That’s What My People Do: Facing Prejudice in a 1960s High School

by Eunice Jarrett

Story Summary

High school students organizing a memorial service for a teacher trigger an emotional process for Eunice who is asked to step out of her comfort zone, again.  Family life and school life create race-related expectations.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Thats-What-My-People-Do-Facing-Prejudice-in-a-1960s-High-School

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did expectations based on race shape the students’ behavior at Eunice’s school?
  2. Can you name talents or skills that are reflected in Eunice’s family? What about your family? What gifts do you see in yourself and your relatives?
  3. What is the impact of constantly hearing stereotypes – positive or negative – about you and groups to which you belong?
  4. In this story, what makes a simple request to sing seem so troubling?

Resources:

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Three graphic novels)
A Raisin in the Sun a play by Lorraine Hansberry
Article in Northwest Indiana’s newspaper about Eunice’s sister, Annie Hicks, who was the first black teacher in Hammond, Indiana –
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/lake/hammond/hammond-s-first-black-teacher-speaks-of-need-for-tenacity/article_b902bcf1-db00-5d20-9589-52674ba792de.html
Facts about school integration in the U.S. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_integration_in_the_United_States

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Eunice Jarrett and my story starts in the 1960s, in Indiana.

The complexion of our high school was changing and the black parents encouraged their kids to stand up and be a credit to our race. So, I became our high school student government’s token Negro. One of our teachers had died suddenly, and the student government people were asked to organize a memorial service.

And I remember the service going kind of like this. We had a meeting and I remember the meeting going something like this. Max was the president and he decided that he would preside over the meeting.

Rose really liked the old teacher. And so, she said that she would give the highlights of the teacher’s life. Chris was a poet and he volunteered to tell the poem. Huh, and Tom, Tom decided that he should say the closing prayer.

And then they decided, “Well, what, what should Eunice do?”

Tom said, “Let her sing. Isn’t that what her people do?”

Like I wasn’t in the room. I mean, I was right there. Why would they say for me to sing? They never heard me sing. Ohh! Sing and dance. That’s what they think my people do. Huh. Well, they didn’t know. They didn’t know that letting me sing might break that stereotype. Letting me sing, I might bring my whole race down from that high pillar of musical expectation. But I’d sing, because that’s what my people do.

You see, my sister Annie, she stepped up and she went to teachers’ college, graduated with honors, only to be told that this color of her skin disqualified her from teaching in her own hometown. Huh. She won that federal court case and the superintendent of schools who said, “Over my dead body,” he died. And my sister became the first Negro teacher in our whole school city. She inspired other people, and that’s what my people do.

Fred didn’t know, Fred didn’t know that I knew some real singers. I mean, my mother and my sisters, they could really sing. My mother, she fancied herself to be a soprano Marian Anderson. Hmm. When she got to sing on Sundays, she had her own gospel arias. But she would always tell us the story of that magnificent Negro woman who sang opera all across the United States and all around the world. Then she told the story of the Daughters of the American Revolution who wouldn’t let her sing at their event in Constitution Hall, in front of an integrated audience. Because Marian Anderson was a Negro. Hmm.

Mama said, “What the devil means for bad, God will use it for good.” Mama said, “Mrs. Roosevelt fixed it. Instead of Constitution Hall, Marian Anderson got to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on a beautiful Easter morning, in front of thousands and thousands of people. I can still feel the pride of Mama’s voice when she told that story.

Yes. Daughters of the American Revolution. Yes, that organization. They were the same daughters, they gave out awards to eighth graders for citizenship and leadership. And when I graduated eighth grade in 1966, I was the winner of that award.

Our principal and faculty, they voted for me. But when they found out who I was, they turned my name into the DAR. And when they found out who I was, they refused to give me the award because it was supposed to be given to a white student.

Well, our white principal said, “We voted for her. And if you don’t give it to her, we won’t give your award ever again!”

I still have that award somewhere in a box. Can you imagine how I felt standing there to receive an award that I knew they didn’t want to give me? But I stood there and I was gracious, because that’s what my people do.

Well, while Rose was writing my name, I wondered, “Should I get Mama or my sisters to sing?”

Well, the student government kids didn’t know that when I went to choir rehearsal, my sisters got the best singing parts, they got the leads. And the rest of us, we had to clap and rock in the background. The student government kids didn’t know I had a hard time clappin’ and rockin’ at the same time.

But I think I’ll sing, even though once a lady at choir rehearsal whispered very loudly that I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. So just to make her a liar, I practiced finding my tone, and I put it in my imaginary bucket.

Well, you know, I agreed to sing not because I’m the best singer, but we stand up. And sometimes we have to stand up to people who don’t know it was enough to not like us.

You know, they say that when one black family moves into a block, it breaks the block. Well, when my family moved, we broke the block. And the boy next door made it his job to stand at our fence and call us names, every day. And we had to walk past him, hold our head up high, and ignore him every day, until the day he came into the fence, ready to fight girls in their own backyard. Well, my middle sister got in trouble for fighting back. But you know, sometimes we just get tired, sometimes we really do. Huh.

Well, all I had to do was sing a song. I just had to pick a song. “Let My People Go?” Uh, that was a little sarcastic. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot?” That was probably the only spiritual that some of my classmates knew. But I was a Negro and we had spirituals. That’s what my people do.

Well, it was the day of the program. I remember the shuffling feet, letting down the wooden auditorium chairs, the hushed whispers. The student government officers, we entered stage left and there were chairs, wooden chairs and an arc behind the podium. Yes, hhh, I remember.

Max went to the podium, and he, in his most eloquent words, explained the reason for the assembly and we started the assembly. He introduced Rose, and Rose had done her… She’d done her research. I didn’t know that I… that teacher had gone to Tibet and knew how to ski. But I was not surprised that she taught a lot of the parents, and she had a cat.

Well, next Chris went up to read his poem. I don’t know what he said because I knew I was next. Then Max went back to the podium, and he said words and more words and I was looking for my invisible bucket. But then Max turned and smiled at me.

So, I stood up. And I walked to the podium. And I looked out on the darkness, and I did what my people do.

The Colfax Louisiana Massacre: A Story about Reconstruction

by Zahra Glenda Baker

Story Summary:

This is Zahra’s personal story of reconnecting with her siblings and learning about how history is told through the voice of the “hunter”. On a journey back to their Louisiana birthplace, Zahra and her siblings uncover a story of an event that affects the lives of their family, community and the nation.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Colfax-Louisiana-Massacre-A-Story-about-Reconstruction

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did the 4 million African Americans after slavery need in order to transition into full citizenship?
  2. What systems needed to be in place to secure a life with dignity for the former enslaved African Americans?
  3. Why is it important to question the perspective of history’s stories?
  4. Had you heard of the Colfax massacre? Why or why not?
  5. Why is it important to tell your own story?

Resources:

Red River by Lalita Tademy
The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, and the Death of Reconstruction by LeeAnna Keith
The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction by Charles Lane
Smithsonian Online Magazine Article on the Colfax Massacre: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/1873-colfax-massacre-crippled-reconstruction-180958746/

Themes:

  • African American/Africans
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcription:

Hi, I’m Zahra Baker.  And I spent the first three years of my life in Central Louisiana in a small rural area that was surrounded by pine trees and weeping willows, pecan trees and sat beside a place that was ironically called the Red River.  Now my family is complex.  And we had many difficulties in my early years.  But… I was the youngest of seven and because of that, I got sent away to live with my Uncle Willy and Aunt Dot for a… for a year in Slidell.  And then I was sent all the way to Lafayette, Indiana and was adopted by my Uncle Dave and Aunt Bessie.

Now this was far away from Colfax, Louisiana where I was born.  And it wasn’t until my young adult life that I was able to reconnect with my siblings.  And the day that we met each other again, I was filled with joy and sadness and sorrow and frustration and anger and gratitude and fear.  What if they didn’t like me?  What if we didn’t have anything in common?  We had so much time separated between us that I wasn’t sure if there was anything I had to offer them.  But when I met them, there was such a feeling for comfort and familiarity that all of the fear just washed away.  And they liked to talk a lot so there was a lot of laughter and a lot of chatter.  And I was determined that I was going to spend time with each one of them until I figured out what we had in common.  But what I came to realize was the story that we had in common was the story from our hometown Colfax, Louisiana.  So they had all moved West to California but every year we would decide to have a family reunion.  And often times we had that reunion in Colfax so that we could reconnect with our family and friends there.

So that on one of those trips, we were walking on down memory walk, sharing stories, and we came upon the courthouse.  And when we got there, we saw a sign and the sign said, “Colfax Riot.  On this site, there was an event called the Colfax Riot where three white men and 150 negroes were slain.  This event occurred April 13, 1873.” And the sign said, “This brought an end to carpetbaggers misrule in the South.”  Well, the wording on that sign was kind of odd to me.  First of all, Negros was spelled with a little “n” and the word “misrule” and carpetbaggers”…  All of that was strange to me, so I decided to do some research.  And, I realized that 1873 was during a time called, “Reconstruction.”

Now in Louisiana, they didn’t teach us anything about that time period.  It happened right after the Civil War from, say, 1865 to 1874.  So I had to dig deep.  I asked people questions. I went online to see what I could find and what I found was that most of the historians didn’t really like to talk about Reconstruction.  They felt that it was an experiment that failed.  They felt that is was a time when there was a lot of corruption and carpetbaggers from the North and scallywags, which were Southern people who sided with the new government, had ruined the whole thing.  And they also said that it was the worst period in American history.

Well, black people felt like the worst period in history was slavery and that radical reconstruction, well, that was something of a revolutionary idea that was going to help America come into its promise of equality through the idea of public schools and through the idea of civil rights legislation and financial gain.  In 1873, there were probably 2,000 black people that were in office. And there was some amendments.  Like the Thirteenth Amendment, we know was what enabled black people to be free.  And the Fourteenth Amendment brought about civil rights for those enslaved people that were now free.  But the Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the right to vote.

Well, that right to vote was a thorn in the side of the white league, which was a coalition of white men who were determined to maintain white supremacy.  They actually called themselves “The Redeemers” because they were going to redeem the South back to itself.  Well, in 1873, in Colfax, the black majority voted in a government that was going to support them and their needs.  But… the day that the new sheriff was supposed to take office, the ousted sheriff decided that he wasn’t going to give up his power. So he called all of his friends and told them to back him up.  Well, the new sheriff called all of the black men and deputized them and told them to hold the courthouse so that he could go in and do his job.  Well, they held that courthouse because they had visions of a life of equality.  A vision for a future that their children could flourish.

For seven whole days, they tirelessly held that courthouse but on April 13th, Easter Sunday, the white league was not gonna have it anymore.  So three hundred armed white men marched into Colfax and started shooting.  And they shot off a cannon that set the courthouse on fire.  Soon after, there was a white flag that was held in a window as surrender.  And just as the black men started coming out the door, there was a shot and one of the white men was killed and in retaliation, The Redeemers started shooting.  And down came the ideas of a better world, as one by one, those men fell to the ground as they were running out of that burning building. Over two hundred men were killed that day.  About fifty were captured, then walked to the Red River where they were shot and drowned.  And then another fifty were hanged on an oak tree.  Clearly, this was not a riot. Those men laid down their lives so that we could have a better life.  And that was a massacre.

Now in my research, I found over a hundred names listed of the wounded and the killed that day.  And in that list there was some names that might have been part of my family line.  But regardless, all of the men that day were fighting for the rights of all black people. And not just for black people, but for humanity.  For the nation to rise to its fullest potential.  I hope that we all will remember them and hold them up.  Because it was their work that established the work of those who are moving us forward now.

And history books can ignore Colfax and Reconstruction if they want or write it from the perspective of the oppressor.  But by us digging deep into that history, we were able to discover the amazing well of those freed men and fighting for our liberation. And as the Igbo people from Nigeria say, “The lions must create the historians of the tale of the hunter.  The hunted will always be glorified by the hunter.”  My siblings and I will continue to tell the Colfax story from our point of view. And more than that, we will take that legacy and live our lives in a way that we uplift humanity and make the world better for the next generation.

Surviving and Thriving: When Racism Destroyed 1920s Black Wall Street in Tulsa Oklahoma

by Shanta Nurullah

Story Summary:

This family story describes Shanta’s father and grandparents’ escape from the 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma Massacre. Shanta’s grandfather, a tailor, was forced to flee with his family to Chicago where he was able to re-establish his business.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Surviving-and-Thriving-When-Racism-Destroyed-1920s-Black-Wall-Street-in-Tulsa-Oklahoma-template

Discussion Questions:

  1. What attitudes and choices led to the burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma?
  2. Why do people move away from home, leaving everyone and everything behind?
  3. Does your family share any migration stories?
  4. Had you heard of times and places where Black people were the wealthiest? Why or why not do you think?
  5. What are the keys to people being able to live peacefully in the same town or community?

Resources:

Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Scott Ellsworth and John Hope Franklin
The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing/Neighborhoods
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Shanta. I’d like to tell you a family story. This story involves my father, Simeon Neal, Jr. who was born August 31, 1920. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma where his father, Simeon, Sr. had a tailor shop. The shop was on Greenwood Avenue, which in Tulsa was called Black Wall Street because there were so many thriving and successful businesses along that street and in the area around that street. There were also hundreds of homes in which most of the black people in Tulsa lived. Now, the year after my father was born, in 1921, on May 3rd, the first and incident occurred that changed the lives of everyone in Tulsa basically forever.

There was a young black man who worked downtown shining shoes in front of the Drexel building. And because segregation was very much in force in Tulsa, at that time, any black person who worked downtown or in that area had limited options when it came to just doing something like going to the bathroom. So, this young man, his name was Dick Rowland, when away from his shoeshine station to use the washroom and he was allowed to go only on the top of the, the top floor of the Drexel Building. In order to use the bathroom, and in order to get there, he had to take an elevator. And the elevators in 1921 were not like the elevators that we’re used to where you just go in and press, press the button for your floor and you’d you taken to your destination. At that time there was always an elevator operator, who either controlled the elevator with, with a lever, like you might have seen in the cable cars of San Francisco, or with a wheel that would actually propel the elevator up or bring it back down. So the elevator operator on this day, May 31st, in the Drexel Building, was a young white woman whose name was Sarah Page. Now, the story doesn’t say exactly what happened.  We don’t know for sure. But when Dick Rowland went into that elevator, he either stumbled and fell into Sarah, or accidentally or maybe even on purpose, touched her. But by the time he made it back down to his shoeshine station, a rumor had started that he had assaulted Sarah and that was just not allowed. It was not allowed for a black man to touch a white woman even if he was a young boy. The penalty for doing such a thing was usually death. Sometimes ya get arrested before you die but usually you would be strung up and lynched, which was a practice that was very prevalent in the south for a long time. And we weren’t even exactly in the south but it was Oklahoma. It was segregation. A black man cannot touch a white woman.

So white folks started gathering for the lynching that was going to take place because Dick Rowland had so-called assaulted Sarah Page. And it got to be such a big deal, as lynchings often were. Sometimes whole families would come out. People would have picnics. There was even a town where lynchings occurred on every Friday. But in Tulsa, on that day, the word spread so far that it reached the Greenwood Avenue District and the black people came to try to save him from what was surely going to be his fate.

Now, this was shortly after World War I and lots of the men who lived in the Greenwood Avenue District had been soldiers, had been fighters, and they still had that warrior spirit. So they went downtown to rescue Dick Roland and make sure that he was not killed for what might have just been an accident. The people who were intent on lynching Dick Rowland were armed and the black men were armed. Some with guns or rifles, others with sticks, bats, bricks, whatever they could get their hands on, and a big battle actually ensued between the white men and the black men. As the battle spread, the black men started retreating toward the Greenwood Avenue District and the white men followed. And when they got close to the area where black people lived, they started setting fires. And one burning building led to another burning building, to another one.

And the white men who had set those fires would not even let the fire department in to put the fires out. So Greenwood Avenue went up in flames. Burning not only the businesses, but the homes around it and the fire was getting close to Grandpa Neal’s tailor shop. He had one customer, a white man, who had a horse and wagon and he offered to save my grandfather and his family by hiding them under the hay in that wagon. So if you could imagine, not having any time to gather up your belongings or your precious photographs or mementos or even clothes. If you could imagine, Grandpa Neal and his wife Susan, their, their daughter of three or four year old, four years old Marjorie and my father who was less than a year old, gathering them up, hiding them under the hay in this wagon, and leaving town just to survive. And it was a good thing that they did that because hundreds of people were killed on that two day spree of fires and gunshots and death and destruction. Between May 31st and June 1st hundreds of people, hundreds of businesses destroyed.

Now Grandpa and his family made it to St. Louis, initially, but really couldn’t get a hold on establishing themselves there. So they went to Chicago next. And Grandpa Neal was able to establish another tailor shop.  This time on 47th Street, which was a prosperous business district in Chicago at that time. And I remember visiting that shop and Grandpa Neal was still making suits. But he would also sell men’s accessories, shirts, ties, socks. And I remember playing with, with the socks of the sock drawer. That was one of the things I would do while the adults were talking.

But more than that I remember how vibrant and exciting 47th Street was with, you know, music clubs and places to eat, all types of businesses. And it’s those memories that become really in stark contrast to the 47th Street of today, although there is an effort to bring things back. There are so many vacant lots where, where businesses used to be. There are so many boarded up buildings where families used to live. And that poses the question of why? Why…Why does one community thrive when another one goes down? I don’t have all of those answers but I have a, a night…What is this year? 2016…Example that could, could in a way, shed some light on that.

There’s this grocery chain called Mariano’s. I’m calling out names now. But when a few years ago, when the Dominick’s chain went out, it went into bankruptcy, and went out of business, their stores were, the court order was, that they couldn’t sell all of their stores to just one of the grocery, grocer. They had to divide that between at least two or three different concerns. So Jewel got some of the buildings and Mariano’s, which was just an up and coming chain at that time, got the other buildings. So there was this strip on 71st Street and Jeffrey, still on the South Side of Chicago, where there was a Dominick’s. And years later now, three or four years later, no grocery chain has, has moved into that building. But Mariano’s finally opened on King’s Drive and Oakwood Boulevard. While this one Mariano’s was being built, on the north side Mariano’s stores were popping up literally everywhere. I mean, any time you would drive any distance on the north side of Chicago, you see yet another Mariano’s. Now why is it that the North Side can have, at this point, probably 10 or 15 of these grocery stores and it took years for the South Side to get only one. Happenstance… or intentional? You tell me.

Black History Month

……………bhm-back….. .. Celebrating Black History in Classrooms, Groups or for private reflection. Here is a selection of units and lesson plans for use in Black History Month or for of any time . . . .

 

Celebrating Black American Arts

This short, but flexible lesson plan provides a variety of options for students to become familiar with African American culture including through research and presentation. Options include the contributions of African Americans to dance, art, music, food/cuisine, and science.

Download Celebrating Black American Arts (PDF)

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Connecting The Dots:

Racism, Activism, & Creating a Life
by Storyteller Michael McCarty

African American Storyteller Michael McCarty tells his true story Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life.

Racism in Chicago … the Black Panthers …Activism and the institution … Expulsion from High School …. Drugs …. Searching … Journeys around the world … Stories and people that shape us ….Ways and paths to self-discovery … With humor and hope the storyteller “connects the dots” in his life.

Invite your students in to explore their responses to McCarty’s challenges, dead-ends and the people and events that shaped his life’s journey.

Let Michael McCarty’s story inspire conversation among your students (and faculty) about the issues of racism, standing up for one’s beliefs, working for change in the world and in our lives and the power of stories to inspire and connect.

Complete text and audio download of this story come in a short version and a long version. Connecting the Dots is an ideal discussion starter for college age, young adults and justice and peace groups. Lesson Plan provides questions and activities..

Click here for Connecting the Dots

Go to other short video stories by Michael McCarty:  RaceBridgesStudio.com and go to the Video Showcase menu

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We All Have a Race: Addressing Race and Racism

A lesson plan that helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This is a basic begining unit to consider race and racism with respect and discovery. Teacher guide and student activities.

Click here for We All Have A Race

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A White Girl Looks at Race:

Davey Crockett; Us vs Them; The Dr. King March

3 Short Stories by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

Three short stories set in Chicago in the 1960′s amid racial separation, change and conflict.

Susan O’Halloran tells of meeting her first Black child as a young child herself, of the racial attitudes in growing up on the southwest side of Chcago and her memories of feeling’locked in’ when Dr. Martin Luther King came to march blocks from her home. Gripping and moving stories of the past, challenges for the present. Texts, teacher guide and student activities with audio downloads.

Click here for A White Girl Looks at Race

Go to other short video stories by Susan O’Halloran:  RaceBridgesStudio.com and go to the Video Showcase menu

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From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door:

Tracing the Roots of Racism

By Storyteller La’Ron Williams

African American Storyteller La’Ron Williams tells about his experience growing up in Flint, Michigan, where he felt nurtured by a supportive African-American community. Yet even at an early age, Williams knew there were threats to his safety when he saw on the front cover of Jet Magazine the picture of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who had been killed by bigoted Whites in the South.

From that jarring moment onward, Williams describes the experience of growing up in parallel worlds: a Black world that loved and mentored him and a White world that, even in its most benign expression, assumed a “neutral status” that for African-Americans was neither neutral nor benign. Using examples from the media and from his own experiences in a town divided by racial tension, Williams creates a story that tells the truth about American racial hierarchy while also offering hope for all those eager to transcend its legacy. Full text of story, audio downloads and student activities included.

Use this story as a way to introduce topics related to race, to deepen your conversations about the distinctions between personal and institutional racism, to address race and unconscious bias in the media, or to provide another way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month in February

Click here for From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door

Go to other short video stories by La’Ron Williams:  RaceBridgesStudio.com and go to the Video Showcase menu

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT THE END WILL BE

By Storyteller Diane Ferlatte

 

Story Summary:

 In 1972 Diane marries outside her race (as they say) and her mother-in-law refuses to attend the wedding, among other things. What happens to the family’s relationship afterward is anyone’s guess.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Since most cities and neighborhoods are not integrated in a balanced manner, or are, in fact, still segregated, what are the ramifications for an interracial couple and their children when they live in a non-integrated neighborhood, where the churches, schools, etc. are either predominantly one group or the other?
  2. In a Black/White marriage, for example, one or maybe both spouses may not feel totally comfortable in the social/cultural setting of the other spouse. For instance, the white spouse may feel ill at ease being the only white person at a Black party or in a Black church, or vise versa. Do you think this situation might apply more to one spouse than the other, and, if so, how might that affect their marriage and other choices they make?
  3. Many biracial or mixed race young people identify themselves as such, yet almost all Black/White biracial young people identify themselves as Black, period. Why do you think this is true? What historical forces encouraged this identification? What happens to the child who doesn’t look “Black”?

Resource:

 

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTINUING A BLACK HISTORY FOCUS

We cannot underestimate the impact of what storyteller Anne Shimojima calls “looking into the mirror of life and never seeing your own reflection.”

In this video “Taming the Fire“, story artist Sheila Arnold describes her teenage discovery of African American History. Luckily for Sheila, she had a teacher who understood Sheila’s anger at not learning about her heritage. Her teacher appreciated Sheila’s passionate and rightful desire for the truth and was able to transform that energy into inspiration for herself and all of her students.

Sometimes, those of us who are not identified as African American, think of Black History in terms of when Americans of African descent got the right to vote or sit at a lunch counter. The obstacles faced were so much deeper and wider than that and included: the right to know your name, the right to know your family, the right to hold office, the right to be in the military, the right to sign contracts, the right to buy homes, the right to enter most professions, the right to read, the right to go to school, the right to medical care, the right to refuse sterilization, the right to give evidence against a white man, the right to live without constant threat of physical harm and death to you and your loved ones and on and on. The fact that in spite of all this danger, disrespect and discrimination African Americans made contributions in every field of American life is a true testament to the human spirit.

