So I did write and submit a lesson as part of the workshop. Being the perfectionist that I can be, I spent a lot of time going in a number of different directions, then settled on a topic and wrote a lesson. 5 minutes before the final session where we had to share our lessons, I had the. most. inspired. idea for a lesson. Oh well.
So what I ended up setting up was a lesson exploring the various roles that black women took in the civil rights movement. I found primary sources (except for one, which was secondary but had the brevity and the clarity I wanted) about four women: Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and the mother of Emmett Till, Mamie TIll Bradley. (As an aside - Emmett Till's 76th birthday should have been a few days ago. 76 - he should still be alive. He's younger than Elmore Nickleberry, who is still working for the Memphis sanitation department. He's three years older than my mother, who died young (in 1999) because of lung cancer. He's 5 years older than Donald Trump. His murder was an exceedingly long time ago - and there are many people old enough to remember him and be his contemporaries that we can all talk to.)
The point of the lesson, as I wrote it, is to encourage students to realize that, 1. black women had roles in the civil rights movement beyond Rosa Parks, and 2. that those roles were varied, wide ranging, organizational, and sometimes made use of their status as women and mothers as justification. If you are a Beacon student reading this after September, well, you will probably never do this lesson as I wrote it up. I found reasonable documents to use, but I do not like the way I designed the lesson experience to accomplish this goal. But the issue is an important one, and you will address these women in some way! The conventional story of Rosa Parks makes her brave but somewhat passive - her glory is that she didn't get up from her seat - but the actual activities of women organizers was incredibly crucial to the daily activities of the moment. But, as women, they didn't get the national glory and heroic treatment that Dr King, Malcolm X or Stokely Carmichael did. Which is a shame.
My inspired idea after I finished this lesson was about the role of the black press in the civil rights movement, particularly Jet Magazine. Jet Magazine was a fixture of grocery aisle magazine cover reading in my childhood, but not one that we purchased very often. I've thought of it more an entertainment magazine, but it really is an interesting mix of culture, entertainment and politics. Because you can't really separate them. Jet magazine was the magazine that covered Emmett Till's funeral, and published the awful and devastating photos of his mutilated face. His mother insisted on an open casket, and allowed the magazine to take photos, in order to show the world what was done to her son. This issue of the magazine has a pretty woman (very conventionally beautiful - light skin, processed hair) in a bathing suit on the cover. I think the disconnect between these two facts is utterly fascinating and revealing about the black community in the 1950s. So I may well make something out of this at some point. Or encourage someone to do a research paper on this.
My other inspired ideas -
- something on the roles of women in the movement - white women like Viola Luozzo and Carolyn Schwerner also had significant roles worth discussing in a lesson
- comparing a white newspaper (or television report) to a black newspaper's coverage of a particular historical event and doing the same for a current event looking at black online media or other ethnic or language based media
- looking at how historical interpretation changes based on evidence. A book was released in 2015 or 2016 called The Blood of Emmett Till. Among other things that the historian was able to uncover, he interviewed the woman whose accusation led to Till's murder. She finally confessed that there was no actual incident - that she was lying. This seems worthy of a lesson as well.
- Housing segregation - a few teachers at the workshop wrote their lessons around this issue. NYC is an incredibly segregated city, and there are a number of lessons that could be developed around this. Lessons could focus on the development of Central Park and the destruction of Seneca Village, the building of Lincoln Center, the building of my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, etc. Or this could turn into a series of research projects for students.
- Looking at the movement through the lens of the Cold War, and looking at the language and the questions that international newspapers asked about the US, the democratic and capitalist systems, and American Cold War rhetoric when observing the treatment of African Americans and other minorities.
- Using artifacts. I was exposed to an extraordinarily creative method of using artifacts to tell historical stories that I may turn into a project.
And there's more, but I'm going to keep things about those.
Will I ever use all of this stuff? No. But I will use some of it, and I will use the inspiration from all of the people that I met.