the Prize, and author of the recently published, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC
Students at the McComb School District Business and Technology Complex (B&T) have launched the McCombLegacies.org website. As it states on the homepage, the website is “designed to share the history of McComb, Miss., with an emphasis on the stories of working people of all races, women, and young people and how they have strived for equity in labor, civics, education, economics, and the arts.”
The teaching guide Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching was chosen by Teaching Tolerance as one of the best professional development resources for teachers wishing to introduce students to a more accurate portrayal of the Civil Rights Movement.
For 20 years, the Teaching Tolerance staff have reviewed and recommended culturally aware literature and anti-bias resources to educators.
Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, A National Movement is a collection of scholarly essays that illustrate the critical role local-level organizing played during the civil rights movement. Edited by Emilye Crosby, the essays weave oral history and activist accounts with traditional sources to compel students and general readers to rethink who and what were important to the African American freedom struggle.
The collection covers a broad timeframe—from the movement during the 60s to the present—and examines locales, incidents, and events that remain invisible in traditional narratives on the movement.
Educators use the Women Make History lesson to challenge traditional narratives that often exclude the critical role of women in movements for change. Women don’t just sit at home, but sit at counters during sit-ins, organize boycotts and protests, fight for reform, and courageously risk their lives for what they deem is right.
Stephanie Minor-Harper, co-chair of the Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy program, invited Jenice View, co-editor of Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching, to present Women Make History to youth enrolled in the program.
“The young ladies were like so many other young people today,” Minor-Harper said. “They could recite the names of a few famous persons who were a part of the civil rights movement—like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Jesse Jackson—but they had little sense of the greater context in which they carried out their work.”
Minor-Harper was thankful that View used the activity to move the participants beyond those few icons. “I was amazed by the breadth and depth of the women’s stories,” she continued. “The youth will definitely remember a few, and that’s an excellent start.”
A consortium of seven school districts, led by the McComb, Miss. school district and including Brookhaven, Claiborne, Columbia, Lamar, Marion, and Natchez-Adams districts was awarded a Teaching American History grant in August, 2010. Teaching for Change worked closely with McComb on the application thanks to the support they have received from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to deepen instruction about Civil Rights Movement and labor history in McComb. (Corinth County School District also received a TAH grant in 2010 and Jackson Public Schools received a grant a few years ago.)