In order to survive and even thrive under this constant onslaught to their humanity African Americans were able to lean on the gifts from their African cultures as well as develop a unique African American culture that is nurturing, strong and varied. Each African American child deserves to know about the beauty and struggle from which they come and all American students need to understand and appreciate how the United States is as democratic and as true to its ideals as it is because of African Americans.

THE DR. KING HOLIDAY : DAY OF SERVICE Contributing vs. Taking ?

What is the difference between contributing and taking? Do the students of today understand this distinction? Can they put it into practice? As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that the mlk-stampyouth of today play a role in positively contributing to our society. After all, we want our future leaders and caregivers to build our communities up and expand our resources, rather than become those who tear down our quality of life.

It is important to discuss with students, on a regular basis, the value of contributing. Contributing to conversations, to programs, to the world in a positive way. Contributing means giving or donating. It could refer to time, energy, talents, money, or resources. Students should see that everyone, regardless of age or race, has the ability to contribute to our world in a positive way and make a difference. That is how we learn about each other – values, cultures, beliefs. And that is how we make our world a better place for everyone. 

Taking is just that. Taking. It doesn’t offer anything in return. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t kind. It doesn’t improve the quality of life for anyone – except the taker, and that is usually temporary and minimal. All actions have consequences. Taking can suggest a negative action and has a negative consequence. Contributing, on the other hand, is a positive action with positive consequences. Contributing often has a ripple effect – impacting people positively miles away and generations apart.

How can schools and teachers impart these valuable life lessons to students? Below are a few tips:

  • Value the opinions, beliefs, and experiences of every student. Encourage students to form their opinions based on fact, not rumor.
  • Encourage students to share in class. Tying academic lessons to life experiences cements understanding of those lessons. Don’t be afraid to allow the lesson to drift to this area. The results are priceless.
  • Provide opportunities of service and volunteerism for students. Some schools even require students to participate in some sort of service. Have students select a service, and then have them sign an agreement to complete the task.
  • Expect students to participate positively while in school, and support activities that promote student service.
  • Set up a field trip (or several) during the school year where the entire class participates in an act of service.

 

FOR FURTHER IDEAS ON THESE THEMES  SEE RACEBRIDGES RESOURCE :

GIVING IT BACK : SERVICE LEARNING IN YOUR CLASSROOM 

THE DR. KING HOLIDAY : DAY OF SERVICE

What Can Students Do?

Part of educating our students involves making them aware of the world in which they live – the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, the right and the wrong, the haves and the have-nots. As the future leaders of our country, today’s students must be exposed to the realities of the present day. We must teach them to recognize things that need change, to dream big, to set goals, and how to go about making changes in our world.

What can schools and teaches do to bring awareness to students and to encourage acts of service? Below are a few ideas to get started with:

  • Talk to students about what an ideal world looks like to them. Brainstorm qualities and write them down. Next, have a discussion with students about how the world lines up with their “ideal world.” Then, dialogue with students about things that they think need fixing or changing in our world. Encourage them to think of those that may need assistance.
  • Allow students to come up with ideas of service that would help to achieve their ideas for a better world. Suggest a few things to get them started, like: shoveling snow for a neighbor, serving food at a homeless shelter, reading or providing entertainment to the elderly at a retirement home, cleaning up the neighborhood park, volunteering, etc.
  • Provide outlets for students to complete their acts of service. Create a list of services with the students, and then look for places where those services can be provided.
  • Offer food and clothing drives for those in need.
  • Visit www.mlkday.gov to find fantastic opportunities for service in your own community. See if any would work for your school/students.

 

FOR FURTHER IDEAS ON THESE THEMES  SEE RACEBRIDGES RESOURCE :
GIVING IT BACK : SERVICE LEARNING IN YOUR CLASSROOM 

STOP TREATING PEOPLE AS EXOTIC OTHERS

Of course, we want to introduce students to the wider world. But teachers have unwittingly introduced other groups and cultures as if those groups were the exotic others.Human zoo

For example, schools hold International Festivals that have the flavor of “look at these unusual foreign people.” When groups of people are seen as exotic or patronizingly precious that are no longer “real” people.

Plus, the people of the world are not only international. They are here. They are Americans, Americans with a wide array of viewpoints and desires. They are people to recognize, appreciate, respectfully disagree with, live with, love with, work with and study with on a day-to-day basis, not just once a year.

Without intending to, we can keep a group of people at arm’s length while, at the same time, giving ourselves the false feeling that we are being inclusive.

We want to remember that as recent as the 1950s, people from other parts of the world as well as African and Native Americans were displayed in the U.S. as if animals in a zoo. The displays were often part of a continuum that ranked groups from apes to real people i.e. Europeans. Without meaning to, our study of other cultures can have a tinge of the same feeling.

It takes more time, thought and true connections with people with whom we’ve had less experience to be able to honor the complexity and variety within other cultures as well as understand our own cultural backgrounds with their unique histories, oddities and perspectives.

CIVIL RIGHTS : SNCC- A Nonviolent Fight for Freedom

 

February is Black History Month. It is a time to recognize strong leadership and significant contributions from American history of black citizens. It is a time to celebrate the achievements and notable accomplishments that bettered our world. But there were many organizations that enriched the lives of Americans. Take a moment to consider the many, many groups and organizations that worked so hard to make change happen.

One such organization is SNCC. Below are some frequently asked questions and answers about this important, yet not so widely known organization during the Civil Rights Movement. Share them with your students. Make a trivia game out of the facts below. Create a webquest or scavenger hunt for facts about this group for your students. But mostly, let them be enlightened by the existence of this organization and their push for freedom.

Q: What does SNCC stand for?

A: SNCC stands for Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.*

Q: When was this group established?

A: It was founded in April 1960 by young people who had emerged as leaders of the sit-in protest movement initiated on February 1 of that year by four black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina.*

Q: Why was it formed?

A: SNCC’s emergence as a force in the southern civil rights movement came largely through the involvement of students in the 1961 Freedom Rides, designed to test a 1960 Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in interstate travel facilities unconstitutional. By the time the Interstate Commerce Commission began enforcing the ruling mandating equal treatment in interstate travel in November 1961, SNCC was immersed in voter registration efforts in McComb, Mississippi, and a desegregation campaign in Albany, Georgia, known as the Albany Movement.*

Q: What do they stand for?

A: The statement of purpose of the organization is : “We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian traditions seeks a social order of justice permeated by love.”*

Q: What type of ways did they use to get their messages out?

A: SNCC primarily used demonstrations, protest groups, and sit-ins to get their messages out and let their voices be heard.*

Check out these websites for further study on SNCC!

__________

* (n.d.). Retrieved 2 3, 2013, from Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute: http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_student_nonviolent_coordinating_committee_sncc/

 

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Explore the free resources and lessons
that focus on Black History Month and
many other Diversity themes for your
classroom, school or organization..

 

 

Sensitivity or censorship?

Controversy is brewing over a new edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, which seeks to replace all 219 instances of the “n word” with the word “slave.” While the publishers’ intent is sensitivity, many people consider the change a dangerous case of censorship.

For educators, issues like this are especially thorny. How do we teach our students about the difficult realities of history—and explore American literature’s place in that history—without creating a contentious classroom? Do we omit difficult facts and language, or do we confront them? And when we do confront them, how can we create an environment that helps our students speak openly, think critically, and exercise compassion?

Find lesson plans like What’s Racism Got To Do With Me ?, We All Have A Race and Keep the Peace! available free at: RaceBridges Studio

REFLECTIONS ON KWANZAA (Part 2 )

Be inspired. Be uplifted.

Kwanzaa is an annual festival celebrated in many African American communities, churches, schools and homes December 26 through January 1.  This ritual was created in 1966 by Dr.  Karenga of California State University, Long Beach, CA.  It is celebrated throughout the USA and around the world and is born of values from Africa.

When the Kwanzaa ritual is celebrated fully there are seven values or principles that are remembered and valued on each of the days of Kwanzaa. They embody the strengths, solidarity, struggles, dignity and hopes and goals of the community.

The 7 Kwanzaa principles are :

Umoja (Unity) To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) To build and maintain community together and make our sister’s and brother’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)  To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses together.
Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building of our community to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity) To do as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith)  To believe with our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness of our struggle.

 

The Kwanzaa seven principles have a universal message for all people – good will. These values stress the importance of uniting people through shared beliefs and acts, resulting in the strengthening and celebration of family, community, and culture.* 

In our uncertain world of unstable economies, war-torn countries, and growing concerns of safety, Kwanzaa is a holiday with harmony and joy at its crux. It brings people together – all countries, all religious traditions, all classes, all ages and generations, and all political persuasions – using the common ground of celebrating the African culture in all its historical and current diversity.*

The 7 principles or values of Kwanzaa are rich in motivation and inspiration, even if you are far from the African American community. Here are some ideas to generate some teaching modules in your classroom or school. In this article, the final four values are highlighted. (The first three Kwanzaa principles are featured in an earlier article. Scroll Down.)

Inspired by Kwanzaa, consider these activities for your classroom or group:

  • COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS
    • Create opportunities for students to participate in business experiences, such as: school store operations, fundraisers, cafeteria purchases, concessions, etc.
    • Allow students to vote on how certain monies will be spent, such as fundraiser money.
    • Give students chances to budget money set aside for field trips or picnics. What should the money be spent on? What are the priorities?
    • Let students complete order forms and meet with community store owners.
  • PURPOSE
    • Inform students of WHY. Don’t simply teach blindly, TELL the students why they are learning a particular concept. Apply it to the real world.
    • Practice goal-setting with students. Offer incentives and rewards for successful achievement.
    • Offer opportunities for students to interact with each other in problem-solving situations.
  • CREATIVITY
    • Practice “green” habits in the classroom, and encourage the students to participate. Assign tasks. Recycle. Reduce electricity usage. Minimize trash.
    • Provide space for the science or consumer science departments to grow a garden, plants, or flowers. There could even be a flower sale in the spring that students could collaborate.
    • Spruce up the landscaping – let students plant along the sidewalks or front entrance of the school. There could also be seasonal crafts put together for inside the school.
  • FAITH
    • Offer opportunities for students to show school spirit. Pep rallies. Assemblies. Clothing with school insignias that can be purchased. Talent shows. Basketball games that have students vs. teachers. Team or department contests. Challenges between grade levels.
    • Hang posters school-wide that boast school support, and encourage positive student interactions.
    • Involve parents in school activities. There are always opportunities for parents to volunteer, chaperone, or assist in activities.

__________

*(n.d.). Retrieved 11 1, 2011, from Africa Within: http://www.africawithin.com/kwanzaa/kwanzaa_values.htm

REFLECTIONS ON KWANZAA (Part 1 )

Be inspired. Be uplifted.

Kwanzaa is an annual festival celebrated in many African American communities, churches, schools and homes December 26 through January 1.  This ritual was created in 1966 by Dr.  Karenga of California State University, Long Beach, CA.  It is celebrated throughout the USA and around the world and is born of values from Africa.

When the Kwanzaa ritual is celebrated fully there are seven values or principles that are remembered and valued on each of the days of Kwanzaa. They embody the strengths, solidarity, struggles, dignity and hopes and goals of the community.  

The 7 Kwanzaa principles are :

Umoja (Unity) To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) To build and maintain community together and make our sister’s and brother’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)  To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses together.
Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building of our community to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity) To do as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith)  To believe with our hearts in our people, our parents,our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness of our struggle.

 

The Kwanzaa seven principles have a universal message for all people – good will. These values stress the importance of uniting people through shared beliefs and acts, resulting in the strengthening and celebration of family, community, and culture.*

In our uncertain world of unstable economies, war-torn countries, and growing concerns of safety, Kwanzaa is a holiday with harmony and joy at its crux. It brings people together – all countries, all religious traditions, all classes, all ages and generations, and all political persuasions – using the common ground of celebrating the African culture in all its historical and current diversity.*

The 7 principles or values of Kwanzaa are rich in motivation and inspiration, even if you are far from the African American community.  Here are some ideas to generate some teaching modules in your classroom or school.   In this article, the first three will be highlighted. (The final four principles will be featured in an upcoming article. Scroll Up.)

Inspired by Kwanzaa, consider these activities for your classroom or group:

  • UNITY
    • Encourage students to work together to complete school-wide tasks. Consider these ideas: canned food drives, fundraisers for the school to achieve school improvement goals, picnics, volunteerism, field trips that promote teamwork, etc.
    • Put together group projects.
    • Gather students for assemblies with community-building as the theme.
  • SELF-DETERMINATION
    • Encourage students to work assignments/projects through to completion.
    • Set up positive reinforcement goals with students.
    • Set goals with students – daily and future.
    • Include activities in the classroom that are both short-term and long-term.
    • Encourage students to stand up for what they know is right.
  • COLLECTIVE WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY
    • Set up assignments and activities that utilize groupwork and partner work.
    • Establish and enforce no tolerance policies for bullying, drug use, violence, etc. at school.
    • Create student leadership opportunities for students to excel in.
    • Design occasions for students to succeed in responsible tasks.

__________

*(n.d.). Retrieved 11 1, 2011, from Africa Within: http://www.africawithin.com/kwanzaa/kwanzaa_values.htm

Reflecting on Dr. King: Taking a Stand: Teaching Our Students to Consider Those Less Fortunate

What can students learn today about the highly influential Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? So much is accessible for students to learn about the man and his works that it is impossible for students today to be a part of our society and not know of him. He changed our country, our mentalities about liberty and human rights. It is nothing short of amazing what one man with a powerful voice can accomplish in a fleeting period of time.

Students should be able to take away from a study of his life and accomplishments the strong set of values
that he possessed. Values that he saw as so basic, everyone should have them.

He was, and still is today, a commanding authority on the rights of the individual. He spoke for those who had no platform and no hope. He opened doors that had been sealed shut. He encouraged volunteerism and a serving spirit. 

Below is a list of service opportunities that students could participate in during the school day, either in school or in the community. There is no more fitting place for Dr. King’s values to be put into practice than with the youth of today. Explore these opportunities with your students, and let them choose  one or many to participate in. When students are allowed a voice, their voices become much stronger.

  • Organize a food drive
  • Make crafts for kids in the hospital or those in nursing homes
  • Shovel snow, rake leaves, sweep floors, etc. for neighbors
  • Paint a mural in the community
  • Clean up an area of the community that needs work (parks, for example)
  • Plant trees for the community
  • Research your community to see what their needs are
  • Help out at an animal shelter
  • Deliver meals to the elderly
  • Babysit for a single parent for an evening
  • Collect recyclables
  • Serve meals at a homeless shelter
  • Organize a clothing drive for kids in need

 

Explore the many free lessons, resources and videos with themes of community building and inclusion found on our web sites. 

Fresh Ways to Explore the Gifts and Values of Black History Month in the Classroom

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Black History Month is celebrated in February. Black Americans have contributed greatly to the growth of our nation. From artists to inventors. Engineers to authors. Judges to athletes. This culture has so enhanced our country that it is impossible to imagine what America would look like today without the accomplishments and ideals of black Americans.

How can schools and teachers call attention to these fine citizens and their achievements while allowing students to utilize their interests, talents, and creativity? Below are some engaging new ideas for exploring the black culture in the classroom during black history month.

  • Create a Soulfood Feast. Allow students to research or bring in recipes for soulfood. They design a placecard identifying their item (even its contents). Set up a day and time for the occasion, and students can bring in their creations that they made at home. Students can eat lunch in the classroom this day, sampling each other’s food..
  • Put together an internet scavenger hunt. List questions that highlight the gifts and values of black history month and have students research online to find the answers. Provide the websites where students will be doing this searching.
  • Offer an unfair or prejudice activity. Divide class into teams. Make this a trivia contest, but gradually let students see that only certain groups receive much easier questions. Once students recognize this, lead a discussion about how it felt to be treated differently or unfairly and how it felt to watch others be treated unfairly. Tie this into the theme of black history month..
  • Check to see if any local theater groups have performances centered around the holiday, and take students to a live performance..
  • Contact your local public libraries. There will often be special activities arranged here that would tie to black history month..
  • Have students research a famous black American. Then, they could create a 3D display of this person for the class or the school. Include pictures/photos, quotes, accomplishments, etc. on the display. Everyone can go on a gallery walk to view each other’s works. Consider offering prizes for the most creative, detailed, thorough, etc. works.

For further units related to Black History and many other diversity themes go to : RaceBridges Studio

Celebrating Black History Month

……………bhm-back….. ..

Celebrating Black History in Classrooms, Group or For Private Reflection

Here is a selection of units and lesson plans for use in Black History
Month or for any time . . .

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Celebrating Black American Arts

This short, but flexible lesson plan provides a variety of options for students to become familiar with African American culture including through research and presentation.  Options include the contributions of African Americans to dance, art, music, food/cuisine, and science.

Download Celebrating Black American Arts (PDF)

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Connecting The Dots:

Racism, Activism, & Creating a Life
by Storyteller Michael McCarty

African American Storyteller Michael McCarty tells his true story Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life.

Racism in Chicago … the Black Panthers …Activism and the institution … Expulsion from High School …. Drugs …. Searching … Journeys around the world … Stories and people that shape us ….Ways and paths to self-discovery … With humor and hope the storyteller “connects the dots” in his life.

Invite your students in to explore their responses to McCarty’s challenges, dead-ends and the people and events that shaped his life’s journey.

Let Michael McCarty’s story inspire conversation among your students (and faculty) about the issues of racism, standing up for one’s beliefs, working for change in the world and in our lives and the power of stories to inspire and connect.

Complete text and audio download of this story come in a short version and a long version.   Connecting the Dots is an ideal discussion starter for college age, young adults and justice and peace groups. Lesson Plan provides questions and activities..

Click here for Connecting the Dots

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We All Have a Race: Addressing Race and Racism

A lesson plan that helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This is a basic beggining unit to consider race and racism with respect and discovery.  Teacher guide and student activities.

Click here for We All Have A Race

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A White Girl Looks at Race:

Davey Crockett; Us vs Them; The Dr. King March

3 Short Stories by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

Three  short stories set in Chicago in the 1960′s amid racial separation, change and conflict.

Susan O’Halloran tells of meeting her first Black child as a young child herself, of the racial attitudes in growing up on the southwest side of Chcago and her memories of feeling’locked in’ when Dr. Martin Luther King came to march blocks from her home.    Gripping and moving stories of the past, challenges for the present.  Texts, teacher guide and student activities with audio downloads.

Click here for A White Girl Looks at Race

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From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door:

Tracing the Roots of Racism

By Storyteller La’Ron Williams

African American Storyteller La’Ron Williams tells about his experience growing up in Flint, Michigan, where he felt nurtured by a supportive African-American community. Yet even at an early age, Williams knew there were threats to his safety when he saw on the front cover of Jet Magazine the picture of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who had been killed by bigoted Whites in the South.

From that jarring moment onward, Williams describes the experience of growing up in parallel worlds: a Black world that loved and mentored him and a White world that, even in its most benign expression, assumed a “neutral status” that for African-Americans was neither neutral nor benign. Using examples from the media and from his own experiences in a town divided by racial tension, Williams creates a story that tells the truth about American racial hierarchy while also offering hope for all those eager to transcend its legacy. Full text of story, audio downloads and student activities included.

Use this story as a way to introduce topics related to race, to deepen your conversations about the distinctions between personal and institutional racism, to address race and unconscious bias in the media, or to provide another way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month in February

Click here for From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door

 

CIVIL RIGHTS : RACEBRIDGES SALUTES. . .

THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

People march for equal rights, integrated schools, decent housing, and an end to bias. Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington D.C. Photo: Warren K. Leffler, courtesy of Library of Congress

A young black man orders a sundae at a southern lunch counter and, instead, winds up at a (black only) hospital with multiple cuts and bruises to his head, a smashed cheekbone and broken ribs. A young girl is knocked off her feet as fire hoses, strong enough to tear bark off a tree, are aimed at her and her mother. Four little girls prepare for Sunday morning services when a bomb rips through their church and ends their short lives. White, black and brown people link arms and sing “We Shall Overcome” after Dr. King’s thunderous voice declares again and again,

“I have a dream!”

For some of our students these images are long-ago history. For many of us, they are lived history. But whether we are younger or older, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham and the 1963 March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom can be an opportunity to revitalize our dedication to creating a country that lives its ideal of “opportunity for all”.

Too often the Civil Rights movement is taught as a set of events frozen in time. We even hear that phrase “post-racialized” America as if the struggles of the Civil Rights era are done and complete. We do our students a disservice when we don’t make them aware of how rights can be won and lost and, in fact, have been several times over throughout our country’s history. The idea of progress has dominated American culture for centuries as if “onward and upward” is a guarantee. To function in civic life, students must know that American ideals are not yet reality and, therefore, as citizens, they have a very important part to play.

What solutions might our students conceive for today’s civil rights issues such as: Housing, jobs, unequal medical care, a path to citizenship for immigrants, protecting the right to vote, monitoring and enforcing civil rights laws already on the books, the wealth and education gaps between whites and people of color plus a criminal justice system which has led to a “new Jim Crow” through mass incarceration targeting men of color.

In a misguided attempt to protect our students from harsh truths or to wish the challenging parts of our country away, we may be missing a chance to re-invigorate our students’ democratic spirit. The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement can be a wake-up call that “equality and justice for all” is a work in progress and an ideal about which we must be ever vigilant.

For more information:

http://50thanniversarymarchonwashington.com/

About the events in Washington D.C.:

http://nationalactionnetwork.net/mow/

Civil Rights : Not so well-known, but No Less Essential

The Little Rock Nine

As we settle in this February to observe the accomplishments of so many notably important and influential black leaders, let us celebrate those who are not as easily recognized as champions of civil rights. Take the time to share with students many relevant black Americans who impacted the growth of our nation to become a land of the free. Many people and organizations helped to lay the foundation and framework for the Civil Rights Movement. Below is a list of some very important black Americans/organizations and their footprints that helped to lead the way for more prominent leaders who facilitated change.

Individuals & Organizations Important to the Foundation of the Civil Rights Movement:

  • Edgar Daniel (E.D.) Nixon – NAACP Montgomery chapter President; worked closely with Rosa Parks
  • Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
  • Freedom Riders
  • Interstate Commerce Commission
  • Freedom Summer
  • Greensboro Four – Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil
  • Ralph Johns
  • Stokely Carmichael
  • Little Rock Nine
  • Carpetbaggers and Scalawags
  • Freedman’s Bureau

Visit these sites for some great videos and valuable bits of information:

 

.

Explore the free resources and lessons
that focus on Black History Month and
many other Diversity themes for your
classroom, school or organization..

 

 

Not just another day off : How teachers can help students celebrate Dr. King’s Birthday

Dr. King Day : Turning Dreams Into Deeds

On January 16, will your students be thinking about the real reason for the national holiday? Or will they simply think of it as one part of a nice three-day weekend?

For so many students — and teachers alike — the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. is just another day off, rather than an active celebration of the life of America’s most prominent peacemaker. White students in particular may not think this holiday has much to do with them. And with an African-American leader in the White House, today’s young people may be thinking that racism is a thing of the past — a problem for older generations, not theirs. But in spite of great strides made since the Civil Rights era, racism still presents serious challenges for America. 

King Day offers a timely opportunity to remind students of these challenges, and encourage them to reverse the damaging beliefs, behaviors and systems associated with discrimination. So what can you do? The educators at RaceBridgesforSchools, a nonprofit initiative that offers free lesson plans on diversity and community-building, have these suggestions to help you bring Dr. King’s message and mission into your school.

