Uncovering Civil Rights Histories in Our Classrooms: Follow-Up

Teachers were in for a treat at Saturday’s session with the Center for Columbia River History at Pearson Air Museum (first announced here.)  The first of our annual regional “History On Location” sessions offered through the Causes of Conflict Teaching American History grant, this left participants eager for more of the same:  the promise of linking national themes to local places and stories through a combination of rich historical content and engaging classroom strategies.

The day was woven together with a set of powerful questions:

  • How does a sense of place deepen your historical understanding?
  • What is the multicultural history of the Pacific Northwest?
  • How did the experiences of African Americans in various regional communities differ?  How were they similar?  What structural issues contributed to these similarities and differences?
  • How do segregation and racial disparities persist after the Civil Rights era?
Greg Shine kept us outside the walls of the fort.

Greg Shine kept us outside the fort's walls.

We started the day with Greg Shine, chief ranger and park historian at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Rather than a typical tour of Fort Vancouver, Greg’s talk focused on the communities who lived outside the walls, unveiling the story of Kanaka Village – the Pacific Northwest’s oldest multicultural community – and the African American history of the Fort.  While touring the site, teachers explored a mapping exercises developed by CCRH’s Mary Wheeler and Donna Sinclair designed to “make the invisible visible.”

Dr. Millner talks with a teacher-participant.

Dr. Millner talks with a teacher-participant.

Back at Pearson, Darrel Millner‘s slide show guided presentation uncovered the rich African American past of Oregon and Washington and key differences north and south of the Columbia River.  Millner’s talk added color to an Oregon Trail typically painted white; provided background that dated African American involvement in the “culturally homogeneous” Pacific Northwest dating back to the 18th Century; demonstrated the critical role African Americans played in Washington statehood; and captured the controversial role of race in Oregon statehood.  Dr. Millner’s handout packet included legal documents, misleading textbook excerpts, newspaper editorials, Klan applications and photos, and photos.

oral-historyAfter lunch, CCRH’s Donna Sinclair and WSUV’s Melissa Williams interviewed Belva Jean Griffin and Ed Washington.  Ms. Griffin and Mr. Washington both lived at Vanport, the nation’s largest World War II era public housing project.  In addition to a fantastic opportunity to hear about two individuals’ lived experiences, the approach demonstrated the roll oral history might play in your classroom; Sinclair and Williams distributed these tips and the Principles and Standards of the Oral History Association.

An angry suburbanite defends himself against accusations of environmental racism.

An angry suburbanite defends himself against accusations of environmental racism.

The day concluded with Hyung Nam‘s exploration of present day environmental racism through a role play tribunal approach.  First, we considered that – while we may live in a “post-Civil Rights era” – evidence of institutional racism surrounds us (see, for just a few examples, Communities of Color Bear Heaviest Burden in Recession , Wealth, Income, and Power, How Does Wealth Vary According to Race?, Racial Segregation in Education.)  Next, Hyung focused specifically on environmental racism (see his Facts on Environmental Racism Handout.)  We worked through the tribunal and discussed both its advantages (it actively engages students and gets them thinking about a multi-faceted problem) and its limitations (students spend their time pointing fingers and passing the buck rather than collaboratively problem solving.)  Lastly, we discussed Portlands history of redlining and its impact on wealth (similar stories from elsewhere in the country are considered here and, coincidentally, in the following day’s NY Times Book Review.)

The Center for Columbia River History has also collected a set of documents related to the program; it’s posted here.

In all, a richly provocative day – one about which one participant said, “This has to be the most wonderful and useful workshop I have attended yet.”


One response to “Uncovering Civil Rights Histories in Our Classrooms: Follow-Up

  1. Pingback: Birmingham - Day 1 « Teaching American History in SW Washington

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