  1. Promote service learning.Many people are not aware of the service component of the holiday: in 1994 Congress designated the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service. Instead of a day off, Congress asked Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by serving the community. Do this at your school by organizing a day of service: students can serve at a soup kitchen, plant trees or deliver meals to homebound persons..
  2. Write a commitment pledge to racial unity at your school. King Day is an excellent time to develop and commit to a pledge against racism. Get students and faculty engaged in the process where all can contribute in a reflective and honest way to write this pledge. Have the completed pledge printed up in a large format, and encourage school administrators to adopt the pledge, distribute it, and have the students say it together at a special time during the week before King Day..
  3. Start an anti-racism or diversity club for students and/or faculty.Now’s a great time to form a group that focuses on many of the challenges Dr. King spoke of. You can begin by discussing issues and themes of ethnic and racial differences and conflicts at your schools, and move on to consider what positive actions you would like to take as a group to address these issues..

Martin Luther King’s son, Dexter, in a speech initiating the national holiday for his assassinated father, said, “The holiday for my father is not just for black people…the holiday for the birthday of my father is for all people of goodwill everywhere.” As schools work to recognize and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, MLK Day can become more than a day off, and a more meaningful celebration for students of all backgrounds.

For more ideas about celebrating the birthday
of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. –and resources and
lesson plans for encouraging diversity year round —
visit RaceBridges Studio

Learn More About Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, first created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Some have gone so far as to say, it’s not a “real” holiday because it is so new. But whether a holiday was created last year or centuries ago, someone and some people created it because it filled a deep human need to ritualize what gives us strength and meaning in life. The fact that Kwanzaa celebrations grow each year within the African American and Pan-African communities worldwide shows that this holiday has become an important way to reinforce what it means to be of African heritage and a lover of community, justice and equality.

Here is a short video that explains the broad strokes of the holiday and the official website and book by Dr. Maulana Karenga.

Resources:

http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org

Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture by Dr. Maulana Karenga (Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press)

Justice Fighters: Models for All

The Civil Rights Movement was a critical time in American history. It was a time when thinking changed, values changed, and laws changed – thanks to some exceptional people and their drive to attain equality for all. These people, often at great personal risk, challenged what beliefs existed and revolutionized our country for the better.

Let us celebrate the accomplishments of the brave Justice Fighters that helped to establish the free world in which we live today. Teachers and schools can identify these individuals and their achievements throughout the school year – it was they who fought for our right to do so. May we not only learn from their examples, but follow in their footsteps. 

Below are a few of the Justice Fighters of the Civil Rights Era and what each is most known for:

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The above heroes and ‘sheroes’ of the struggle for civil rights are indeed celebrated.  RaceBridges invites you to also explore the lesser known and everyday heroes that are alive today and very often are a part of your students’ communities and neighborhoods.  Use our stories and short videos to unearth new stories of resilience and achievement and set your students exploring.

 

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List of Civil Rights Leaders. (n.d.). Retrieved 5 4, 2012, from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civil_rights_leaders

JUNETEENTH: A Celebration For Today

Did you know that in some states the news of emancipation from slavery didn’t reach people until much later – in the case of Texas not until two and a half years later? The Emancipation Proclamation was made official on January 1, 1863 and, yet, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union juneteenthArmy was not able to read the news of freedom in Texas until June 19, 1865.

Some say it was because a messenger was killed on the way to deliver the news. Others state that President Lincoln’s authority over the southern states was precarious and so a deal was struck to allow one last cotton harvest in Texas. Others say it was pure greed and cruelty: the slaveholders weren’t about to give up their free labor source without resistance.

The “Juneteenth” order read:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

 For the formerly enslaved and those who supported them, initial shock evolved into jubilation which quickly turned into the reality of navigating a way forward in a country in which African Americans had had no legal status or rights. Currently, this day is celebrated to commemorate all that has been accomplished and to give a model of hope and persistence for all that lies ahead.

 

La’Ron Williams and his story ”From Flint, MI to Your Front Door: Tracing the Roots of Racism in America”

Professional storyteller La’Ron Williams grew up in an area of Flint, MI called “Elm Park.” It was an area that—from the 1940s to the 1960s—was transformed by a confluence of race, politics, and economics, from an all-White neighborhood into one that was all-Black. In his poignant and engaging story, “From Flint, Michigan to Your Front Door: Tracing the Roots of Racism in Working Class America,” Williams describes some of his earliest experiences with a growing awareness that he was receiving contradictory messages about himself as a Black person: although there was the nurturing support he got from his immediate community, there was also the shame he absorbed from the larger society’s portrayal of African-Americans in the mass market and the media.

Williams tells stories from the heart, and his stories tug at his listeners’ hearts too. With his engaging manner, Williams addresses an emotionally laden topic—racism—by combining an adult’s analysis and wisdom with the fully believable wonderment and confusion he felt as a child. Listeners of every color and background are drawn into his story precisely because it is suffused with a child’s sincerity and genuine bafflement that the reality he lived didn’t match the stories he was taught about himself on TV and at school.

Williams’s story begins in Chappy’s Barbershop in Flint at the end of the summer of 1955, when the author was only four years old. It was in Chappy’s that Williams first saw the cover of Jet magazine featuring a photograph of Emmett Till, an African-American teenager from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a White woman. It was a grotesque photo, taken after Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. Two bullet wounds were visible on Till’s swollen head.

Although he was a young child, Williams describes the jarring impact of that photograph upon his life. With an adult’s vision, he gives language to his childhood feelings of confusion as he struggled to understand why the images of White people portrayed on TV didn’t match the treatment of which he knew them to be capable. Following Till’s death, his grandmother explained it by saying, “White folks hate Colored folks!”  But almost all of the characters Williams saw on TV were “White folks,” and while they were sometimes funny, wise, courageous or clever, they were never cruel.

Williams uses this feeling of disconnection to provide insight into the dynamics of “blockbusting” and his own “transitioning” neighborhood. He uses the insight provided by his “outsider” status to offer enlightening explanations about his personal experiences with racial hierarchy: From the time his well-meaning but racially unaware third-grade teacher forced him to use “flesh” colored paint, to the incident when he was slapped in the face and called a “Nigger” by an older boy who was a member of the school safety patrol.

In the final part of the story Williams recalls a time when he was the only Black student in his seventh-grade English class. His class was asked to write about something called “the Beatles.” Williams didn’t know who they were, and his classmates and teacher shared a laugh at his expense. Later, when he wrote about Emmett Till, he discovered that neither his teacher nor his classmates had ever heard of him. In this case though, no one felt deprived for not knowing. No one was deemed “stupid” and no one was laughed at.

Williams’s story is both entertaining and enlightening. As he reflects upon his youth, his listeners are given an opportunity to reflect upon their own upbringings, and everyone thinks a little harder about the continuing entrenchment of racism in American society.

HERE ARE SOME EXCERPTS FROM WILLIAMS’ STORY ‘FROM FLINT, MI  TO YOUR FRONT DOOR: TRACING THE ROOTS OF RACISM IN AMERICA”

“At the end of the summer, in 1955, I was four years old, sittin’ there in Chappy’s Barbershop on a hot, hot, hot Saturday afternoon – (the kind of hot that’s so hot it makes grownups sleepy) – and I was lookin’ over at the table where Chappy kept the newspapers, and the magazines, and the candy – like I always did – when I saw this picture on the front cover of “Jet” magazine. It was the sort of thing that, if you’re only four years old, you don’t know what it is you’re lookin’ at . . . But I must have kept on lookin’, because the grownups started talkin’ about it. They said that it was a photograph . . . A photograph of a dead boy’s body . . . The body of a boy named Emmett Till.

I was four years old. It was the year before I even started Kindergarten, and I saw him lying there. He had one eye gouged out, his skull had been bashed in, he had two bullet holes in his head, and his face was swollen up like some kind of giant sponge from hanging for days upside down in waters of the Tallahachie River.

Do you all know about Emmett Till? Emmett Till was a fourteen year old Black boy who went down from Chicago to a place called Money Mississippi to visit his Uncle, and he was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and brutally beaten and killed by two White men, because he supposedly whistled at, or winked at, or said something flirtatious to a White female store clerk.

In my mind, when I was lookin’ at that picture, it might just as well have been goin’ on right then. ‘Cause in the same second that I was lookin’ at the picture and hearin’ those barbershop men talkin’ about what had happened to Emmet Till, I saw myself dead and beat up like he was. I saw myself lookin’ at myself dead. I saw that Emmett Till’s skin was Brown like my skin was – I mean brown like everybody’s in Chappy’s Barbershop – and I knew in a split minute why this horrible thing had happened to him. Remember, I was only four years old, but I had already heard this kind of thing talked about a thousand times, and I could hear a voice inside my head. It was my grandmother’s voice, speakin’ almost in slow motion, as she gave the answer that she always gave whenever she was mad or frustrated with the shape of the world in which she was livin’. I could hear her say it: “White Folks Hate Colored Folks!”

… In the seventh grade … I was the only Black student in my English class. The teacher had given us an assignment to write a paper about something she called “the Beatles.” Everybody else in class was laughing and having a good time, and seemed to know what the teacher was talking about. I thought it was a joke and wondered why she wanted us to do a paper about insects. Everybody was in a good mood. But when I raised my hand and I asked, “What kind of beetles?” everybody had an even bigger laugh – at my expense. So the teacher told me, in a very condescending tone, that it was alright for me to write on any subject I chose, as long as I did a good job.

. . . So I wrote about Emmett Till. My teacher and classmates had never heard of him.”

La’Ron Williams, Storyteller: LaRontalk@aol.com

< Back to Download Page

From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door: Tracing the Roots of Racism

by Storyteller LaRon Williams

This lesson plan explores the true story FROM FLINT MICHIGAN TO YOUR FRONT DOOR by African American professional storyteller La’Ron Williams. With humor and honesty Williams will inspire conversation among students about the issues of institutional racism, living in two cultures at once, and claiming one’s own history and culture. This story and lesson plan addresses the White, Euro-centrism of our history and culture and the use of story to challenge that mono-cultural understanding of history. Lesson Plan, story-text, student activities and audio-downloads.

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Storyteller La’Ron Williams writes about his experience growing up in Flint, Michigan, where he felt nurtured by a strongly supportive African-American community. Yet even at an early age, Williams knew there were threats to his safety when he saw on the front cover of Jet Magazine the picture of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who had been killed by bigoted Whites in the South.

From that jarring moment onward, Williams describes the experience of growing up in parallel worlds: a Black world that loved and mentored him and a White world that, even in its most benign expression, assumed a “neutral status” that for African-Americans was neither neutral nor benign. Using examples from the media and from his own experiences in a town divided by racial tension, Williams creates a story that tells the truth about American racial hierarchy while also offering hope for all those eager to transcend its legacy.

This story offers a powerful tool to approach institutional racism and unconscious bias in a nonthreatening way. With his rich, warm voice, La’Ron narrates audio excerpts that help to personalize these complex issues, bring them to life for students, and encourage his listeners to think deeply about race and racism.

Use this story as a way to introduce topics related to race, to deepen your conversations about the distinctions between personal and institutional racism, to address race and unconscious bias in the media, or to provide another way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month.

More information about this story

Lesson Plan

Download the From Flint, Michigan to Your Front Door lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the From Flint, Michigan to Your Front Door lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 — Part One — 8:26 minutes

Excerpt #2 — Part Two12:57 minutes

Excerpt #3 — Part Three — 7:19 minutes

Excerpt #4 — Part Four – 5:44 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller La’Ron Williams

La’Ron Williams has a remarkable rapport with audiences of all kinds. Children and adults respond with equal enthusiasm to his warmth and vigor as he uses dialect, facial expressions and movement to breathe life into tales which transcend the boundaries of class and age.

Williams is motivated in part by the belief that the power and beauty of African culture should be shared, and that the lessons of struggle, perseverance, and survival of Africans in the Western Hemisphere are part of a legacy we all should recognize and own.

Ultimately, he believes that a narrow love of one’s own culture is not enough; that we all have to take the time to tell each other our stories – with all the joy and frowns and pain and smiles that they bring. That “…we have to come to know and accept the ways in which we are different and become aware of and appreciate the ways in which we’re alike, and that we have to use that knowledge not to ascribe hierarchy or to produce winners and losers, but to promote understanding and resolution.”

Our History is Our Strength : Women’s History Month

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Listen to these Women Stories
in your classroom . . .

Bearing witness to the heroic
actions and words of women

Telling inspiring stories
that are little known
and rarely told . . .

 

 Listen to these stories and use the lesson plans with your students
of moving stories of inclusion and exclusion, loss and hope, past
and present. Use these stories in your classroom to inspire and
challenge your students to reflect on their world-view and to broaden
their horizons.

Use these stories as discussion starters for a faculty in-service session
to prompt and animate discussion about race-relations and inclusion.

These lesson plans come with complete text as well as audio, teacher guides,
student activities and further resources on related themes.  You may also find
corresponding videos on our sister site, RaceBridgesVideos.com.

These units are also suitable for young adult group discussion as
springboards on the subjects of race and racism.

 

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Anne

Anne Shimojima

Japanese American Storyteller Anne Shimojima tells her original story Hidden Memory: Incarceration: Knowing Your Family’s Story and Why it Matters. About her family in the United States, especially during the time of World War II when some of her family were sent to the Japanese-American incarceration camps. Explores in an engaging way xenephobia, racism and being “unseen” in society.Courage and resiliance in a story that is rarely told.

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Watch videos

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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olga1

Olga Loya

Latina Storyteller Olga Loya tells excerpts from her original story: Being Mexican American : Caught Between Two Worlds – Nepantla. Growing up Mexican American in Los Angeles. Caught between the Latino and Anglo cultures, she realizes that she might belong to an even wider family and community and that perhaps there is a way to live with them all. Warm and spirited.

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Watch Videos

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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gene

Gene Tagaban

Native American storyteller Gene Tagaban remembers Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit woman, of Petersburg, Alaska. She attended Western Washington State University. When she returned with a new husband to live in Juno, no one would rent her a home because she was native. This was the limit to Elizabeth. She said: “No more signs. We need better housing, good jobs and good education for the people. And the right to sit wherever we wanted.” Gene Tagaban lovingly remembers the life of Elizabeth Peratrovich through the stories told to him by his own grandmother. The story remembers the shining day, after much struggle and bigotry of the passage of the Alaskan Anti-Discrimination Bill in1945, 20 years before Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. This account is part of Gene Tagaban’s longer story of identity and belonging : Search Across the Races : I Am Indopino … Or How to Answer the Question : “Who Are You?”.

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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dovie

Dovie Thomason

Native American storyteller Dovie Thomason tells her true story: The Spirit Survives: The American Indian Boarding School Experience: Then and Now. This story weaves together personal narrative and historical accounts about the Indian boarding schools to reveal how they were used to decimate native culture and how some Indians stood up to them. Shocking and Inspiring.

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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linda

Linda Gorham

African American storyteller Linda Gorham tells two stories. One is I Am Somebody : Story Poems for Pride and Power. This an upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage. The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students. In her story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and actions in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.

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Download lesson plans with audio stories

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Watch Videos

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Celebrating Women : Bridgebuilders and Storytellers

Ideas for bringing the universal subject of Women into your classroom.

RaceBridges honors Women’s History Month each year in the month of March. But gender equality is an important diversity issue that can be explored at any time. So we re-publish here our lesson plan for Women’s History Month in this Resource format. We remember that any time in the school year is a good time to explore the struggle for women’s equality and the ideals still not yet

fulfilled. We trust that these ideas, classroom activities and recommended links will be of help for you and your students in exploring this subject.

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TURNING DREAMS INTO DEEDS : DR. KING

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

TO HONOR DR. KING’S BIRTHDAY

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“We must learn to live together as
brothers and sisters or perish together as fools.”Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Continue the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
with these lesson plans and resources…

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VOICES FOR CHANGE

Values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A new Streamlined Lesson for your
classroom exploring
Dr. King’s message of protest.

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10 Ways to Educate for Anti-Racism
and to Celebrate Diversity

 > Download now

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What’s Racism Got To Do with Me?

> Download now

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Seeking Harmony : Starting &
Sustaining a Diversity Club for
High School Students

> Download now

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Creating a Diversity Session for
your Faculty : An Introduction

> Download now

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Giving it Back: Passing it On

>Download now


VISIT RACEBRIDGES VIDEOS FOR MORE
ON DR. KING’S LEGACY 

In remembering the day Martin Luther King, Jr. died, African-American storyteller Lyn Ford recognizes how people of different backgrounds can share a vision for unity and peace. And as Americans seek to celebrate Martin Luther King Day in January, Lyn’s story also gives us an opportunity to explore the relationship between Dr. King and the Jewish people.

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Fresh Ways to Celebrate the Dr. King Holiday in the Classroom

martin_luther_king-stampAs winter settles in and the new year arrives, classrooms are filled with restless students. They are fully engulfed in the routines of school, and are eager to do something different. The holiday that celebrates the life, values, and accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. falls in the middle of January – right in the midst of the classroom blahs.

Why not add some zip to your curriculum and lessons? Why not change up your usual class customs? Get the students up and moving, doing something unexpected. Celebrate MLK Day with some fresh new ideas for students!

Here are some bright and creative ways to celebrate this national holiday in your classroom!

  • Plan a walk to raise money for a local charity or nonprofit organization that your students care about. Chart your trek on a local map.
  • Give a series of scenario skits to students to read and act out in class. These should be short and involve some sort of situational difficulties that students face. Once each skit is presented, ask the class what they would do? What would MLK suggest they do in that situation?
  • Have students research important quotes of MLK and design posters to hang throughout the school.
  • Send helium balloons up in the sky with MLK quotes or values written on them.
  • Organize a peaceful march referencing the values that MLK stood for.
  • Have students re-create or recite one of MLK’s famous speeches. Consider posting this on schooltube.com (this is a school-friendly version of YouTube where students can post videos and other projects online).
  • Arrange a classroom sit-in. Let students protest a class activity or policy (one that the teacher would be willing to change), and allow students to peacefully protest its use. Let them create posters, present persuasive speeches, and work collectively as a group.
  • Design creative bookmarks with MLK quotes on them.

 

Check out the new RaceBridges streamlined Lesson VOICES FOR CHANGE created for use around the Dr. King Holiday

And check out these other lessons and resources most suitable for reflection and use around the Dr. King Holiday.

► Check out these websites for more ideas:

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For Black History and Always: I Am Somebody

Students need to know that their families and their cultures – and, therefore, they – are welcome in the classroom. A great way to do this is to take Linda Christensen’s idea featured in the wonderful book Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practice Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development called “Where I’m From: Inviting Student Lives Into the Classrooms.”

Have your students make up their own “I Am Somebody” or “I Am From” poems by first making lists of:

  • Items found in their homes
  • Items found in their yards
  • Items found in their neighborhood
  • Names of relatives – especially ones linked to the past
  • Family sayings
  • Names of foods served at family gatherings
  • Names of places where the family has lived or visited
  • People – past and present – from their culture who they admire

Then, with a link between images such as “I Am…” or “I Am From…” have students write a first draft. Next, have the students read to each other with no specific comments. Just being heard can help the students feel cared for. Then, you can have a general discussion of what made certain phrases stand out such as specificity of detail, metaphor or humor and the students can try one more draft.

Here are a couple excerpt examples from Linda Christensen’s article “Where I’m From: Inviting Student Lives Into the Classrooms”and my work with teens:

I am from awapuhi ginger

Sweet fields of sugar cane

And green bananas

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I am from get-togethers

And Barbeques

Salsa dancing on the back porch

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I am from Kunta Kinte’s strength

Harriet Tubman’s escapes

Phyllis Wheatley’s poems

And Sojourner Truth’s faith

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In this video, storyteller, Linda Gorham, shares her “I Am Somebody” story and reminds us that “We are products of the people who came before us and the preparation for the future.” 

 

Dignity and Courage Come Alive !

by Storyteller Linda Gorham

I Am Somebody :  Story Poems for Pride and Poweriam

African American storyteller Linda Gorham tells this upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage. The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students.

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Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Uprosa

In Linda Gorham’s story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and action in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.

 

 

Dignity and Courage Come Alive !

 

 

lindaAfrican American storyteller Linda Gorham tells two stories. One is I Am Somebody : Story Poems for Pride and Power. This is an upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage.

The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students.

In her story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and action in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.

This unit comes with a teacher guide, text of stories & audio-download of stories as well as student activities.

Lesson Plans

I am Somebody: Yes You Are!

Purpose

    • Build pride in students for their family and background
    • Connect home life and classroom activities
    • Model how times of struggle become sources of strength
    • Appreciate the diversity and background of the other students
    • Gain practice in writing by creating poems and stories

Download I Am Somebody Lesson Plan (PDF)

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Rosa Parks: One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up

Purpose

    • Become more familiar with the Rosa Parks’ story
    • Place Ms. Parks’ protest within the larger context of her supportive family and community and the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s
    • Examine the motives and practices of bigotry and institutional racism
    • Experience a recreation of some of the feelings, challenges and decisions facing people in this country as they lived in a system of legalized segregation and discrimination
    • Understand the extent of the bravery of those who stood up to discrimination given the ignorance and violence of the times.

Download Rosa Parks Lesson Plan (PDF)

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Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the I am Somebody and Rosa Parks lesson plans. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller Linda Gorham

Linda Gorham’s stories are fun, full of energy, and designed to enhance the love of reading. She tells folktales, inspirational stories, fables, “RESPECT” stories, hero stories, and, of course, stories that make your spine tingle and your hair stand on edge. Linda’s stories reinforce values, spark the imagination, and explore the world of ideas and traditions from other cultures. www.lindagorham.com

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Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life

by Storyteller Michael McCarty

African American Storyteller Michael McCarty tells his true story Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life.

Racism in Chicago … the Black Panthers …Activism and the institution … Expulsion from High School …. Drugs …. Searching … Journeys around the world … Stories and people that shape us ….Ways and paths to self-discovery … With humor and hope the storyteller “connects the dots” in his life.

Invite your students in to explore their responses to McCarty’s challenges, dead-ends and the people and events that shaped his life’s journey.
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    • African American Storyteller Michael McCarty tells his true story Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life.
    • Racism in Chicago … the Black Panthers …Activism and the institution … Expulsion from High School …. Drugs …. Searching … Journeys around the world … Stories and people that shape us ….Ways and paths to self-discovery … With humor and hope the storyteller “connects the dots” in his life.
    • Invite your students in to explore their responses to McCarty’s challenges, dead-ends and the people and events that shaped his life’s journey.
    • Let Michael McCarty’s story inspire conversation among your students (and faculty) about the issues of racism, standing up for one’s beliefs, working for change in the world and in our lives and the power of stories to inspire and connect.
    • Complete text and audio download of this story come in a short version and a long version. (See below).
    • Connecting the Dots is an ideal discussion starter for college age, young adults and justice and peace groups. Lesson Plan provides questions and activities.

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Connecting the Dots (Short Version)

Lesson Plan

Download the Connecting the Dots (Short Version)lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Connecting the Dots (Short Version) lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1a – 4:11 minutes

Excerpt #1b7:07 minutes

Excerpt #1c — 6:06 minutes

Excerpt #2a4:24 minutes

Excerpt #3a — 4:55 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.

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Connecting the Dots (Long Version)

Caution

In this longer version of the lesson plan, there is reference to drug use particularly in Story #2.  While the storyteller talks about how he eventually gave up drugs and devoted himself to being healthy and productive, a teacher might want to address the topic of drug use and abuse before beginning the lesson or to skip reading and listening to the sections of the story that pertain to drug use.

Lesson Plan

Download the Connecting the Dots (Long Version) lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Connecting the Dots (Long Version) lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 — Track One17:25 minutes

Excerpt #2 –Track Two18:20 minutes

Excerpt #3 — Track Three17:16 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller Michael McCarty

Michael McCarty (“Have Mouth Will Run It“™) is a multicultural storyteller of African, African-American and International Folk tales, Historical tales, Stories of Science, Spiritual stories as well as stories of the brilliant and absolutely stupid things he has done in his life.

His stories inform, educate, inspire and amuse. His storytelling style is energetic and enthusiastic.

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. : Creative Ways to Involve Your Students

mlkEvery January, our country celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His vision that all people would be treated equally and with respect will forever be a model of true humanitarianism. His hope and dreams were enormous, and he fought to call attention to them. He strove to be a voice for those whose voices were not heard, and he believed in the power of deeds.

In this month of January approaches, why not engage your students in some MLK celebratory activities? Allow your students to experience a little of what MLK stood for and practiced. Below are some innovative and engaging ideas for you to use in your classroom that would combat the winter doldrums and give credence to a man whose ideals and achievements are worthy of being replicated. 

  • Celebrate diversity! Have students bring in samples of cuisine from their culture for the class to taste..
  • Explore acts of humanitarianism. Hold a fundraiser, like a sponsored walk, and donate the money to a local charity..
  • Role-play scenarios of injustice in your class. Allow students to decide how they would react in certain situations, building awareness and empathy..
  • Discuss values that MLK stood for, like compassion, equality, and freedom. Have students create scenarios that show a particular value..
  • Practice volunteerism or service. Discuss this concept with students, brainstorm services they could provide or fulfill in the community, and then let them do it..
  • Allow students to listen to MLK’S “I Have a Dream” speech, and then have them write their own speeches. This allows them to think about the needs of our society today and how they can impact its betterment..
  • Discuss MLK’S views on non-violence. Have students apply that value to the school, finding ways to encourage all students to not use violence as a way to solve problems.

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Explore the many free lessons, resources and videos with themes of community building and inclusion found on:

 

BRING BLACK HISTORY INTO THE PRESENT

Black-History-150x150

With budget cuts at every level of education, it’s rare when a teacher can arrange a field trip to a national monument or organization. Thank goodness for the web! This February, during your Black History celebrations, why not rely on virtual experiences to give your students new encounters and increased understanding without the cost or time away from the classroom?

You can create a virtual Black Issues scavenger hunt for your middle and high school students using this resource:

http://bit.ly/tJv2aI

Focusing on African American history without showing how the past is still affecting the present leaves our students without an understanding of today’s challenges and how they might one day make a difference. This resource centers on the hurdles African Americans face today because of the institutional racism of the past.

Have students work in teams to search these papers for facts on disparities in testing, economic mobility, school discipline and suspensions and the like. The victories and achievements African Americans continuously make despite ongoing discrimination is a cause for celebration and inspiration for all Americans.

We All Have A Race : Addressing Race and Racism

This lesson plan helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This lesson provides a substantial, educational way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month and the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Can also be used at any time of year.

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WE ALL HAVE A RACE

A Lesson Plan that Helps You Teach Your Students about Race and Racism

We offer a lesson plan: We All Have a Race: Addressing Race and Racism—in time to be used during African-American Heritage Month. This lesson plan helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This lesson provides a substantial, educational way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month and the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

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Black History Month: Prominent Leaders of the Culture

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As February and Black History Month approaches, it is important to take time to consider the successes of very prominent leaders of the black community. Without these people and their accomplishments, our country would be a very different place. A place sorely lacking in richness of culture, brilliant achievement, exploits of bravery and triumph, and sheer strengths of character. 

Schools and teachers should take an opportunity this month to explore the feats noted about some very prominent leaders of the black community. Where can you start? Who are notable people in black history with great stories to tell? Below are a few names to start with and what they are known for. Create a research project for students. Study the names as a class. Get them actively involved in the process.

  • Hank Aaron (baseball player)
  • Muhammad Ali (boxer)
  • Maya Angelou (writer)
  • Louis Armstrong (musician)
  • Arthur Ashe (tennis player)
  • Chuck Berry (musician)
  • George Washington Carver (chemist)
  • Shirley Chisholm (congresswoman)
  • Nat “King” Cole (musician)
  • Bill Cosby (actor)
  • W.E.B. DuBois (writer)
  • Langston Hughes (writer)
  • Michael Jackson (musician)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. (activist)
  • Carl Lewis (sprinter and jumper)
  • Thurgood Marshall (US Supreme Court justice)
  • Rosa Parks (activist)
  • Sidney Poitier (actor)
  • Jackie Robinson (baseball player)
  • Sojourner Truth (abolitionist)
  • Harriet Tubman (abolitionist)
  • Tiger Woods (golfer)

Check out this website for further easy researching:  http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmbios1.html

Black History Month: Influential Artists of the Culture

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There is no way to celebrate black history month without including some of the most influential artists of the culture. The musicians, the actors, the dancers and entertainers. The writers, the painters and sculptors. What a dull world we would have without the profound contributions and talents of these great artists. Schools should celebrate these people year-round, but especially during black history month.

How can teachers call attention to these artists while utilizing the required curriculum and state standards?   Below are a few tips for teachers.

  • Create a research project that allows students to present their findings through the work of the artists rather than through a written product.
  • Show some footage of the actual artist doing what they do or being interviewed.
  • Study the Harlem Renaissance period – a booming time for black artists.
  • Read literary works by black authors. Consider using Hughes, DuBois, or Stowe. Or more current authors like Myers, Angelou, or Grimes.
  • Take a field trip to a museum celebrating or showcasing black artists.
  • Bring in an actual artist from the culture to share experiences with the students.

 

Black History Month: The Civil Rights Movement

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The Civil Rights Movement was a pivotal and important time in our country. What better time to explore its happenings and outcomes than during black history month?

Schools and teachers easily fit this vital time into academic lessons. The weighty issues and activities changed our country forever for the better, but many struggles took place to gain the way of life we have today. Do students of today truly grasp the agony and hardships endured for freedom?

How can teachers and schools explore this movement more fully? Below are a few tips: 

  • Invite a guest speaker in who was an activist for the civil rights movement. The time will soon arrive when those who lived through this movement and walked the path of a civil rights activist will not be here anymore. Any chance to hear directly from a source is of great value in the classroom.
  • Use technology. Skype with an activist – past or present. Research using a search engine.
  • Watch films about the movement, particularly documentaries. Watch short sections of the material at a time – 10 minutes or so. This keeps the students engaged more than sitting for an hour doing nothing interactive.
  • Check YouTube. Yes, this is usually a banned site in schools (for good reason). However, you would be amazed at the material that is available to view online – for free. There is a huge amount of student/school appropriate material that would enhance a lesson.
  • Interdisciplinary. When studying this in social studies, read from an author of the time in language arts.
  • Create group research project – written and a 3D board of some kind. Then, have students present to the class their findings.

 

Check out this website for further easy researching: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/civilrightstimeline1.html

Black History Month

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Significant Events that Changed Our Country

 

With February focusing on the great achievements and heroes in black history, it is important to recognize them in our schools. Students of all races and cultures benefit from these accomplishments, and it makes sense that schools should make the effort to include these happenings in academic lessons.

Use technology to help students research a timeline or a specific event. Have students write a taxonomy of important events in black history.

As a teacher, how do you decide which events students should study or research? Check the time period of whatever you are studying. If you are reading Langston Hughes poetry, research the Harlem Renaissance. If you are learning about Martin Luther King, Jr., research the civil rights movement.

Below are a few key events to get you started:

  • Underground Railroad
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin published
  • Dred Scott Case
  • Civil War
  • Emancipation Proclamation
  • Lincoln assassination
  • KKK is formed
  • 13th amendment is ratified, prohibiting slavery
  • Black Codes
  • NAACP is founded
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Brown vs. Board of Education
  • Emmitt Till
  • Rosa Parks
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Malcolm X
  • Black Panthers
  • Affirmative Action
  • Barack Obama

 

Check out this website for further easy researching:  http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmtimeline.html

 

Are You Unintentionally Offending Someone

Because of how most of us were raised, we can all un-intentionally hurt others or even discriminate against them. The point is: are we willing to learn when someone takes the time to point out our mistakes and, after that, do we behave differently? In this video, storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston’s feedback on how black students are being treated at her school falls on deaf ears.

Do you know how you come across to other people?

What you think of yourself and how others see you might be two very different things. What’s funny is that many of us are shy or downright scared of asking for feedback. But what people think of you is still there, right?

We can’t do something about something if we don’t know it’s there. Especially when it comes to race relations, how are we going to improve if we don’t know what to improve?

It takes a lot of confidence to say, “That was my mistake” or “I can do better” but it makes you a much easier person to be with and others will see as a reliable and approachable friend and ally.

 

A White Girl Looks at Race

superohStoryteller Susan O’Halloran weaves three short true stories of her life growing up in Chicago in the 1960s.

The three short stories offered here—“Davy Crockett,” “Us vs. Them,” and “The Dr. King March”—all explore Susan’s experience growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s when the relationship between blacks and whites in the United States were tense and changing quickly.

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Ripples: From a Field in Mississippi to General Motors in New York

 

Story Summary:

 April 4, 1968 may have been the end of one dream with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, on that day, another began in a young woman who pushed past despair, journeying from Mississippi to New York City, to discover that the “dream” lived on in her.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Ripples-from-a-Field-in-Mississippi-to-General-Motors-in-New-York

Discussion Questions:

  1. Dr. King is associated with bringing together people of various ethnic backgrounds. While the message of equality was a theme of the Civil Rights Movement, a critical part of the movement centered around employment – compensation, fairness, availability, and equity. How are there still struggles around employment issues in the U.S. and the world?
  2. Each person has been given a talent – teaching, preaching, engineering, drawing, you name it! What are the talents you have been given and how have they helped someone else or you in an unexpected way?
  3. Travel can reveal a new perspective about one’s self, others, and places. Where have your travels brought you? How has something you experienced or seen changed your perspective?
  4. The Great Migration refers to the exodus of African Americans from the American South, seeking a variety of opportunities, new beginnings, and work during the 20th century. This departure from “home” enabled families to unite and offered a different future to the next generation. What sacrifice did those who left the South make for the next generation? What opportunities did future generations have? In your family, how did one generation make a sacrifice that benefitted the next generation(s)?

Resources:

  •  America Street: A Multicultural Anthology of Stories edited by Anne Mazer
  • Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson
  • Voice of Freedom – Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Diane Macklin. There are moments in history that are like a rock thrown into the lake of time. The ripples reach all the way to the shore even if you cannot see them.

It was May 1968. Barbara Jean stood at a Greyhound bus station staring across the street. The bus wasn’t there yet but her siblings were, her two sisters and her youngest brother. They were holding hands, watching her, hoping that maybe she would walk to them. Maybe she would head back home to the shotgun shack. She wasn’t going to. She looked down at her freshly polished shoes, saw the little bit of dust on them where she could wipe it off. She had her suitcase. She was determined. She was going to go. Nothing could keep her in Mississippi. Barbara Jean pulled out of her purse the clipping from the newspaper. “Hard working young women needed, live-in maid, New York City.” She folded it up again and put it back in her purse. She was going to go. This was May.

A month earlier, April 4th, 1968 a shot rang out in Memphis Tennessee. A hundred miles north of where she lived, and it came shatterin’ all the way down to where she lived. And she knew the dream was gone. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. The dream that work would come to the South, that work would return to Mississippi. People that knew the life of sharecropping, people that knew how to work the land, would have work again. But without Dr. Martin Luther King, who was trying to help people to get work, she would never find work, and nor would her children, even though she had no children. She had to go. She had to go to New York. There was work in New York. The bus came. She looked down at the ground. She might stay, if she looked at them again. She got on that bus. She got on the far side away from where her siblings were standing there. The bus pulled off, and she could not look at them. But they stood there until the bus was out of sight. She rode that bus all the way to New York City with that $24 ticket that she gave to that bus driver. She got off and was met with people she’d never seen before.

Women with hair, women with no hair. Women with short hair, women with long hair. There were all sorts of people from all sorts of places from the world. It was a lot of movement, a lot of sound. And she made her way all the way to her employer who brought her to the house that she was going to work. Now as a live-in maid, she knew hard work and this was nothing compared to the work that she did on a farm. At four years old, she learned how to pick cotton. And then at 12 years old, she could pick 300 pounds of cotton. And by the time she was 15, she could pick 600 pounds of cotton, take care of her brothers and sisters, help them to pick because she was determined to make sure that their family picked more cotton than anybody else.

She knew hard work, but there was another work that she did that was harder than dusting and mopping floors. At night, she would sit in a backroom quiet, listening to her employers. They’re from the North. And then she would go back to her own bedroom, sit on the bed, and start to train her tongue not to speak like she was from the South. She felt that people would not think that she was intelligent. They would think she was unintelligent if she sounds like she was a Southerner.

But one day she met this man. He was charming, he was a taxi cab driver. And in his charm, he convinced her to give her… give him, her phone number and she did. She didn’t want to lie.

So, she gave him her phone number but she gave him all the wrong numbers in all the wrong places. But they were the right numbers but all the wrong places.

But he spent two months trying every single combination of those numbers until he reached her. And he courted her and she fell in love. And this man worked for General Motors, hmm, General Motors. There weren’t many women that worked for General Motors. So, she asked him, well, should she apply and he didn’t think it was a good idea. It was a man’s place. It was a man’s job. Required someone who was strong, who could work hard.

He didn’t know her very well. Her father was a blacksmith. She would shoe horses with him. She would make fence posts and put up fences. They would go out and glean for metal. She knew metal and she knew hard work. So, she applied. They continued to court.

She got a job on the assembly line in 1974. And a lot of folks came up to her and told her, “You know, this isn’t your kind of work, so you can stay on the assembly line but that’s about it.”

But she took classes and she did well. She excelled more than any other student. Some folks thought that they didn’t like this so much. Some folks thought that they needed to turn her locker upside down to discourage her. Some folks thought they needed to put glue in her lock to discourage her. Some folks thought they needed to meld all of her tools together to discourage her.

But she knew something! A skilled trade was one of the highest paid positions at General Motors, at that plant in New… Tarrytown, New York. She was going to shoot for that. She took course after course, credit after credit, certification… certificate after certificate. And eventually she became the first woman and the second person of color to work at the skilled trades at Tarrytown General Motors plant. And, eventually, she did have two lovely children, and they had an opportunity to live in New York, with opportunities that she felt she did not have. And one of those children have told you the story of their mother, Barbara Jean Macklin.

Martin and Me – A Coming of Age Story

 

Story Summary:

 Growing up, Steven was involved in Boy Scouts and his church and as a teen he advocated for community development in his New Jersey neighborhood. But could he get involved in the rising black militancy of the late 1960s?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Martin-and-Me

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why was Steven called “too white” by some of his friends? What is “acting white” and how has racism perpetuated these no-win choices of how white or black someone is?
  2. Steven’s neighborhood didn’t have comparable city services such as garbage pickup and water and sewer service. How did the city justify this uneven treatment and what was Steven’s Youth group able to do in the face of this discrimination?
  3. If you were African American in the 1960s would you have become involved with the Black Power movement? In what ways might you show your pride in your African American heritage? For what reasons might you become involved in peaceful protests such as school walkouts or be tempted to participate in more militant actions?
  4. Do you think Steven made the right decision to go to school after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968? How did Steven’s family influence his decisions?
  5. In what ways are we still reaching for Dr. King’s “beloved community”? Do you think it’s an attainable ideal?

Resources:

  •  Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin
  • Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Final Year by Tavis Smiley and David Ritz
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Bullying
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Stephen Hobbs. I’d like to share a part of a story about growing up in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Right down the highway from Newark.  In the 1960s, at a time when there was great political, cultural racial and social changes.

I blame it on James Brown. In 1967, he came out with a song, “Say it Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud!” That could have been the theme song for the black consciousness movement of the 60s. When we black people were really in love with the color of our skin. We grew our hair out afro style and we wore dashikis from the motherland. But was I really ready to jump fully into the black consciousness movement? I mean, they were talking about revolution. Already people were frustrated with the slow progress. Even with Dr. King’s great movement of nonviolent resistance. Cities like New York and Cleveland and Detroit erupted in flames of riots during the 1967 summer.

But, as a young teenager, I was involved in community development work. I was a member of a civic organization called The Somerville Manor Youth Association. Somerville Manor was the black neighborhood that I grew up in. It was the only black community in Bridgewater. We advocated for sewer lines and water lines in our community. Most of us, most of the families, had outhouses and some even had wells outside and they used to have to work with hand-pump. We also tried to get trash collection and a place for us to play.  But was I really ready for that liberation stuff? I mean, how could I be a radical? My grandmother didn’t like that term. She thought, she thought, one summer when I grew out a beard, she wouldn’t let me into her house because I looked too much like those militants in her, in her our community. And I always wanted to please my grandmother and be a good boy.

Still some of my black friends thought I was trying to act white. Like I was not black enough. Whatever that means. I mean, was it mean, I was an Oreo or because I had too many friends like my buddy, Lougoo Gueotto, who was Italian kid who lived up the street from me? It probably didn’t help my cause, the fact that I was I had a white girlfriend named Elizabeth, with her beautiful blue eyes. In the fall of 1967, I entered high school. And I was elected freshman class president, which is a pretty good thing, considering of the twelve hundred students in my high school, only 26 were black. And I got good grades and made the honor roll.

But still that militancy stuff really got me worried. And then, on April 4th , 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. Oh, President Lyndon Johnson asked for calm throughout the country. But the voices of anger, rippled across the land. “No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!” And cities all across America erupted in riots and flames. We kids and some of old men are still around street corners wondering what we should do. Somebody suggested we should go to the nearby mall and trash some of those stores. But at a meeting of the Somerville Manor Youth Association, it was decided that we would boycott school the day after Dr. King’s funeral. Well, I was at the meeting but I really wasn’t feeling it. Skip school? What would my grandmother say?

Well, the day of the boycott I went to school, in part, because as freshman class president, I was invited to participate in an in-school memorial service for Dr. King. Speaking to the entire student body over the intercom, I read a poem that I had composed in memory of Dr. King the night before. The poem went like this:

It’s not how long you live, it’s how well.

Did you give forth your best effort every day?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you travel along the honest way?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you lend a hand to another?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you love all of your brothers?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

After that, Somerville Manor Youth Association met quite a bit. We talked about our dreams and what our positive response would be. We decided that we would build a youth center where we would have recreational activities and afterschool programs. And a place where we can get mentoring for college and career planning. And, most importantly, we would build it ourselves. We would raise the money. And we, we had car washes and fish fries and barbecues. Someone came up with the idea of having a musical review. We called it The Soul Show. In which everyone would participate if they could, playing Motown music. People who can sing or dance or play instruments, auditioned. I couldn’t sing and I didn’t have any rhythm, so I didn’t get a part in the show. I had to watch from the sidelines. But the show was successful nonetheless. It raised a number, a bit of money, and more importantly, we raised some friends. Our minister Reverend Hodge, he started inviting white clergy to our meetings. And soon we were telling our story at some of those, those pastors’ churches, getting more support.

Then we, we figured we could organize a nonprofit corporation to build the center. At the first official meeting of the nonprofit, I didn’t want to go because it was at the Plukemin Presbyterian Church and I guess my tail feathers were still a little ruffled about not being in the Soul Show. But my girlfriend, Elizabeth, encouraged me to go. And I was elected youth representative for the Executive Board. Oh, we had dozens and dozens of meetings. And I worked closely with the president of the organization, Mr. Richard Theale, a white lawyer who inspired me and showed me how lawyers could use their skills to work for social justice.

By the time I left to go to college in the fall of 1971, the plans had already been made. The architectural drawings rendered and the construction schedule set for the spring of 1972. By the fall of ’72, the doors of the youth center opened with volunteer programs for the kids in the area. On April 8th, 1973, we have the official dedication ceremony of the Martin Luther King Youth Center. I was asked to speak and I read the poem I had written five years earlier. Someone read a letter from Mrs. Coretta Scott King. We had a crowd there of people from 23 churches and synagogues in the area. It truly was the embodiment of the vision Dr. King had in his dream of blacks and whites, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Christians, holding hands, singing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Now that was revolutionary.

Taming the Fire: A Black Heritage Search

 

Story Summary:

One day an angry black teenage girl – Sheila – stormed into her History Class and demanded to know why she had never heard about black inventors. Her favorite teacher, who happened to be white, was faced with a decision, but in making that decision an entire classroom of students was changed and history was given more relevance.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:   Taming-the-Fire-A-Black-Heritage-Search

Discussion Questions:

  1. Was Sheila right in demanding to be taught more about people in her heritage?  Why or why not?  Should her teacher have changed her curriculum?  Why or why not?
  2. What is an activist?  How do you think you can be an activist in your community?
  3. Have you ever read a book that made you want to learn more about its subject, or moved you to make a difference?  What was that book and what did it encourage you to do?
  4. What is your heritage?  Make a list of the people from your heritage that you have learned about in school.  Compare your list with other students.  Who do you know on their list?  Choose someone from another student’s list who you do not recognize and research them.

 Resources:

  •  Lazarus and the Hurricane:  The Freeing of Rubin ‘Hurricane Carter by Sam Chalton and Terry Swinton.  About a young man who finds a book that “calls” out to him, and through a series of letters and visits helps to free a wrongly jailed man.
  •  The Black Book by Middleton A. Harris, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, Ernest Smith and Bill Cosby.  This is the actual book that Sheila read and is available in bookstores.
  •  50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet by Dennis Denenberg

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Sheila Arnold. I have to give you two names: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.  Those were the only two people, the only two black people I ever learned about in my elementary and middle school years in the 1970s and 1980s. How was it! But somewhere around the beginning of my high school years, in 1979 or so, I began to look for my people. I don’t really, know truthfully, why that, was the trigger for that but I think it’s because I started paying attention to the news.

I can remember sometime early in my 10th grade year, I think about 1980 or so, I went over to the March on Washington to ask for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to be a national holiday. I remember that myself and some of my classmates we skipped school, got on some buses, and some subways, (I lived in Annandale, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington D.C.) and we got over to Washington D.C. I remember that, that the mall, the Washington National Mall, was just filled with all these black people. I’ve never seen anything like that before. And I, I heard every word, every speech; I felt it does come all into me. It was wonderful. And then Stevie Wonder got up and started singing. We all sing with them. “Happy Birthday to ‘im. Happy Birthday to ‘im. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to ’im. Happy Birthday.” We loved it.

Well, I started learning more and more around that time of my life. I remember, that there were times that I started looking at other parts of African-American history. One of the things that was happening is my mom was introducing me to other arts and plays and things like that. That was when I found “For Colored Girls That Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” into Ntozake Shange, the play that was in Washington D.C.. Oh! She got me a copy of that script. And then we went to go see “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” And we went to go see “Bubblin’ Brown Sugar,” about the Harlem Renaissance artist and the musicians. And I was in love with learning more. I had been working as a library school assistant since I started high school and I worked in one of my classes at study hall and then whenever I had a free moment, I was in that library. And while I was working in the library, I began to come across other African-American writers I never knew anything about. I already knew about poet, the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and, of course, I knew about God’s Trombones writer, James Weldon Johnson, because we presented their pieces at the church that I went to. But when I came across The Anthology by Arnold Adolph, I was introduced to Gwendolyn Brooks. And I met, I, I met Nikki Giovanni, Cotton Candy On A Rainy Day. Ah, that was one of my favorites. And James Baldwin…that one even got banned from my high school and my mom went and bought it for me. It was great.

So I started learning all of these things but it was like a, a quiet learning. And although a fire begun, it was a quiet fire. One that, one that had to do with just reading and maybe sharing with people at the black church that I attended. And sometimes doing some pieces for my forensics team at school but very quiet. Well, one day I was bored and I was looking for something to read because that’s what I do, when I’m bored. I was looking for something to read and I usually do. I started looking to my parents’ things. Went through my mom’s stash, ya, nothing. Went to my dad’s always cluttered, never clean, room but always filled with books.  And I started looking. And I came across a book. I came across a book that shocked me. The Black Book. I started looking at it and I could put it down. First, I was disgusted and just appalled at some of the images that were there. They were, they were pictures of, of black bodies hanging from trees, of men smiling as they saw what was being, a person that was beaten on the back, the welts on their back. A group of white gentlemen posing for the picture proudly as they surrounded the smoldering body of a black man that had been burnt.  As visceral as those pictures were and as disgusting, in the book I also found great amusement and delight.  Colorful ads for skin lightening. Cures, using voodoo charms and Hexis. That was kind of cool, some of the things they used to do. I was amazed by this book and I couldn’t put it down.

Then, I got to the middle of the book and I found patents. P-A-T-E-N-T-S. Patents. Yes, patents. And patents, I knew, I knew what patents were. Patents were what you did if you made something. If you were an inventor.  And I looked at them. Patents. You mean, black people have been inventors? Oh, I was hot now. Mm, hmm.  All that fire that was a small little campfire, it rose up with me and it was a bonfire, wildfire. I was angry and I went back to the beginning of the black book and I started looking through it again. But I had new eyes this time. My eyes were feeding. What information I had not learned?!

Well, the next day that fire had not gone away at all. I arrived at school with the book in my hand. I couldn’t wait to get to my favorite class, history class. And I couldn’t wait to be able to talk to my teacher, my favorite teacher, Mrs. Elliott, she was my history class teacher. She also happened to be a white teacher. I walked into the classroom. I was the epitome of mad, black, teenage girl. Most people hadn’t even seen nothing like that in my school. There were 13 blacks at my school out of 2,000 students. I walked in that classroom. Other classmates would just walk in along with me. But I walked in. I had that book clasped around my chest. I walked in, walked right up to her desk, slammed the book down on her desk, and said “Why aren’t you teaching us this?”

All the air went out of the room. My classmates were completely quiet. They had never seen anything like this. I was angry and I demanded an answer. I had no idea what to say but I knew somebody better tell me something. Well, unbeknownst to me, Mrs. Elliott had been taking black history classes every summer for the last few summers. She was fascinated with black history. And she had a deep desire to teach it at the school but she had no clue how she, a white teacher, was going to teach black history at a predominantly white school when she would only see black students every once in a while. And so, she looked at me and she said, “Do you really want to learn this?”

“Yes I do.”

“OK then.” And right then, right then, at that very moment, Miss Elliott changed everything in her classroom and she began to teach black history. She brought in videos and images. And she had us look through all kinds of books and hear different things. This was completely different. Everybody in my class was excited because they had never heard it either. I was the only black student in that class but we all were learning. Miss Elliott even brought my mother in, and my mom talked about segregation. She talked about how she had to drink from a colored fountain. The kids looked at my mom, my mom who most of them knew, they couldn’t believe that she’d had to do that. That she’d had to go all the way into Washington D.C. just to go to an all black school. That she had had to go to the bathrooms, colored only bathrooms.

It changed all of us. But Miss Elliott didn’t just stop there. She started teaching all kinds of cross-cultural things. We learned more about other cultures than we had ever learned before. And we were a group that was eager. And as classmates, we couldn’t wait to learn more about diversity. It was amazing. Well, one of the girls came in and she had found out that they were killing chimpanzees in one of the countries in Africa. Immediately, we all got on board. We contacted the World, World…I can’t remember it…WWF and World Wide Wildlife Federation…I think it was World Wildlife Federation. We contacted them immediately and we said, “Can we do something?” Well, right then we started a fundraiser, we went and visited with the head offices in, in Washington D.C.  It was exciting and we became burgeoning activists. Wow! It as an incredible year but Miss Elliott didn’t stop with our year. She kept right on teaching for as long as I knew her. Teaching all that she could about all cultures.

I have to tell you, I was a raging fire when I walked into that room. I had been a campfire and I turned into wild wildfire and I was ready to burn everything in my path and hurt as many people as I could along with it. But Miss Elliot, she was a great teacher and she tended that fire. And she, she helped that fire to grow in the right places. And she made sure that the fire could live but that it wouldn’t burn wildly. Most of all, she ensured the fire would never go out.

A Black American Son’s Survival Lessons

 

Story Summary

A frantic call from Sheila Arnold’s son during his freshmen year in college turns into a moment to remember all that she had to teach him about growing up black, and, in turn, all he had also learned about crossing bridges in spite of people’s perceptions.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Black-American-Sons-Survival-Lessons

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you ever had someone treat you differently because of your color, sex, or religion?  How did it feel and how did you respond?
  2. Why do you think that people treat people differently because of color, sex or religion?  How do we help people to change?  Can legislation change the way we treat others?  Why or why not?
  3. Have you ever read a book that made you want to learn more about its subject, or moved you to make a difference?  What was that book and what did it encourage you to do?
  4. Do different groups sit together in the cafeteria at your workplace or school?  Do different people interact with each other?  If not, do you think people should mix at least part of the time? What can you do about it?

Resources:

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Bullying
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Sheila Arnold. One day I got a phone call. “I want to come home!” It was my son.

“What’s going on? What’s going on, Chris? Talk to me!”

“I want to come home. I want to come home now.”

Now this was my mild-mannered son, the year 2004, and he was a freshman attending DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. He never got flustered. “What’s going on, Chris? Talk to me!”

“I want to come home! I want to come home now!”

And we stay on the phone a little bit longer but then he wouldn’t give me any more details. And he had to get off the phone. And I called his grandparents and I said… told them what was happening and they said, “Ah, just give it a day or so. It’ll be all right.”

The next day, he called. “Mom, I want to come home! I want to come home now! Can you bring me home? Why can’t you just bring me home?”

I said, “Baby, just talk to me! What’s going on? Just talk to me!”

“But. Mom, I just want to come home! I hate it here! You just don’t understand! I just want to go home! I know, I know things there.”

“Chris. I just need you to talk to me. What’s going on, baby?”

“I just want to come home!”

Again, the phone hung up and he hadn’t told me what was going on. I started preparing for things to get ready to come home, trying to work some things out. The next day he called again and this time he wanted to come home still but he gave me a little more information.

He said, “Mom, people here – they’re racists and I know what racists are. I’m from the South. I know that! Mom, they’re racists here; they’re prejudiced! I just want to come home.”

“Hmm!” And then he began to tell me what had led up to this moment. First off, he had a roommate and his roommate was a true Irish boy all the way down from this head to his toe. It was Danny! And Danny readily admitted on the first day that they met that he had never said more than hello or goodbye to an African-American.

They got along wonderfully and became the best of friends and were always together. But Chris began to notice things, you see, when Danny and him would go into the Greek neighborhood that was around DePaul University and they would buy in the stores that were there. The words that were thrown at them became more and more unkind to both him and to Danny.

And then Chris began to notice that when he went through the lunch line that the ladies behind the counter would laugh and smile and joke with him and double his portions on his tray, which was a delight. But when Danny came, often right behind him, they wouldn’t smile. They only put on there what he was required to get. It changed.

Then another incident! Both boys, Danny and Chris, run the track team together and one of the… some of the kids were running and practicing early and my son was up in the stands waiting for his turn to practice or to run. And he was sitting with some students and he looked down and someone on the team had done something good that was down practicing and he got up and he cheered for them. All of the students he was sitting with, which just happened to be all black athletes, and… and teammates that he was sitting with went, “Why are you cheering for him? He’s white!”

But the last straw was the last incident. He had gone into a local drug store that was right there; he had been in the store often before. And he’d gone in looking for an alarm clock. And being a true young man, he didn’t ask directions to where the alarm clock was.

He just logged up and down the aisles and he wasn’t in a hurry so he just kind of slowly went up and down each aisle. At some point in time, a police officer came in; he noticed him but it didn’t… wasn’t a big deal. After a while, he realized that there was no alarm clock sold in that store and so, he went and bought a pack of gum and went out the store. The moment he walked out the store, the police officer came out right behind him and told him to stop immediately, show identification and empty his pockets. And Chris did. And he took his I.D. out. He was flustered and took out the piece of gum. He was demanded that the receipt be shown. He showed the receipt and the officer said, “Well, we had a report there… that someone was stealing from the store.”

That was said to Chris while white people who had been walking in and out of the store went right by him. That was all he could take!

As my son relayed the story to me, it brought me back to when he was born. When my son was born in 1986, the statistic was that for an African-American born in a single parent-led home he had a 51 percent chance of being dead by the age of 21. And there were even higher statistics of him being either in jail, on drugs, and addicted and/or having a child out of wedlock. That statistic determined in my mind that I was, not only going to make sure that my son was educationally just ahead of the game and achieved, but I was going to teach him everything he needed so he could survive.

And so, I made sure he could read early. And I can tell you my son’s ability to articulate and negotiate were clearly formed by the time that he was in fifth grade and he did very well in school, particularly in mathematics.

But I also taught him how to live on the streets. I said, I told him, “You don’t go running down, and exercising and jogging on some street with your hoodie over your head. You don’t do that! And you don’t worry about the fact that you might get stopped and pulled over if you’re driving a car, even if that car is your grandfather’s brand new Mustang and he bought it with flat cash.” I told him that when a police officer says stop, you stop! “He says, ‘Show you his I.D.’  then you do. But you make sure when you show him your I.D., you tell him everything you’re doing when that wallet comes out. ‘Sir, I am taking the wallet out of my left pocket. I am pulling the wallet up with my right hand. I am bringing my left hand down to now take the wallet so I can then take my right hand and take out this I.D. to show you.’ ” And that may sound funny but I knew that’s what he had to do.

I made sure to tell him not to worry about when people look at you funny when you go to a store.

Just keep your hands out of your pocket and where others could see them. I told them that there were times that he was going to be stopped for driving, walking and just flat being black. That’s the way it was. He didn’t react to it.

I told him that when he got to college, he was going to meet all kinds of women. And because he was an athlete, he was going to have all kinds of women of many cultures trying to date him. And others were going to be upset that he dated anybody outside of his own people and they might try to set him up. He was to be careful.

I talked to him about survival and staying alive as much as I talked to about English and math and history and biology. This was important for his life. And all those talks I had, everything I ever did, I still couldn’t prepare him for what would happen in his heart when it would be so blatant. I couldn’t help him when that racism hit him full frontal.

I couldn’t prepare him for the anger and the bitterness and the confusion. Now I had to sit and watch and hope he would make a decision that was good on how to deal with this. I wondered…  I wondered how he was going to react. I really did!

I wondered if he was going to be like some of the men I know… some of the people I know that are just bitter at the white man, the Man. Are we taking our jobs, are we taking our things… bitter and angry and, truly, just as racist in return. Or was he going to be the stereotypical black activist that only do for your own. Don’t help nobody else! Take care of your own. It’s all about you; it’s all about us! We are one people. Don’t worry about anybody else!

Or was he going to be like his… like his great grandfather who was called “boy” by young men much younger than him when he was an old man but he still became the vice president of a large insurance company. Or was he going to be like his grandfather who joined the Army and when he was young as an officer in the Army, he still couldn’t eat in certain restaurants unless he went to the back door. But his grandfather still became a general officer.

Or was he going to be like his grandmother who oft times was looked at as the maid coming to work in someone’s house as she visited other officers’ homes. Or was he going to be like his mom, like me, who became the first black student body president at her high school where there were more others than there were blacks. And set a precedent for years to come! What would he do?

I began to make preparations. Then on day four, he called me back. He said, “I don’t need to come home!”

“All right. What happened?”

He said, “I don’t need to come home. I got this! I decided I’m not going to let them change me. I know who I am and I don’t have to be what they want me to be. I don’t even think, Mom, they know that they are prejudiced and it’s not just blacks and whites. They don’t like where people come from even if they’re the same color skin! Jamaicans versus African-Americans. Irish versus Italians. Oh, my goodness! Even Cubans and Puerto Ricans!”

He said, “Nah, I’m going to be better than that. Hey, I’m from the South. I got this.” And then he said, “I love you, Mom!”

I hung up! I hung up the phone, and smiled and I called his grandparents.

Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman

 

Story Summary:

 In 1991 in Lincoln, Nebraska, a Jewish Cantor and his family were threatened and harassed by the Grand Dragon of the state Ku Klux Klan. Here is the remarkable story of how they dealt with the hatred and bigotry, and, in the process, redeemed a life. Based on the book, Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman, by Kathryn Watterson.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Not-By-the-Sword-How-a-Cantor-and-His-Family-Transformed-a-Klansman

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is this a story about religious transformation or about how isolated people need caring relationships?
  2. What does this story say about the power of words and the means of spreading those words? How does anonymity protect the speaker? How do the cantor’s ‘public’ words spread his message?
  3. Would you have considered inviting the former KKK member to live in your home? How was the family able to open their door and their hearts to a man who had hurt so many?

Resource:

  •  Not By the Sword by Kathryn Waterson, Simon & Schuster, 1995; University of Nebraska Press, 2012.

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Interfaith
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Pippa White. The story I have for you is a true story. It’s about an incident that happened in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1991. Actually, it’s a much truncated version of a wonderful book called Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman. That book was written by Kathryn Watterson. And I’m very grateful to Kathryn for letting me tell this story. Actually, there are two people in the story, Michael and Julie, who I know. So I’m grateful to them too. And I’m going to tell the story from Julie’s point of view. I am now going to become Julie.

We had encountered anti-Semitism before. My husband was a Jewish cantor, he had had other appointments in other synagogues in other cities. Anti-semitism was not something we were unfamiliar with but this was different and especially upsetting. We had just moved into a new home in Lincoln, Nebraska after two years of renting. And one afternoon, my husband answered the phone to hear this harsh, hate-filled voice saying, “You’re going to be sorry you ever moved into 5810 Randolph Street, Jew boy!” Two days later we received a package in the mail. On the outside it said, “The KKK is watching you.” Inside there were all these flyers, dozens of brochures and flyers, with ugly caricatures of Jews with hooked noses, African-Americans-race traitors, all of them being shot or hanged. And another message, “Your time is up and the Holo-hoax was nothing compared to what’s going to happen to you!” This was too much. We called the police.

The police came and said they were 98% sure it was the work of one Larry Trapp, the state leader and Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Larry and his Klansmen had terrorized many Jews, blacks, and Vietnamese in Nebraska and Iowa. And said the police, “He’s dangerous. We know he has explosives.” Now they explained that he was in a wheelchair. He had lost both legs to diabetes but they said he had firebombed four or five African-American homes in Lincoln and the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Center in Omaha. And, unbeknownst to us, the police felt Larry Trapp was planning to bomb the very synagogue where my husband was the spiritual leader. Last thing the police said was, “So lock your doors and don’t open any more unlabeled packages.”

Well, we didn’t get any more packages nor did we get any more phone calls. But Larry Trapp had done his work very well. We had been terrorized. We couldn’t open the mailbox without wondering if there was a letter bomb in there. We worried about our three children and every time a car drove slowly by the house, we had a little panic attack. Larry Trapp had done his work very well. Perhaps because of this, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. But it wasn’t just the fear, I was also fascinated. I kept asking myself what makes someone like that? I found out his address and I used to drive by his apartment every afternoon after work and wonder, what makes someone like that? And how lonely he must be isolated in all that hatred?

Not long after this we found out that Larry Trapp was on television. He’d gotten himself on some local cable access channel and he would sit there spewing all these white supremacist hate. It made Michael so mad that he said, “He called us.  I’m calling him.”

So he called this, Vigilante Voices. All he got was an answering machine but he said, “Larry, why do you hate me? You don’t even know me. So how can you hate me?” Next day it was, “Larry, don’t you know that you’re going to have to answer to God someday for all this hatred?” The third day it was, “Larry, why do you love Hitler so much? Don’t you know that in Hitler’s Germany, one of the first laws the Nazis passed was against people like you, people with disabilities? Don’t you know that in Hitler’s Germany, you’d have been one of the first to go?” Every day Michael left a message. One day Michael said to me, “I wonder if he’ll ever pick up?”

I said, “If he does, offer to do something nice for him. You watch, it’ll throw him completely off guard.”

One day in the midst of this message, “Larry, when you can get rid of all the hate, there’s a world of love waiting for ya,” Larry Trapp picked up, “What #@&%* do you want?!”

“I just want to talk to you, Larry.”

“Why #@&%* are you harassing me? You’re harassing me! Stop harassing me!”

“I’m not harassing you, Larry. I just want to talk to you.”

“Are you black? You sound black.”

“No I’m, Jewish.”

“Well, what do you want? Make it quick!”

And then my husband took my advice, “Well, Larry, we know you’re in a wheelchair. We wondered if we could help you in any way? Take you to the grocery store, that kind of thing.”

Long pause. Michael says when Larry spoke again his voice was different. “That’s OK. That’s nice. That’s been covered. Thanks anyway. Don’t call this number again.”

“We’ll be in touch,” was the last thing Michael said. I think it must have been Larry Trapp’s time in life to be bombarded with love.

A nurse wrote him a letter, and because of his very poor health he was in and out of doctors’ offices all the time, and she said, “Larry, if you could embrace God the way you’ve embraced the KKK, He would heal you of all that hurt, anger, hatred, and bitterness in ways you won’t believe.”

And one day when Larry was leaving the eye doctor’s office, he felt his wheelchair being pushed from behind. He turned around and there was a beautiful young woman.  And she said, “I help you. I help you. In elevator.” A Vietnamese woman. And Larry and his followers had been brutal to the Vietnamese community in Lincoln Nebraska.

Michael kept leaving messages and one day, mid message again, Larry picked up. “I’m rethinking a few things.”

“Good,” said Michael, “Good.” Two days later, there he was on television, on the cable access channel, ranting and raving about…well, using every horrible, racial epithet you can think of. Made Michael so mad that he called and say, “You’re not rethinking anything and I want an explanation.”

“I’m sorry,” said Larry. “I’m sorry. I’ve, I’ve, ah, I’ve talked this way all my life. I can’t help it. I’ll, I’ll apologize.”

That night, at the synagogue, Michael asked the congregation to pray for someone who is sick with the illness of hatred and bigotry. “Pray that he can be healed.”

And across town, Lenore Letcher, an African-American woman who had been on the receiving end of Larry’s hatred, prayed, “Dear God, let him find you in his heart.”  And that night, the skin on Larry Trapp’s fingers burned and itched and stung so badly he had to take his Nazi rings off.

The next night, Michael and I were just sitting down to dinner when the phone rang. “I want out and I don’t know how.” Michael suggested we get together and break bread together. Larry hesitated and then he agreed.  We were rushing around, packing up the food, and I thought to myself, we should take him a gift. And I found a ring of Michael’s that he never wore.

It was a silver friendship ring. All the silver strands wound together. Michael said, “That’s a good choice. It’s always reminded me of all the different kinds of people in the world.” To me, it represented something twisted could become something beautiful. The last thing we did before we left the house was to call a neighbor and say if we’re not back in a reasonable amount of time call the police.

We got to Larry Trapp’s apartment knocked on the door, the door swung slowly open. There he sat. In his wheel chair, bearded. On the door handle on his side, hung an automatic weapon, behind him was a huge Nazi flag. Michael reached forward and touched Larry’s hand. He winced as though a jolt of electricity had gone through him. And then he began to cry. “Here!” he said. “Take these! take these! I don’t want ‘em anymore!”  And he put the Nazi rings in Michael’s.

We were speechless but not for long. I remembered my gift. I got down on my knees and slid the ring on his finger saying, “Here Larry, look, we brought you a ring.” He began to sob and sob, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry, for all the things I have done.”

We hugged him and pretty soon there were three people crying. We left Larry Trapp’s apartment four hours later, with the Nazi rings, the Nazi flag, all his KKK paraphernalia including the hood and the beret. And we left with all his guns.

Over the next few weeks, Larry Trapp’s transformation was so complete that the KKK began harassing him. He began to write personal letters of apology to many of the people that he had threatened. He joined the NAACP. He began to go to schools to talk to school children about tolerance. And he and my husband, Michael, were interviewed by Time magazine.

On the very last day of the year, Larry learned from his doctors that he had less than a year to live. We asked him if he wouldn’t like to move in with us. He agreed. Now this was not easy. We had three teenage children, a dog, a cat. I gave up my job to stay home and take care of Larry. But we all chipped in and, and made it work. As Larry grew weaker, he would listen to books on tape. He listened to books about Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Malcolm X, and he began to read and study Judaism.

And one day he surprised Michael and me when he announced that he wanted to convert to Judaism. We said we thought it was wonderful that he wanted to embrace a faith tradition at this time of his life. But if he wanted to embrace a faith tradition closer to his own roots we would understand that. “No. Judaism.” So in June of 1992, in a beautiful ceremony, Larry Trapp converted to Judaism in the very synagogue that a year earlier he had planned to blow up.

In September of 1992, Larry Trapp died in our home. Michael and I were with him, each holding a hand.  Before he got too weak, Larry was asked to speak at a celebration for Martin Luther King Jr. This is what he had to say, “I wasted the first 40 years of my life bringing harm to other people. But I believe that God sent Cantor Weisser to me to show me that I could receive love and I could also give love. I’ve learned now that we’re all the same. White, black, brown, there’s no difference. We’re all one race.”  Larry Trapp, the former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan said there is only one race.

Soul Food in a Southern Swamp: Bumming Fish and Crossing Boundaries

 

Story Summary:

 After fishermen in the Okefenokee Swamp give Elliott two fierce looking mudfish, he finds himself on a hilarious cross cultural journey learning how to cook the fish, and later meets a number of challenges learning how to tell the tale.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Soul-Food-in-a-Southern-Swamp-Bumming-Fish-and-Crossing-Boundaries

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Is “good ole boy” an ethnic slur?
  2. What does food and traditional cuisine mean to people in different cultures?
  3. What is soul food?  What is a favorite food from your ethnic background?

Resource:

  •  Everybody’s Fishin’- A Cross-Cultural Fishing Extravaganza   CD by Doug Elliott

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Doug Elliott and I’m a freelance naturalist and herbalist and storyteller and I’m interested in cultural diversity. I’m interested in how different people relate to the natural world and different cultures. But, you know, sometimes it’s a challenge to tell a story that celebrates cultural diversity without being culturally insensitive even though that’s not what I want to do.

Well, I want to tell you a kind of a fishing story. And, uh, and then, I’ll tell ya how I came to tell it the way I did.

Well, I was down in the Okefenokee Swamp. And I’m, I’m a kind of naturalist. I love to get out in the swamp and I’m always kind of sc… foraging and scavenging and trying to, and trying to keep my budget low. And, and, you know, I’m not always that good at fishing.

But, but, um, but I love to talk to the fishermen and, inadvertently, over the years, I’ve learned, uh, that I can often get a fish dinner if I just kind of lay a few hints out there, and just sort of say, say, “You know, if you get too many fish, let me know.” And a lot of times fishermen are glad to share a little of their catch with them, eh.

And so, one day, we were out there. We were, we were paddling out in the Okefenokee swamp. And it’s this mysterious watery wilderness, you know, swamps and cypress trees and water and wading birds. And a lot of people fish there; you know, we were paddling out. We’d paddled out all day and I was coming back. And I see these two, these two, two white guys sittin’ in a boat. And they’re, uh… they looked like they were local boys. And they looked like they knew what they were doin’. They were dropping their fishin’ lines in among the bonnet waterlilies there.

And I said, “You fellers catchin’ any fish?”

And they, “Wo, we gittin’ a few.

“Well, now, if you git too many now, lemme know.”

And these, one of these fellers says, “Well, we got these old mud fish. Now, you know, you don’t want dem, do ya?”

“Mud fish? Are they any good to eat?”

He said, “Well, a black folks eat them but we don’t.”

I thought to myself, “Soul food? You know, we’re talking about cornbread, collard greens, fish, chicken. I, I eat soul food all the time. I thought, “Well, yeah, I’ll, I’ll take those fish!”

And so, I pulled the canoe up there and let me tell you. He flopped these two fish in there. One… the biggest one was about a foot and a half long.

And, let me tell you, this was a beast to be reckoned with. It looked like the, it looked like the essence of swamp, congealed and personified, right there. I mean, this fish had a big fan shaped tail. It had, it had this, this, this shaped like a, like a wood splitting wedge. And it had, had thick armor-like scales and a huge mouth – big, wide mouth like a catfish ’cept this, uh, this mouth had just jaggly, snaggly teeth in it. Had these two little tentacles sticking out, from out of his nose. I mean, this was a creature to be reckoned with.

I said, “Oh, it is quite a fish here.” I said, I said, “You guys don’t know how to cook them?”

“No, black folks eat them but, but, but now we, we, we don’t, we don’t.” And then the guy out in the back of the boat says, “Well, actually, you know, Daddy had a recipe for mudfish.”

And the guy looked around, he says, “He did?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said.

I said, “Can you tell me?”

He said, “Yeah, but it’s kind of complicated. C… You got a good memory?”

I said, “Here, I’ll write it down.” I reached in my, in my backpack there and I pulled out my sched… my, my notebook and I started, I started writin’.

And he said, “Well, now what ya do is you get ya a nice, soft pine board. And ya just cover it with barbecue sauce and ya lay a bunch of onion rings all over the top of it. Sprinkle it with some garlic and some herbs. And take that fish, you split that fish open. You lay ’im out there on the board, and you put some, put some more barbecue sauce on top of that. More onions, more garlic, pick some herbs. Oregano is really a good herb to put on there, and then, and then some… and a little mustard, a little ketchup. And you put ’im right there against the fire and then you just cook it. And, and you just let it cook ’im ’til he’s really crisp. Then you scrape that fish off and eat the board.”

“Oh, ha, you guys!”

They started laughing.

I said, “Ha, well, thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate that recipe. I’m a go hunt me a board. I’ll go see if I can cook these fish, you know.”

And I’m paddling off, down in a canoe, down there, kinda embarrassed, you know.

I hear them guys. They’re just still laughing. “Ha, ha, did ya see that? He’s writin’ it down, ah, ha, ha!”

So. So, finally, finally, I get down, I get down. and I’m thinking, “Well, man, I’ve got these fish. I want to cook these fish but th… I gotta figure, I gotta find someone who will know how to cook these fish. And I’m going into the dock there and there’s boats going in and out. And there’s people in the concession there selling tickets and things.

And I’m thinking, thinking, “Wha…who is going to know how to cook these fish? Who would tell me, you know?”

And then, all of a sudden, I look. An over on this little, this little spot of land there, there, she is, that wise woman we’ve all been wanting to talk to – a large African-American woman. She’s sittin’ there in a folding chair. She had her fish bucket on one side and her cooler on the other side. She had three fishing poles, I think. Oh, there she is, that wise woman! She has been way… been sitting there in solid, focused contemplation all day. Been contemplatin’ this vast, watery wilderness before her. Those fishing poles, like sensitive antennas, reaching down, probing the depths, bringing home food and sustenance for her family. Oh, she is that wise woman! She would know how to cook a f… a mudfish but can I get her to tell me?

Well, only thing I do is just go over and ask, you know. And she’s a fair distance away there, you know. I start walkin’ over and this… I just go over and talk to her and see what, see what she will tell me, you know.

I see her lookin’ over at me, ya know, kinda lookin’ like, I can almost hear her thinking, “Uh, what’s this white boy want with me?”

Ha…and, ha…and I just kept walkin’ over there and then I see her look back.

“Oh, Lord, he’s still coming.”

She’s adjustin’ her fishing poles, you know, adjustin’ her fish… I came up to her respectfully as I could and I said, “’Scuse me, ma’am. Can you tell me how to cook a mudfish?”

She looked up from under that broad-brimmed straw hat of hers, ah, ha, ha, kinda suspiciously, and she says, “How? Ha, ha, huh, huh, huh, huh, ah, huh! huh, huh, huh!”

I can just see her thinkin’, “This white boy wants a tell ya how to cook a, cook a mudfish.”

You just laugh. Let him tell ya, ya know.”

I said, “No, ma’am. Uh, these fellers gave me mud fish and I don’t know how to cook them. I thought you might tell me.”

And she warmed right up. She said, “Well, honey lamb, they aren’t hard to cook. Now you can’t scale ’em. You have to skin ’em like a catfish. And you take ’em, you put ‘em in a pot and you steam ’em for a while and that meat’ll come off the bones. You take yo fork and you take de meat off de bones. She said, “And then you take and git you some, git you some corn meal and some aig, a little bit a pepper, a little bit a onion. Ya chop ’em up. You make fish balls, fish patties outa ’em and you fry ’em.” She says, “They good!” She said, “They good as a mullet.”

And I thanked her so much. And, you know, we went back to camp. We did that, you know; we made these fish cakes. They were better than any sa… salmon croquettes, better than any crab, fancy crab cakes, I ever had. It was some of the best fish I ever had.

And I was so glad that I had just been brave enough to just go talk and… to this wise woman. And she gave me that good advice. And, you know, I got ta… and I’m thinkin’ about tellin’ this story. And I’m thinking about how some people, you know, these, these white guys, they were, they was, they really kinda thought that this food was, like, beneath them, you know. And of course, of course, that’s, uh, interesting because different cultures have different relationships on that.

And, um, we… later on, that same trip, you know, I was down on the, down on the coast. And I see these two guys fishin’ and they, they had the big, the big surf castin’ rods. Two young black guys. And, and I see ’em castin’ out there and, and these guys knew what they were doin’. Now,  I…well, I gotta go talk to the fishermen. So, I went over and talked to ’em and, ha, one a ’em catches a fish.

Oh! I love to be there when someone catches the fish. And he starts, he starts winding this fish in and in comes a big ole catfish, big ocean catfish. Big elegant, long, long fins and, and, uh, long whiskers. And he takes it, takes it off there. Just tosses it down there in the surf like… it, it starts swimmin’ back.

I said, “Don’t you want your catfish?”

He says, “No, we’re fishin’ for sea trout.”

And, uh, and then next he’ll catch another fish. “

“Yes, see that! That’s what we’re looking for.”

And he took that up, put it in his cooler. And he catches another one, another catfish.

“Ah, can I have your catfish?”

“Yeah.”

You know, and I took those catfish back and I was cooking them. And as we ate those catfish, I kept thinking what if someone asked those, asked those black guys, “You know, are those, those catfish any good ta eat?”

And he goin’ say, “Oh, them ole, white hippies, they eat ’em but they ain’t no good. Ha, ha”

So, okay, so, I’ve been trying to tell that story and I’m been trying to just figure out, figure out how to tell it in the most culturally sensitive way, you know. And I remember one time asking an African-American buddy of mine (he was, he was a storyteller) and asked him what… I was just trying the story out.

And I just said there’s these two guys sitting in a boat when I describe the first two guys. And later on, he said, he said, “Well, you know, you white folks seem to think of yourselves as normal, you know. And that anybody you describe, unless you describe them with an adjective, we just assume is normal, you know, and as white.” “And, uh, and,” he said, “You know, you know, that’s really, you know you just have, to have to think about that. You didn’t give those first guys accents.”

Well, you know, when I tell the story now I give ’em an accent because they were southern. They were southern, southern Georgia good ole boys.

And, and, and um, and, and, um. And so. So, I thought, “Well, how… you know, I don’t want to describe them just southern rural white guys sittin’ in a boat. Uh, you know, it just, it just doesn’t seem like a natural way to talk, you know.”

So, so, I was thinking, “I was just remembering talkin’ to one, one ole b… one ye…one ole fa… ole Georgia, Georgia guy and he was saying, ‘Well, you know, I bone ’n raised ‘round here.’ He says, ‘My granddaddy came down here with a mule and a ba… and a wagon. Law, he’s crackin’ a whip the whole way. You know, I’m jus’ a ole Georgia cracker.’ And lot of people from so… north Georgia, and south Georgia, and north Florida, they call themselves “crackers” because that’s how their… that’s with their ancestry.

And so, the next time I told the story, I said, “Well, there’s these two Georgia crackers; they’re sittin’ in their boats there, you know.”

And, and I always kind of check out the audience and, particularly, if I’m going to tell racially based stories. I want to just make sure I’m not offending anybody. I see. I see this, uh, this one, one black woman in the crowd and I sought her out later on.

And I said, I said, “Did anything, put… anything bothering you about that story? Is that all right?”

And she said, “We need to talk.”

And I said, “Oh, yeah?”

And she said, “Yeah. Yeah.” She said, you call those white guys “crackers.”

“Um, uh, uh.”

She, she said, “Well, you know when I realized it, in the north “crackers” kind of like a, like an, like a racial epithet used by blacks against whites.”

And she didn’t like me callin’, callin’ anyone by a racial epithet.

And, uh, I thought, “Well, uh.”

So, we talked about it a little bit and she said… I said, “What can I call ’em? I just don’t want to say white guys, and, you know.”

And she… I… She… well…

I said, “Well, how about good ole boys.”

She said, “Yeah, I think good old boys would work.

So, next time I told it, I told it, you know… “These two good ole boys sitting there, uh, and in the boat and, uh…”

And then some people say, “Well, good ole boys sort of, sort of implies that these are southerners, sort of a stereotype that applies to certain southerners that has kind of racist overtones.”

Now I don’t know if I agree with that but you know it’s one of those processes that we’re just trying to work on, you know. And so, so, um, so, so, you know, and, and, one of the, one of the things that kinda, kinda gets me sorta realizin’, realizin’ in the course of following this thing, how much privilege I have because I’m white.

And I realized, I realized, sp… especially the kind of livin’… the way I make my, make my livin’ and, you know, I’m always kinda sneakin’ around somewhere, you know. And I look for some fruit trees or, or going someplace I’m not exactly sure.

“Oh, sorry, Officer! I didn’t realize that the fruit orchard there was posted. I didn’t realize there’s no trespassing there. You know, I’m sorry, uh, you know, uh.”

And I realize I can get away with that. What if I was black or what if I was Hispanic and I was caught somewhere like that? It would be a whole different experience. And so, you know, and I realize even, even, like, like when my son, my teenaged son, he’s going, “I’m going to go out,” with one of his black buddies and goin’ out at night, you know.

I said, “Well, just be careful. It’s a whole ‘nother level of prejudice you’ve got to deal with.”

And, uh, and so, so, um, so I’ve been trying to work on this all the time and sometimes I’ll mess the story up.

And, and, uh, and, and, you know, it…but what I realize is that, is that, is that…one, one, one of my, one of my, my African-American coaches says to me, he says, “Look, the main things, man, is that you care.”

And, you know, that’s where everybody’s at. Just the main thing is that we care. So that’s what I’d like to leave you with. So, thanks.

Hauntings: Journey of an African American Teenager to a Southern Plantation

 

Story Summary:

 This is a true story of the writer and the haunting experience she had at age 13 on a southern plantation near an old tree by the side of the road.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hauntings-Journey-of-an-African-American-Teenager-to-a-Southern-Plantation

Discussion Questions:

  1. Imagine ways by which the existence of slavery, with all of its imposed conditions and traditions legally ending over 150 years ago, might still be culturally, socially, politically and spiritually impacting the lives of Black people today.  Please describe.
  2. What are some of the differences and similarities of how slavery and colonialism in general affected the lives of Black people in the US as compared to enslaved people in places such as Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico… and Africa itself, even to this day?
  3.  How can being a descendant of enslaved Africans – born in ANY country – affect the ways in which Black people see themselves and others outside of their cultures today?
  4.  How do you think Black people might feel when repeatedly over the years they hear, “Slavery?  Oh, that was so long ago.  Why don’t you people just get over it?”
  5.  Have you ever felt moved, affected or “haunted” by a person or situation that existed before you were even born?  If so, please describe this experience and how it affected or even continues to affect you to this day.

Resources:

  • The Book of Negroes, a novel by Lawrence Hill that describes the life of a young girl born into a Muslim family, living happily in a West African village.  While enjoying a walk with her father through the forest, showing off her ability to balance the Qur’an on her head, they come upon people who looked quite different than they do.  Little Aminata Diallo’s life was forever changed…
  • Pre-Colonial Black Africa, by Cheikh Anta Diop.  This book provides a comparison of the political and social systems of Europe and Black Africa from antiquity, demonstrating the African contributions to the formation of modern states and to the development of Western civilization.
  •  They Came Before Columbus, by Professor Ivan Van Sertima.  A journey through hard evidence reveals an African presence in North, South and Central America describing how Africans from the ancient empire of Mali came to these locations as merchants as early as 1311, prior to European arrivals and the slave trade.
  • When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, edited by Norman Yetman.
  •  The Souls of Black Folk, by WEB DuBois.  An inside look at how the spiritual tendencies of Black people have often contributed to both their strength and wisdom – before, throughout and beyond slavery – and yet a naiveté and trust in human nature that allowed for conquest.

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Family & Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Edith McLoud Armstrong but most people just call me Mama Edie. You know, we can be haunted by many things but ‘hauntings’ are not bad. We can be haunted by a love that we once had that we will always, always remember. We can be haunted by the melody of a song that just won’t seem to go away. We can be haunted by many things. Let me tell you about a time when I was 13 years old and took my first trip to the Big Apple, New York City.

My sister Diane, who we now call Deanna based on her Spanish influence, she was living there with my aunt Bill, (Wilhemenia), and we stayed in Harlem on 156th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. Not too far from St. Nicholas Place where my grandfather, my maternal grandfather, used to live and participated in the Harlem Renaissance. So, this was a time where I got a chance to connect with not only my sister but the spirit of my grandfather.

And I got to go to Harlem. I had heard so much about Harlem. I’d heard some scary, scary things about Harlem but when I got there, I loved it. I mean, the kids were great. They knew where all the best comic books were; we got all the best Superman and Archie comic books. And we got all the wonderful records. And even when I got back to Chicago, my friends thought I was hot stuff because in the east, in those days, the music hit those areas before they came to Chicago. So, I had music that hadn’t even hit our charts yet. So, I was really popular, you know. Well, New York was great. But then, after a couple of days, my Aunt Bill decided to take me to D.C. She offered to, “You wanta go to Washington?”

“Yeah, I would love to go to Washington.” Where the president lives and all these wonderful monuments I had only heard of or seen on TV.

So, we took a train and when we got there to the station, I had never been on a train ride before. And the sound the vibrations of the engines, thundering, just vibrated all through my body, and hearing the bells, and whistles, and everything. It was so exciting. And, and hearing people laughing and chattering and seeing little children pulling their little suitcases behind them. It was the cutest thing. And I was having a ball just being there. Well, we got to D.C. and we went to visit Aunt Bill’s friends. And they were very nice and they were very accommodating. And then the next day, Aunt Bill took me on a bus tour and with this bus tour, we went all around D.C. and saw all the different monuments and what have you. And then, we started leaving the city and going into Maryland and Virginia and we started coming upon these beautiful, arrogantly, sprawling plantations.

And there was one particular plantation though, that we went to, where we were going to stop and get off the bus and go inside. And everyone was going to look around. So, while we had pulled up there near the entry way, the bus driver was giving us a bit of a history about it. And he was talking about the flowers, and most of the people on the bus happened to be older white women. And I think they must have been from some organization or something. They all seemed to know each other and they were excitedly chattering and talking about the beautiful gardens. And they couldn’t wait to get off the of, of the bus to just, kind of, walk around the grounds and see. So, they began to make their descent from the bus. And Aunt Bill also got up. She was sitting in an aisle seat right beside me so she got up and she started going towards the door to also get off. When suddenly, she turned and realized that I had not moved. I was still sitting there in my seat.

So, she came back to me and she said, “Come on Edith. Don’t you want to get off and go see the grounds?” And I couldn’t. I told her that I couldn’t go.

And she said, “Why, what’s the matter?” And she sat down beside me. And all of a sudden, I just began to cry. These quiet tears just began to come down. What had happened was that, just beyond my window there was a tree that looked so sad. And it had branches that seemed to extend upward and outwards as those longing for something. And I knew as I had been looking at that tree even before Aunt Bill got up to get off the bus. And I’m looking at this tree and everything within me told me that someone had been hung from that tree. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that people were often hung from trees on the sides of the road as a warning to the other blacks and Native Americans who would dare to consider escape. So as Aunt Bill was sitting beside me, I couldn’t, at 13, explain to her what I had been feeling but it was as though she knew. She put her arm around me and as I cried, she just rocked me. And we simply sat there in silence. I realized that day that…sometimes when people share a history some things just don’t need to be explained.

Special Blends: A Youthful Perspective on Multi-Cultural, Multi-Ethnic Heritage

 

Story Summary:

 Amber, Misty, and Autumn – three multi-ethnic sisters – offer a sneak peek into their thoughts about self-identification. These storytellers also share a medley of emotional experiences about how they have sometimes been viewed by others. From skin color to hair texture, from humor to poignant reflection, these dynamic young women personify Dr. Maria P. P. Root’s, Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Special-Blends-A-Youthful-Perspective-On-Multi-Cultural-Multi-Ethic-Heritage

Discussion Questions:

  1. Should agencies require people of mixed heritage to check one box for their “race”? Why or why not?
  2. Does not choosing just one race imply that a person of multi-ethnic heritage is somehow denying any one part of his or her heritage? Explain.
  3. What are some challenges that may arise for multi-ethnic siblings?
  4. Some believe that since the number of people of mixed heritage has increased, that being “mixed” is no longer a “big thing”. Do you agree?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi! My name is Amber Saskill and these are my sisters.

This is Misty (Hi!) and this is Autumn Joy (Hi!) and we are affectionately called the Sass Lasses and we’re a multi-ethnic background. So our story today is called “Special Blends.” It’s a youthful perspective of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic heritage.

Now we’re a blend of Jewish, African-American and Native American heritage. And the interesting thing about our three blends is that at one point in time, they were all persecuted or oppressed. For example, there was the Jewish Holocaust. There was the captivity enslavement and enslavement of our African ancestors and then, too, our Native American people. They were massacred and their land was taken away from them. But the interesting thing about people who have been enslaved, persecuted and oppressed is that they become stronger, more resilient people and we’re products of that. And even though, personally, I’ve been able to relate always to my different… my different cultures, piece by piece, it was interesting how by watching two films that really helped me to see the plight of mixed people in other areas of the world.

For instance, in South Africa there was a film during apartheid. And apartheid was racial segregation that took place from 1948 to 1994 and that’s during my lifetime. It wasn’t my mom’s generation or my grandmother’s generation; that happened in my lifetime. And to know that people of mixture were persecuted and oppressed because of the way they looked, that really touched me. And in this one film in South Africa, it talked about a girl who looked mixed and she associated herself with that even though that her parents looked visibly white. And even though she associated herself as being mixed, she was outcast from society and disowned by her very own family. And that really touched me on a deep personal level! And, in addition to that, I watched a film that took place in Australia. And it was the true life story of… in the mid 1900’s how the Aborigines and Australians, how they mixed together and had children that, later on, were actually discriminately called half caste. And these half caste were corralled and put into re-education camps where they were tried to be bred out of existence by being sort of diluted so that there was never any evidence that they ever existed before. And that’s called, actually, “the stolen generation.” And to think about these people that were actually sought after because they were mixed, that touched me so deeply!

That is so scary! In an attempt to eliminate a visual reminder of such a union, you know. And on a different level, that’s kind of what happened to my mom and me. We were getting ready to perform for this great storytelling festival. And before we could even get started, the festival coordinators, they slapped this big old sensor bar right across two of our stories. My mom was going to perform a story; it was a really funny fiasco of what happened when she and my dad first got married. (OK, I love that story!) And I was going to perform a story called “My Two Grandmas,” which is really close to my heart. And it’s a story where I bring to life memories of my Grandmama Rose and her Afro-Choctaw background and my Gram Blossom with her Russian-Ukrainian-Polish-Moroccan-Jewish background. And it’s one that tells of how they are from two different worlds but at the end of the story, you see that they’re really dynamic women. And they taught us, their granddaughters, to be dynamic women ourselves. But they did ask us remove the story and those two stories. And so we did; we’re professionals. But we did write a formal letter of complaint and we received a written apology back. But at the end of the day when the sun had set, we had been asked to compromise. And that’s pretty much my life. I’m mixed. I am asked to compromise.

And, really, as surprising as it may seem, as mixed people, we have to compromise all the time. It actually makes me think of something that happened to me not too long ago. A couple of years ago, I went to the DMV to apply for my learner’s permit and I filled out all the paperwork and I turned it in. And the woman behind the desk curtly informed me that I had forgotten to choose a race. And I politely told her that there was no box that says multi-racial so there was no box that I thought was appropriate for me to check. And she impatiently told me that I should just pick one of my races. And it’s funny this… this question comes up so often as… as people with mixed heritages. The infamous question, “What are you?” ((Right!)

And my first inclination is to say, “Well, I’m a human. I’m a woman. I’m a teenager. I’m a musician. I’m a student. I’m a sister, a daughter and a friend.”

Now I know if I ever really responded like that, their response would probably be, “No, really! What are you?” But, really, this is a really difficult question to answer because what I am or rather who I am involves so much more. Who I am is not… cannot be defined by checking black or white or any other box. Who I am is a complex amalgamation of my cultural influences, my experiences, my family, my friends, my beliefs and my interests. Some of these things change all the time. So for me to choose one of those boxes would be not only labeling myself but forcing me to identify with only one of my ethnicities. And that’s something I refuse to do because I identify with all my ethnicities. (And really it’s so true! Why would you forsake mother or father?) (Exactly!)

Yeah, and on a different note, in any typical family, siblings might look different and have different likes and dislikes. And I think in our family, we’re the same way. My sisters and I, we have differences; we have similarities. And I think that my two sisters, actually, they kind of favor each other a little more and I feel like I look a little bit different. So I think that our experiences as mixed children are different as well, especially my experience. I think, depending on where I go, I’m described as different ways. Like in some cultures, I’m described as the red-toned one. In other cultures or countries I’ve been to, they describe me as la morena or the darker one. But still in other cultures or societies I go to, I’m described as the light-skinned one. So there you go! I’m red, I’m dark, I’m light but still depending on where I’m at, my experiences are different than those of my sister… my sisters. And too, I really feel that because I look a little different than them, I would shudder to think that if that caste system, that racial segregation still existed to this day, what would happen with us? Would we be segregated from one another?

That’s something to think about. You know and if we’re not being judged by our skin or eye color, then we’re being judged by our hair. (Yeah!) And as you can plainly see, we’re curly girls and we’re very proud of it. And what do they say? “You don’t talk politics, you don’t talk religion and you don’t talk hair texture. (Right?) And titles like good hair versus bad hair is just unfair. We believe that all hair types and textures are beautiful and to be celebrated. In fact, a singer India Arie… she sings a song.

Oh yeah! Is that the one that goes something like this? “I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within.”

(Very true words.) Yeah! I couldn’t agree more. And a friend of mine got married to a man of another race and so they had a bi-racial daughter. And she inspired me to write this kind of lighthearted book geared towards tween… tween girls. You don’t even have to be mixed, just have curly hair to appreciate it. And this is an excerpt from that book,

I got into a fight one day, a rough and tumble with my hair.

I hadn’t combed it in two weeks so all would stop and stare.

My comb jumped in and tried to help but the fight just wasn’t fair.

It wrestled, it teased, it lost some teeth, got lost up in that hair.

The more I pried, the more I cried, the bigger it would grow.

I could not deny, from each side, it had turned into a fro.

And then I passed the mirror and I sucked my lip back in.

An idea began to gather and I grabbed some bobby pins.

My hands twirled and tucked those curls and, much to my surprise,

They calmly let me shift them, shape them into a design.

No longer were they rebellious. No nothing of the kind.

It was I who needed to see; it was I who had been blind

To the great beauty these curls so majestically possess.

Yes, with African-Cherokee-Choctaw-Iroquois-Jewish, I’ve been blessed.

So from that day forward, I pledged a pledge that with our hair or eyes or skin,

Never again would I define my heritage to fit in

With other girls

Who have no curls.

No, I’ll never feel chagrined.

They say the eyes, color aside, are the window to the soul.

So, too, this hair, curled everywhere, is gorgeous, free and bold!

(Woo! Love that bold) (Me, too!)

Well, I’m sure that my sisters agree with me that although as people with mixed heritages, we face so many difficulties but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. We’ve been called names like Oreos, mutts. We’ve been even called mulatto, which is actually a Spanish term for a mixture between a donkey and a horse. So we’ve been called many names but thanks to our parents Rick and Sadarri Saskill and our grandparents, we truly have been able to see that each of us are a deliciously concocted, “special blend!”

 

Unsung Hero: How My Uncle Was Saved from the KKK

 

Story Summary:

 Sadarri retells a story of heroism that her mother, Rose, remembered as a child. The story takes place in Holly Springs, Mississippi in the late 1920’s when Sadarri’s Uncle Carl was set to be lynched for “speaking out of turn”. This story is about the unlikely hero who saved the life of Carl Esko Lucas who was truly a Black man dead and resurrected from the dust.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Unsung-Hero-How-My-Uncle-Was-Saved-from-the-KKK

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What effects did the jailing of Carl and the actions of the KKK have on his family?
  2. Why is the story called Unsung Hero?
  3. Was the deputy the only hero in the story? Explain. What does being a true hero mean to you?

Resources:

  • They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case, (By Chris Crowe)
  • Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till
  • (By Simeon Wright and Herb Boyd)
  • Online Resource: http://www.myhero.com/go/home.asp

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • European American/Whites
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Sadarri Saskill. It’s about 1992 and my mother, she went back to her hometown of Palm Springs, Mississippi to visit. And she hadn’t been there, ah, very recently and so she was taking pictures all around. And finally, my mom and my dad ended up downtown. And my dad took a picture of my mom in front of this plaque. And on this plaque were the names of war heroes that were engraved right there.

And so they came back to, to Naples, Florida where we lived, and they showed us the pictures. And when we got to that particular picture, it was crystal clear. And I remember, my mom and I, we read the names that were on the list. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed that my mother had a look in her eye and it was a look that I couldn’t quite put a bead on. I didn’t know what it was about but I knew that there was a, one last name that was on that plaque that ended up sparking a story. And it was a story about my mother’s brother, Carl.

My uncle Carl who was almost lynched by the KKK, by the mob, by the Klan, okay. I had never heard this story before. And when I did I was horrified. I, kind of, bristled up and everything. But then when I turned and I looked at my mother, her expression was somehow softer. So I got to thinking, well, maybe it was a long time ago or maybe she was kind of numb because of all the emotion and everything. But then she told the story, I figured that couldn’t be it because she was telling you so vividly, you know. She talked about the, the white mass against the dark sky and, and she talked about remembering the smells and the sounds that were in the air. It was something else that was going on.

Well, as she told the story, she told that, my uncle, he had been accused of talking to a white girl. And sometimes in some places in Mississippi, that was punishable by death. And here he was, he spoke to a white girl the wrong way. And so people decided that they were going to be able to take action. Now what happened was that same day they put my uncle in jail. And here he was in the jail and there was a deputy that was going to watch over him.

But in the meantime, the mob was so upset, that they wanted to make an example out of my uncle. That what they did was, they decided that they were gonna storm the jailhouse. But they did not know who they were reckoning with! Mm hmm! Because when they got there, my Grandfather Bill, he had gotten together a black posse of his own. And he was going to stand toe to toe with the Klan. Now that’s not something that happened in the 20s and 30s in Mississippi. It didn’t happen that way. But he stood there face to face with this formidable group of people.

Well, it seemed like all was lost. And the numbers were just not even, so that the number of blacks that were there. I remember that I started thinking about them with my mother and what she was telling me the story.  And I thought these men, that were black going against these men, who were white. At the time, that was something else because they were going to put their lives in jeopardy. They were going to put their families lives in jeopardy. And I remember telling my mother that these men were real heroes. And they were, because you mess with the Klan, mm hmm, and not live to tell about it. You didn’t do that because the Klan, they meant business.

So here they were face to face. And the mob, they could see that they were outnumbered. So the people in the mob they decided that what they were going to do was, they were going to go back and they were going to regroup. And they were gonna come back with more men before dawn because the next day, that’s when the trial was going to happen. This so-called fair trial was supposed to happen that next morning. And so when all of this happened, each group, the black group and the white group, they went in their separate directions in order to regroup. Whatever the outcome is gonna to be, we knew from this story that was being told to the family, that was going to be a whole lot of bloodshed before the sun came up.

Anyway, at dawn my grandfather, he came with all of the men that he had. But guess what? The mob had beaten them to the punch. They were already there at the jail house. And then, my mama, she, kind of, had a little smirk on the side of her face. And she told me that the mob and the deputy were fit to be tied. And you know why? Because my uncle, Carl Esko Lucas, had escaped like Houdini. They said that Carl, he was gone like a turkey through the corn. That’s the way my mother put it. That he had escaped!

So you can imagine the relief, the relief that my mother’s family felt. They feel so happy that he was safe. But they were a close family and they knew that Carl would always manage to be able to get a little message or something to them. But there was none. There was nothing. They waited a little bit longer. And there still was no message. So they got the wondering and they started thinking that wait a minute. And then rumors started trickling in. You know how rumors are. And the rumor had it that maybe, maybe Carl had  not actually escaped. Maybe the mob had actually killed Carl and dumped his body someplace because it was plenty of rivers and ravines in and back woods that they could hide a body, you know. And the reason for that would be that my mother’s family, the Lucas’s, they were a good  family. They were an outstanding family. They were a respected family. They never did anything wrong to anybody, in fact, they always lend a helping hand. Didn’t make any difference if it was black, if it was white. They were going to help out. And so maybe the mob got to thinking that they could kill him, have their vengeance, you know.  But they can appease the townspeople at the same time. And it would be a win-win situation.

Well, you know, time went on and what we ended up finding was, as the time passed, the angrier my mother’s family got. Weeks went by, months went by, years went by. In fact, my grandmother, Miss Etta, she died. And then about 10 years later, look who came like somebody resurrected from the dust, walking up the road. Nobody else then Carl Esko Lucas. And when my mother told me that part of the story, I said, “What? Who? He did what?” And she said, “Yep.  He came walking up the road with enough information to set the story straight.”

And so Carl told the truth. He told what exactly had happened that night long ago. Long ago when those two groups of men, the white group and the black group, when they separated and they were there alone in the cell. It was the deputy that ended up helping my uncle escape. He gave ‘im some food, he gave ‘im a little money, he gave the names of, of white folks that could help him on his, on his trip up north. But the two men, they had to make a solemn promise. They couldn’t tell a soul so that nobody’s family would get killed. And my mom said that her brother told her, my uncle, that they sealed it with a hug and they never saw each other again. And it wasn’t until that deputy and the members of that angry mob, until after they had either died or they moved on, that my brother, my mother’s brother, Carl, felt that it was safe to be able to return. And so they could recognize that it was because of love of family that he left and it was love of family that brought him back.

Now you remember that plaque? Mm hmm. The one that my mother showed the picture of? It was that last name that was the same as that deputy’s name. It was that name that was right there that triggered all these memories. And I remember, my mother, she told me that there’s good and there’s bad in every race. And my mother told me, she says, some people are recognized for the good deeds that they do and their names are put on, maybe, a plaque just like this. But there are other people that step up to the plate and they become heroes without anybody ever knowing about it at all. And that’s when I recognize that, that look that was in my mother’s eye. It wasn’t the look of horror. It wasn’t a look of disgust. It wasn’t a look of hate. It was a look of gratitude. Gratitude for a man who was bold enough to do the right thing.

Plastic Glory

 

Story Summary:

 Linda’s grandmother lived in what her sisters and she called “The Plastic Palace.” Her grandmother covered everything with plastic. Everything … chairs, tables, lampshades … and, of course, her living room couch, including the throw pillows. Plastic is fun, right? But who would suspect that it could also set off a painful memory of the Vietnam War for Linda’s father?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Plastic-Glory

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What intrigues you about the home of your grandparents or other older people? What do you smell, taste, hear, or touch when you visit their homes?
  2. How does the description of food add to the visual image of the dining room scene?
  3. Were you surprised at the twist near the end of the story? How did her father’s reaction to the popping sound affect you?
  4. Do you know someone who has fought overseas in a war? Have you ever talked with them about their experiences? If you could, what would you ask?
  5. The term ‘shell shock’ has been changed to ‘post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What do you know about it?

Resources:

  • The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You about What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War by Kevin Sites
  •  Once a Warrior–Always a Warrior: Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home–Including Combat Stress, PTSD, and MTBI by Charles Hoge
  • What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Family and Childhood
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Linda Gorham and I remember my grandmother’s obsession with plastic. She covered everything with it: furniture, accessories. Now, I know this was universal. I meet a lot of people tell me that their family covered things with plastic. When I was young though, back in the 60’s, actually, I thought it was a black thing. But I learned that it’s pretty universal. I loved visiting my grandparents’ house because there was no dust. There was no dirt. There was no stain in her house, at least not under the plastic, you know what I mean.

But when I would go there, well, I would go on plastic hunts to discover all the ways that she had used plastic. It was really, really cool. In the living room, there were white lamps, you know. Regular lamps with big white shades? Those white shades were covered in plastic, of course. In the hall closet there were wooden hangers, all of those wooden hangers were covered with a plastic bag from the cleaners. I remember the hallway to my grandparents’ house. It was a long hallway that started at the foyer and it went all the way back to the kitchen. And covering that hallway was a gray hallway rug but to protect the rug it was covered in plastic. You see where I’m going with this, right?

In the dining room, there were dining room chairs. They were gorgeous and they had cushions on them that were kind of paisley. But to protect the cushions, they were covered in plastic. You know something cool about plastic cover,s dining room chairs when you sit down on them? They exhale. Aah. then, when you get up they inhale. Ooh. It’s kind of cool jumping up and down on them. Aah. Ooh. Aah. Ooh.

But the thing I remember that was the most fun, was the living room couch in my grandparents’ house. Yes, it was covered in plastic but this part I will never know how this happened, the pillows, throw pillows, they were covered in plastic too. But…I figured out a way to jump on that couch and to make a loud noise like POP. And I called it the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. I loved making the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. I love saying the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. My grandmother didn’t approve. But that’s another story.

Well, when I was about 12 or so, my father, who was in the military, announced that he was being transferred. No actually, when I think about it, I was probably more like eight. And so, we moved from New Jersey, where he was stationed, up to Alaska, and then to Fort Benning, Georgia – two transfers. And then while we were in Georgia, my father said to me that he was being, well, not transferred. He used the word I had never heard before – deployed. He was being sent to Vietnam and while he was gone, he told my mother and my two sisters that I had at that point, he said, “You’re all going to go back and live with my parents,” he said. My grandparents, his parents, my grandparents. And the next thing I knew, my father was shipped off to Vietnam and I was back in the plastic palace. That’s what I called it.

Now, I was a little bit older – that’s when I was about 12. But my sisters, well, they didn’t really remember all the plastic stuff so I took them on a hunt, you know, to show them that the things; the, the chairs and the, the plastic on the hangers and all the things that my grandmother covered in plastic. The best thing was that couch because you know what I taught them. How to make the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. My youngest sister, Carol loves being able to say “fart” out loud. But I was older, and truthfully, I was the only one who really understood where my father went. And I guess, it’s also fair to say, I was the only one of the children who realized that he may not come back or he may not come back the same. So, plastic took on a different, it just it was different for me. I wasn’t interested in all the other things that Gail and Carol liked.

I remember before my father left, he gave me a plastic globe and he showed all of us where Vietnam was. And I remember sitting in my room, at night, trying to put my finger approximately on New Jersey and try to stretch my thumb to Vietnam. It was a long way away. But somehow, just touching that plastic globe made me feel closer to my father.

I can remember every night, at 6 o’clock, my mother and I would sit on the living room couch, our bodies stuck to the plastic, and our eyes glued to the television set. Because every day at 6 o’clock, on the news, we’d watch. We’d watch to see if my father’s unit had been in battle. And we watched those names of fallen soldiers scroll down the screen. More names after more names after more names; too many names.

I can remember the day that my father came home. The doorbell rang his special code, three rings.  And my sisters and I screamed, “Daddy’s home!” And we went running and slipping down that long hallway runner and into his arms. I think, and I don’t really remember, but I, re, kind of think he picked all of us up at the same time. And there was so much laughter and joy and tears in that foyer. It must’ve lasted forever. But I remember when he finally put us down, and did all the kissing and hugging, he, he walked down the hallway runner hung, his coat up in the closet. And then he walked over to the dining room table ’cause there was lots of food on that table. macaroni and cheese. My grandmother made the best macaroni and cheese in the world! I didn’t know back then, the most fattening macaroni and cheese in the world. But hey, who cared. And a whole stack of steaks. My father sat down on those plastic cover dining room chair cushions. And cushions, exhaled. Aah. Daddy’s home.

We had so much fun that day! At the dining room table, we ate, we talked, we laughed. And when Gail and Carol were finished eating, I remember, they excused themselves, which is a good thing to do, you know, and went into the living room. Now I wasn’t going to go over there where that couch was… you know, what I’m saying? And it wasn’t long before we heard it. POP, the ultimate plastic couch fart. I started to laugh and a few other people did too. But I looked at my father. He had jumped up from his seat. His eyes had just grown in size and his head was gyrating from side to side and his whole body was shaking. And I was scared for him. And I was scared for me. I learned a new word that day, shellshock. And I learned that, well, my father had come home from the war, but, unexpectedly, the war had come home with my father.

Now, I don’t remember how long we had to be quiet around him. It was weeks or months. I don’t remember but he did recover. That’s the good news. But I will tell you that, that night after everybody went to sleep, I helped my grandmother take the plastic off that living room couch and those dining room chairs. Because at my grandmother’s house, even though plastic used to be cool, now, plastic took a back seat when it came all too real.

Shadowball

 

Story Summary:

 Learn what the term “Shadowball” meant if you were a person of color who played baseball in segregated America in the 1920’s and 30’s. Bobby brings to life famed baseball players such as Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige, as he explores their triumphs and sacrifices.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Shadowball

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Compare and contrast the career of “Cool Papa” Bell to that of a white player of the same era. What white player would be comparable to “Cool Papa” Bell?
  2. How would Satchel Paige be treated if he were playing in major league baseball today?
  3. Was Satchel Paige “the first” to lobby as a free agent before Cat Fish Hunter and Curt Flood?

Resource:

  • Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns – DVD by PBS

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Bullying
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Bobby Norfolk and I will be doing an excerpt from a piece, a one-person show called Shadow ball.

Hello, my name is Bell. James “Cool Papa” Bell. Ha, ha, ha! I get to that in a minute.

But they had this thing back in the Negro National League, back in the day called shadow ball where the players would pretend in a pantomime. They’d be throwing balls from the mound connecting with the ball, catching pop flies and running bases. They call that shadow ball because Negro baseball players had to play ball in the shadows of white segregated America back in the day. Understand this, for 60 years, major league baseball owners and baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis bought Negro players in a so-called gentleman’s agreement.

But I joined the St. Louis Stars, back then a Negro baseball league. Heh, heh, heh! And I didn’t get my notoriety because of just my speed. I started off as a baseball player as a pitcher. You got that right, a pitcher.

I have knuckle ball that could tie batters up in knots. Now you gotta throw a ball softly without any spin or rotation on the ball. Get them batters all confused.

But then I got notoriety by my speed. I can run the base past in 12 seconds flat! Jesse Owens, that track star, he wouldn’t race me. He said, “Man, you one of the fastest men on the planet. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!

But one time, Oscar Charleston with the Kansas City Monarchs, on my same team, ooh, he was a no prisoner taken kinda dude. Klux Klan headed him down south and one day a Klansman took him up on his offer to confront Oscar Charleston. Oscar Charleston hit it to third. Pi-yow! Now he was runnin’ them bases and, all of a sudden, here’s the Klansman standing there, face in the sheet. “All right, boy! Whatcha gonna do?”

Oscar reached up, snatched the hood off the Klansman head. “Huh! You ain’t so big and bad now without your face being hid.”

“Ah,” people up in the bleachers, “Ah, that’s Mr.  Gilmore from the city council.” He ran back behind some bleachers, boogity, boogity, boogity!

Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh! They also call our circuit the Chitlin’ Circuit. Yeah, because we had to stay in the rat and roach infested hotels and motels. We couldn’t stay in them white places. We could rip the white stadiums but couldn’t wash up in the white showers. Had to go down to a colored YMCA down the street.

And you better not turn off them lights in them ole nasty motels because rats and roaches and bedbugs will come all out. Ooh, ooh! Turn on the lights. Could not sleep under those conditions.

But then, 1945 came. People started speculating that they were looking for a Negro player to make it into the majors and people couldn’t figure out who was gonna be. Was gonna be Satchel Paige? Judy Johnson? Was gonna be Josh Gibson? Me? And then they saw that young black cat Ollie.

UCLA, X- Army Lieutenant Jack Roosevelt Robinson. Jackie Robinson took no prisoners either. Oh, yeah, he had a temper. But Branch Rickey Branch, Rickey who owned the St. Louis Cardinals and then owned the Brooklyn Dodgers., he told Jackie Robinson that for three years, he could not fight back or talk back. And for three years, Jackie Robinson held all that anger in him no matter how many people dogged him out and, uh, gave all of them nasty comments to him.

And even in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was out there and people were throwing things out on the field. And then that white boy named Pee Wee Reese came up out of the dugout, put his arm around Jackie Robinson and whispered something in his ear. And all the haters stopped hating. Right there with that Kentucky-Cincinnati boy hug.

And when Jackie Robinson put on that uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers, that was the greatest day of my life. We finally could prove that we could hit, catch and run with anybody in the white major leagues. But by that time, after 22 years, my knees was wearing out.

You know, there was a baseball competition and some people said that the New York Giants scouts was looking. And so, Monte Irvin, another player with the Kansas City Monarchs, young boy, about half my age. You know what, I held back and let Monte Irvin win that title. That’s how he got chosen for the New York Giants.

But I tell you what. After I retired from the Negro Leagues, August 12th, 1974, I got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Worked as a custodian, worked as a night watchman in St. Louis City Hall. When I retired, I got a stipend from the baseball commissioner’s office and from city hall, St. Louis. But some people say that I was born too early. Huh, huh! That’s not true. They opened them doors too late. But I was a good father, good husband, good baseball player with the Negro National Leagues. And I am the one who all these other guys making thirty million dollars a year, they stand on my shoulders and that’s all I can tell you.

Negotiating the Narrows

RaceBridges highlights a short video for
your viewing and inspiration.

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Negotiating the Narrows

A short video story by Storyteller Susan Klein

Themes : Religious Differences.  Recognizing the various kinds of “isms”.  Hope for societal change that embraces diversity.

(Please be patient as the video may take a few moments to load.)

…….
As a young child Klein was intrigued by the mysterious practices of her Roman Catholic friends and neighbors. In the 1950s the Roman Catholic Church was still seen as somewhat foreign and was largely unknown or misunderstood by Protestant America. Although she was raised in the Methodist church, Klein was dazzled by Rosary beads, statues of saints, and the very mysterious Sunday Mass she attended with her best friend Debbie.    (more…)

STORY SHORT: Construction

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Construction
by Storyteller Jim May

www.storytelling.org/JimMay
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 9 Minutes, 30 Seconds.

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THEME
______________________________________________________________________________

Race and class shape our lives, but there are ways to overcome racism and classism.

(more…)

CONSTRUCTION

By Storyteller Jim May

 

Story Summary:

Storyteller Jim May relates his days working his way through school on a union construction crew; as well as the unions roll in softening the effects of classism and racism.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Construction

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever worked in a menial job with someone without an education but found that they had much wisdom and sound advice based on their natural intelligence, intuition and life experience?
  2. Have you ever worked in a job where you were kept on but someone was let go in spite of the fact that they were as good a worker as you? Was there some kind of prejudice involved around race, gender, sexual orientation, class or age?
  3. What is your feeling about labor unions? What was their role in ushering in the 40-hour week, getting paid for overtime and ending child labor among other worker benefits?

Resources:

  • Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel
  • Working Class in America by Eugene Debs
  • History of the U.S. Labor Movement: Labor Movement in the United States: Volume Two by Phillip Foner
  • Trail Guide For A Crooked Heart by Jim May (p. 12)

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

I was about 16 years old, somewhere in 1963. I had my first construction job, the first time, really, out of my little town, Spring Grove that I had grown up in. This was the first time I had the chance to work side by side with African-American workers and learned from them and learned a little bit about work, what the world of heavy construction was to them, being middle-aged and black versus the experience of a 17-year-old high school kid.

Well, it was the summer of 1963, and I got a job during high school summer vacation. It felt like my first real job, although the summer before that I had worked on a thoroughbred horse farm, and it was a real job, we worked six days a week, 11 hours a day sometimes. But it was farm work, the kind of work I grew up with; the working climate was a little more informal than my job during my junior year in high school, which was working for a union excavation company, concrete and excavation work. And this was the best company to work for. This company almost single handedly raised a good deal of farm boys out of the working class to the middle class during those years. Not many companies, that I knew of at least, were paying union wages at that time. Now my brother had gotten a job working for this company, and my brother was sort of a construction genius as it turns out, we were already beginning to realize that. He dropped out of high school but really could run machines, really understood everything about a construction project.

He got me the job. So, I was 16, 17, I didn’t know anything about construction, barely knew, which end of the shovel was up. I was the kind of guy the old guys were talking about, telling jokes about, sending the kid to the trailer to get a left-handed hammer. You know, I probably would have gone a couple of times before I figured out what they were doing to me. So what do you do with a dumb, fairly strong kid? Well, you give him the hardest, dumbest job on the job, and on this job we were pouring thousands of feet of curbing, cement curbing. And back in those days you had to take a steel form, by hand, drive it into the ground with sledge hammers and steel form pins. They poured the concrete between the curbing forms and then it all had to dry for several hours at least to set up, and then someone had to go and pull all those pins, and you did it basically with a crow bar and a chain. And you leaned over, set the crow bar against the steel form—you didn’t want to get into the concrete, because you’d notch it or make a dent in it if it was a little bit green. Sometimes the job was moving so fast that you had to pull the pins when the concrete was little bit green, and then you would just pull. You would bend over and take the crow bar and just lift with your legs and your back and pull; oh, some of them were close to an inch in diameter, those pins. And this was in Zion, Illinois, so it was Lake County, which was notorious for the clay-packed soil.

So, it was hard work, and no overtime; you got union wages, but someone would put the crow bar on the curb before you started in the morning. You got out of your car at exactly 8’o clock. You got back into your car at exactly 4.30, no overtime. Someone else would put the tools out. As the foreman would say, “All I wanna see from you guys is arse and elbows. You know, I wanna see you guys bending over, pulling pins. You’re not paid to think, you’re paid to work.” So that naturally was the job that the kids got, high school kids, college kids, “dumb kids” they called us and worse. So that was the low job on the crew.  Now, so basically that was my job and couple of other high school kids and a couple of younger college kids and two middle-aged black guys who knew a lot about construction, much more than we did, but they did not have any connections with the company. They were union, sent out “from the hall,” as they said, and they were right there with us doing the lowest, hardest job on the crew. And though they must have felt some humiliation to be in that position, they were always very kind to me at least and everyone as I remember. They gave us good working man hints on how to survive in heat and that kind of hard work. I remember I would look at my watch sometimes and would be suffering from that heat, pulling those pins, and they would say, “Oh, Jim, don’t look at your watch, don’t look at your watch, that will slow the time down. Never look at your watch!”

So, I just I had this sense of privilege that I was only sixteen and somehow had gotten into that position where these men had been working construction all their lives and hadn’t gotten any higher in the company than that particular skill, which required brawn and that was all. On the positive side, if it hadn’t been for the union they wouldn’t have been there at all, out in the “Ru-burbs” way out in the country. Where the company was based there wouldn’t have been any black men living, or very unlikely to have that position at all. So, the union was slowly changing things, looking back on it. But I also had this sense that there was an injustice. The work slowed down, and we got laid off. All the young kids got laid off, and these black guys got laid off. And I remember having a sense that maybe I wouldn’t be able to go to college, because my father had died that year before and there was no money and this was how I was going to go to college. And I remembered being called back and being very relieved but I didn’t see, didn’t hear those two black guys were called back and I asked about it but never received any information.

I was telling someone about this, and they said, “Did you ever bring this up? Or talk about the inequity?” Someone asked if I brought it up with the foreman. My first thought was I was afraid to even talk about the weather with the foreman. The foreman, you know, wore these state-trooper, mirrored-glasses and ran around screaming at people. He had a big bumper sticker on his car that said, “I don’t have ulcers. I give them.” He was known as “Firing Dick” I think was his name. But he eventually kind of took me under his wing and kept me working for several summers, helped me get through college. He was under that same pressure. When the owner would come, he would take his helmet off and put under his arm like a good cadet and take his glasses off and scurry right over to the boss’ big car. Everybody was under this kind of intense pressure. I think most of the workers that I worked with had grown up working class or were raised poor or the only alternative was farming, and farming was dying at that point in the late sixties, mid-sixties and seventies. And this was a union job, and you couldn’t afford to take care of yourself; if you were asked to do a job that wasn’t safe, you couldn’t afford to say, “I think I’d better wait till somebody gets here with some safety glasses or a helmet.” You just dug in and you just did the job, because it felt like survival. So everybody was under that system, and the owner of the company, there were all kinds of legendary stories about him starting out with nothing but a wheel barrow and cleaning the ashes out of wood burning stores and along Front Street in McHenry. So, the system was pretty locked in, but the union was the wedge that began to change things, I think that’s an important piece of it as well.

Use this video and story in your classroom with the Reflections and Discussions

http://racebridgesstudio.com/story-short-construction/

STORY SHORT: John Henry

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JOHN HENRY
by Storyteller Jim May

www.storytelling.org/JimMay
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 10 Minutes.

______________________________________________________________________________

THEME
______________________________________________________________________________

A metaphor for race in America that is both realistic and hopeful.
(more…)

STORY SHORT: You Never Know What the End’s Gonna Be

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You Never Know What The End’s Gonna Be
by Storyteller Diane Ferlatte

www.dianeferlatte.com
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 5 minutes, 20 seconds.

______________________________________________________________________________

 THEME
______________________________________________________________________________

Family Ties that moved from conflict to care and love across racial lines.
(more…)

STORY SHORT: Penny For Your Thoughts

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Penny For Your Thoughts
by Storyteller Diane Ferlatte

www.dianeferlatte.com
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 3 minutes, 55 seconds.

______________________________________________________________________________

 THEME
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Getting to know the person in front of you rather than focusing on the label.
(more…)

STORY SHORT: Next Town

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Next Town
by Storyteller Diane Ferlatte

www.dianeferlatte.com
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 5 minutes, 5 seconds.

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 THEME
______________________________________________________________________________

Maintaining pride and optimism in the face of prejudice and adversity.
(more…)

STORY SHORT: I Deserve to Be Here

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I Deserve to Be Here
by Storyteller Emily Hooper-Lansana

www.emilyhooper.com
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 7 minutes, 55 seconds.

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 THEME
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Crossing Color Lines to Reach for your Best.
(more…)

STORY SHORT: Finding Josephus

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Finding Josephus
by Storyteller Lyn Ford

www.lynford.com
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 5 minutes, 58 seconds.

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 THEME
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Small stories can teach us who we really are
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STORY SHORT: From Moon Cookies to Martin and Me

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From Moon Cookies to Martin and Me
by Storyteller Lyn Ford

www.lynford.com
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 8 minutes, 54 seconds.

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 THEME
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Working for peace and justice across faith and racial backgrounds.
(more…)

FINDING JOSEPHUS

By Storyteller LYN FORD

 

Story Summary:

When Lyn was young, “Finding Josephus” was a “legend” told by her father. But curiosity and research brought forth its reality, and a connection both to the lesser-known history of the Underground Railroad and the heart of her father’s story.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Finding-Josephus

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What is your personal definition of a hero?
  2. What adjectives can describe Josephus’ actions?
  3. Compare those words to your definition of a hero.
  4. In tough and easy times, our choices define us. Yet we sometimes see ourselves only as the names others call us. Reflect on an action or inaction you’ve chosen to take on behalf of others, and yourself. Give that action or inaction a name. Is that who you are? Is that the person you want to be?

Resources:

  •  Still I Rise poem by Maya Angelou. From the collection AND STILL I RISE, originally published by Random House, Inc., 1978.
  • The Escape of Jane: A True Story of the Underground Railroad by Henry Burke and Dick Croy. Boson Books, 1998.
  • What is Your Life’s Blueprint? speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., October 26, 1967. Available to read at www.drmartinlutherkingjr.com/whatisyourlifesblueprint.htm.

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

My name is Lyn Ford and I wanted to share a story about my childhood with my father who was my favorite storyteller. His name was Edward M. Cooper, but his nickname was Jake and he would tell me stories.  Sometimes we would be riding to help someone with some chore, and sometimes we would be riding to do an errand for someone else, my father helped everybody. Sometimes he shared stories late at night with me that I wouldn’t have heard on those rides.  He was trying to help me, I know that now.

It would be after a hard day at school and everyone would be asleep except for my father who has just come in from work and he would hear me crying and I would be by myself and he would tell me a story, because he would know I had a hard time during the day, being the only child of any color in a classroom that was called the fast learners, what we call now call “gifted”. And being the only African American, child in those days what was called a colored child, I was teased and taunted both by African American children and European American children and called names that hurt and I didn’t understand.

My father would get me up and tell me a story. One of them I remember very well.  He would tell me these stories and he used to say you need to know these stories.  You won’t find them in the history books. They don’t put our stories in those history books; they might put Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, but not these kinds of stories.  You need to know them to know who you are.

One of them was about a young man called Josephus, who was a slave from the time he was born and for many many years and he remained enslaved, the so-called property of a ferry man on the Ohio River, so that he could help others to escape to freedom. Well, as my storytelling career progressed I wanted to share the stories of the underground railroad, not the big stories that everybody knew but those little stories that came from my father.

I was trying to research them and I couldn’t find anything about that story that I remembered so well and so I thought maybe my dad had made it up, that it was one of dad’s legends and I was going through the work of Mr. Henry Burke, who is an African American folklorist and historian in Marietta, Ohio. I was sitting in the library reading some of his work and there were a few sentences about someone called Josephus.

My heart just stopped and I felt goose bumps up and down my arms and I know that I started to cry, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes as I saw that name and read that that was a code name for a slave on what was then the Virginia side of the Ohio River who helped folks to escape across the Ohio River for 50 years until Emancipation Proclamation came into place. That area is the mouth of Duck Creek, State Route 77, it goes from Ohio into West Virginia now across a bridge and in the history of Josephus it is said that he carried folks, two or three every month, across that river at the mouth of Duck Creek, so that they could be free before he was.

But my father’s story went a little differently.  He said that Josephus was purchased by a ferry man in that area when he was about 10 years old and the ferry man told him what he would do. “You help folks, get on the ferry.  You put their bags on the ferry, help them off on the other side, and put their bags off on the other side. You do what I tell you to do and don’t worry about anything else because you are too stupid to do anything else”.

And this went on and on and Josephus grew from a boy to an adolescent to a young man.  When he was grown and matured, an abolitionist from Marietta came across the waters at some other point in the Ohio River and said to Josephus, “Why don’t you take the ferry yourself and escape to the other side?  I could help you if you need, but why are you staying here? When, if you just take the ferry, you could be free?”

And my daddy said that Josephus said to that abolitionist, “Well, sir, I can’t. I am too stupid to know what to do. At least that’s what that man keeps telling me. But at night, when it gets dark, I must get a little smarter, because I have been helping folks run away across this part of the river for the past 20 years and that man ain’t caught me yet.  So he can call me what he wants to call me. I know who I am”.

And then my daddy would say words that helped me to remember this story even if I had lost many of his other tales.  “You got to know who you are, you got to remember that an adjective – like stupid – is not your name, you got to know these little stories to know who you are”.

PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

By Storyteller DIANE FERLATTE

 

Story Summary:

While sitting alone in a restaurant having lunch, Ferlatte notices an older white man also eating alone and looking sad and worried. When she tries to be friendly, the man responds with a grunt. Ferlatte starts labeling him in her mind as a “mean old white man.” Later, she corrects her own thinking by reminding herself that she doesn’t know anything about the man. Later, as he leaves the restaurant, the man pours out his story, sharing that his wife of 61 one years has recently died. The two end up having a brief conversation, and Ferlatte realizes the importance of reaching across barriers of race, culture, and generations in order focus on the person right in front of you.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Penny-for-Your-Thoughts

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think inspired Ferlatte to speak to the old man? How would you have felt if you had been Ferlatte, and the old man had grunted at you? What would you have thought about him?
  2. Have you ever tried to reach across a barrier (race, age, language, class, etc.) with someone you didn’t know? How did it go? Did you learn from that experience?
  3. Ferlatte manages her own initial reaction against the man. How does she do that? Have you ever had to talk to yourself to get yourself to think differently? When? Did it work?

Resource:

  • The Nature of Prejudice: 25th Anniversary Edition by Gordon W. Allport and Kenneth Clark

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Diane Ferlatte. I’m a storyteller. I’m gonna tell you a small excerpt from… a longer story but it’s a true story.

I was going to a school to tell stories. In the morning, I had two assemblies, had a quick lunch break, two assemblies in the afternoon. Well, I finished my two assemblies, rushed to a restaurant nearby and I told them I was in a hurry.

“Oh, don’t worry. We’ll seat you right away, ma’am.”

She brought me in, set me at a booth, gave me my menu. I made my order and I sat there to wait. While I’m waiting, I get a little warm. Whoo! So, I get up, I go to put my coat down on the seat opposite my booth. And when I do that, uh, I looked up and I see an older white man sitting in his booth, facing me and his eyes look blank. You ever see folks like that. He looked very worried and very sad.

So, I say to him, “Penny for your thoughts!”

And he kinda comes out of it and he said, “What did you say to me?”

I said, “Penny for your thoughts.”

He said, “Aah!”

And when he did that, I sat down with an attitude! All the little prejudices we all have, begin to bubble up. And I said to myself, “Mean old white man, why does he have to be so rude and so grumpy. I’m just trying to be friendly. Uh huh, mean old white man.”

But the more I sat there, I thought, “What are you doing? Why did you have to say, ‘mean old white man?’ Why even think that. You don’t even know what’s going on in that man’s mind. Why he might be looking so sad or worried. Chill out!”

So, I did. And I always bring a book to read looking for another story. His food comes first and then my food comes. So, I’m sitting there, you know, reading and eating, and reading and eating, reading and eating.

He finishes first and he gets up to go pay. But to go up front to pay, he has to pass my booth and when he gets to my booth, he stops. And I think, “Oh, oh!”

And then he leans over and he said, “What did you say to me?”

And I said, “Penny for your thoughts.”

He said, “Young lady, if you only knew. My wife died three weeks ago and I don’t know what to do.

I said, “I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what to do. I thought maybe I should say something.”

He said, “Well, you sure got that right. You believe, we were married 61 years!”

I said, “What! You were married 61 years… to the same woman!”

And that made him smile. Then he came really close to my face and he said, “You believe, I’m 90 years old?

I said, “What? You’re 90 years old? Let me touch you. I want to live to be that old.” I said, “You’re 90 years old, married to the same woman 61 years.” I said, “You are blessed; you are blessed. You don’t have to worry about a thing. Everything’s going to be all right.”

That old man tapped me on my left shoulder like this and he said, “Thank you, young lady. Thank you.” And he left.

But, you know, that old man didn’t have to stop and say anything to me. But he did. I didn’t have to say anything to him. But I did. Two cultures coming together in that one little moment of life. Two generations really, coming together in that one little moment of life. But you know what they say, “The most important person in this world is the one you’re with right now.” It’s a true story from my life. We all got ’em, ha!

BARTHOLOMEW

By Storyteller MARYGAY DUCEY

 

Story Summary:

 Bartholomew, an African American man who is the church custodian is a familiar figure to the congregation at Mary Gay’s church. However, when it’s rumored that African Americans are coming to their church and will be asked to be seated, suddenly the pleasant veneer of acceptance is exposed.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Bartholomew

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why could the people in Mary Gay’s congregation be welcoming to one African American man but feel threatened by other African Americans who would be seated with them as equals?
  2. How did churches become so segregated and why are so many still segregated today?

Resources:

  •  Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week by Scott Williams
  •  Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Emergence of Independent Black Churches 1760-1840 by Carol V. R. George

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • European American/Whites
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, I’m MaryGay Ducey. I’m going to tell you a story. This story is from when I was a pretty, small girl but not so small that I couldn’t remember a good story even at the time. I was about in the fourth, fifth grade, maybe a little younger, maybe a little older. We belonged to a Presbyterian church. And the church had the equivalent of soccer camp or music camp, except in those days it was called Daily Vacation Bible School and it was free. So, my parents were very interested in that, in that activity. And you could go two weeks and then go two weeks more. They wanted us to do all four weeks. Every year it was the very same one, the very same camp, we had two projects. First, we made Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors out of crepe paper. That took a long time because if you put one drop of liquid on crepe paper the entire coat disappears in front of your eyes. And the second one, was to make our Palestine home. Which was where people slept on the roof, and we put lots of sand up there, and we had little stick figures for our Palestine family. Every year same thing. We sang songs every day and camp, so-called, was held right in the sanctuary, which was a little magical because our preacher wasn’t there. We started the day, everyday, singing, “Oh, do Lord, oh, do Lord, oh, do remember me.” And they taught us The Disciples right away. But I always made a mistake. I was double the couple. Kind of. We’d sing, “There were 12 disciples. Jesus called to help him. Simon Peter, Andrew, James, his Brother John. Philip, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Thomas, Judas, (spits) and Bartholomew.”

In that very sanctuary, while we have Bible School, there was a man named Bartholomew. He didn’t have a last name. Not that I knew. He was a black man and he was a lay preacher in his own church on the weekends. He had, oh, 11 children. All of them were named for the disciples. And there was a Judy, the only girl. She was named after…well, Judy. So, every week we would talk to him because we had to choose a Bible verse, every one of us, and were presented to the whole congregation, with our proud and sweating parents, at the end of those two weeks. That’s a grave decision which one you chose. And somebody got, “Jesus wept,” right away, which was the best and easiest. So, it took us a while and we made our many, many, many… oh, little bits of, of clay things and all sorts of strange papers and drawings. We didn’t know what, really, we were doing but we had fun…except for that bible verse. We went home and talked to our parents but I talked to Bartholomew. My mom worked at the church sometimes and we would be there alone. And Bartholomew would have a great, big broom. He would sweep it around the floor; describe a great, giant circle. And I would follow him, just like a duckling. And say, “Bartholomew, you got a verse for me. You are a preacher.”

He said, “Oh I have.”

I said, “What is it?”

He said, “Oh, no. You have to choose your own verse. It has to mean something to you.”

I said, “It will mean something to me to have it.”

He said, “No, it doesn’t work that way.”

“So, how does it work?”

He said, “You choose one, tell me. I’ll, I’ll tell you whether I think it’s right.”

We have many kids in our school, our Bible School. One of them was called Piglet because his best friend was a bag of chips and he brought his best friend every day. Every day. Held it like a teddy bear. The kid named Kay Mullet. She was there. And somebody else named Ronnie. He was there. He cried every day. For years and years, he cried every day. But he learned his Bible verse faster than we did. I didn’t know what to choose.

There were strange times at home, in the city. My dad and all the men at church kept talking about when they might come into our church. I didn’t really know quite what they meant, but one night, I came home and there was a meeting of the elders of the church. All of them huddled around the kitchen table. And one of them said, “Well, I know when they come, if they try to come in, we’ll just call the cops. You know, black and white. You’re not supposed to be together in church. We’ll just call the cops.”

Ronny’s daddy said, “No, I don’t think we should call the cops. We just shouldn’t be welcoming. Just close the doors.”

My daddy said, “Well, let’s see what happens.” Could do this, could do that.

And the next day, I told Bartholomew what my Bible verse was. “Thou blowest nother, neither hot nor cold. And I shall spit thee out of my mouth.” That was mine. It wasn’t long before we were ready. Just about ready. As ready as children who are tired of Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors and who want to go home early and don’t want to listen to the sermon can be. Two days before that service, I waited in the pews with Bartholomew and I said, “Bartholomew, you got a church?”

He said, “Oh yes!”

I said, “When am I going to your church?”

He said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen for a while.”

I said, “Why?”

He said, “Well, sometimes people don’t feel comfortable visiting other churches.”

I said, “I feel comfortable.”

He said, “I know you do. Someday you will feel real comfortable and all of us will.”

I said, “Bartholomew, you’ve got, you’ve got your kids?”

He said, “Oh, yah, I do”

“So what do you guys do at home?”

He said, “We sing and we dance and we have fun.”

I said, ‘I’d like to come there.”

He said, “Well, someday, maybe.”

“I’ve got my verse.” And I told him.

His broom stopped right at the end of the verse and he said, ‘Well, MaryGay, that’s quite a verse.” That’s all he said.

The day before, on Saturday, the men met again and said, “I hear they’re coming pretty soon.” I wasn’t sure what that meant.

The next day, we lined up and sat on the edge, the edge of a stage, that functioned as a kind of an altar for us. Dressed in our Joseph’s Coats of Many Colors, crinkling and snapping, holding little cups of Kool-Aid, and praying, truly, that we wouldn’t drop them. And rehearsing our verses. Piggy, his verse was, “Thine appetite shall smite thee like a knife.” Kay Mullet’s was, “Patience in all things.” And then of course, there was the requisite, “Jesus wept.” And then, mine. I was about to say it. It was a hot day. It’s always hot in New Orleans. And the doors are closed. When there was a welcome, welcome breeze. The doors at the back, whoosh, had opened. And they had arrived. They were there, in my church. First standing, right at the front entrance, and then, very quietly coming in, coming in. It was Bartholomew and all his children.

And he said, “Be sure to let a stranger in. If you don’t, then you miss an angel unawares.”

And they began to sing, “Wade in the water. Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children. You, wade in the water. Wade in the water. God’s gonna trouble the water.

People started to get up and talk among themselves. My dad stood up as if to go, and then, Bartholomew put his hands up and he said, “There are many, many mansions. Many mansions in his kingdom. Many.” And his children, all dress so beautifully, turned and Bartholomew turned. And he looked out into the faces of the congregation looking, to find his place, in the House of the Lord.

ROOTS TO RAP

By Storyteller Rev. Robert Jones

 

Story Summary:

 Rev. Jones gives a rousing illustration of how today’s Rap Music has evolved from the Blues and earlier musical forms.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Roots-to-Rap

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Rap music has roots in jazz, blues, R&B and zydeco. How did these earlier art forms influence the beginning of hip-hop as well as today’s rap music?
  2. Rap is a musical art form but also a culture. What do you think are the positives and negatives of this culture?

Resource:

  •  Hip-Hop in Houston: The Origin and the Legacy by Maco L. Faniel

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures

Full Transcript:

You know, the blues really forms the basis of all of the music that we listen to now. There are a lot of great blues performers that people may not know their names but you know their music. And, in fact, their music becomes the source of our music. For example, one of the most important blues men of all time, one of my favorite blues, was a guy by the name of Eddie James House, Jr. They called him Son House. And Son was amazing.  Son was like your uncle, who knows everything. He would look at you and say things like, “There ain’t but one kind of blues. The real blues. The B-L-U-E-S blues. That’s the kind of blues that exists between male and female. Everything else is mucky junk. Now when you get that letter bordered in black, man, that’s bad news. They calls that the death letter. Now you do too much of the death letter blues, you’re liable to jump in the river and drown y’self.” (Silly Son House giggle) Then he’d take that old National steel guitar and play a couple licks on it like. (Guitar playing some blues)

(Singing)

I got a letter this mornin, how you reckon it read?
 It said, “Hurry, hurry, ‘cuz the gal you love is dead”
 I got a letter this mornin, oh, Lord, how you reckon it read?
 It said, “Hurry, hurry, ‘cuz the gal you love is dead.”
 
You know I packed up my little suitcase, took off down the road
 When I got there, you know, she was layin’ on a coolin’ board
 I packed up my suitcase, I took off down the road
 You know, when I got there, yeah, she was layin’ out on a coolin’ board

Now this song could go on for a really long time depending on how Son feels and how he wants to stretch out those verses. What I found out when I was in a school one time, talking about the blues, that you can do something else with this song. So, I always wait ‘til almost the end of the assembly and then I wrap up the song Iike this after a couple of verses. (Guitar playing some blues)  I’d tell the kids, “You know I would love to do this whole song for you but I don’t have time. You know, it’s got so many verses but if I modernize it. If instead of doing each verse twice, I’d do each verse once. If I sped up the song and faded the music out, it might become a little bit more familiar to modern audiences. So then we do “The Death Letter Blues 2010 Remake.” (Guitar playing some modern blues)

(Singing with ever increasing speed until becoming rap)

I got a letter this mornin, how do you reckon it said?
 It said, “Hurry, hurry, ‘cuz the gal you love is dead”
 You know, I packed up my suitcase,  I took off down the road
 When I got there she was layin’ out on a coolin’ board

I ease up closer to look down in her face,

I say, “Hey, you know, I love you but I just can’t take your place”

You know, it seem like stars were standing in front of me on the ground

I didn’t know how much I love you ‘til they put my baby in the ground

 

For my arms and legs, I walked away

I say, “Hey, I love you, have to see you Judgment Day”

You know, I woke up this mornin’, it was about the break of day

And I was huggin’ on a pillow where my baby used to lay

I went to church, bowed down, I tried to pray

But the blues come along and they blow my spirit away

 

Woke up this mornin’, it was about the break of day

I was huggin’ on a pillow where my baby used to lay

I said, “Hush” I thought I heard her call my name

She ain’t call so loud, but she called so plain

Yeah, boy.

STORYTELLER RAP

By Storyteller Michael McCarty

 

 

Story Summary:

Michael’s poem about the importance of reading, storytelling and what he learned from his mother.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Storyteller-Rap

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Who inspires you?
  2. What can be said in rhyme that isn’t expressed in a narrative?

Resource:

  •  Story Smart: Using the Science of Story to Persuade, Influence, Inspire and Teach by Kendall Haven

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

When I was a boy my mama told me,

I could be anything I wanted to be.

Reading to her the mind was the key

To make my dreams a reality.

She said as long as I kept my head in a book,

It didn’t matter what direction life took.

More than beauty, wealth, and fame,

Knowledge is the key to the power game.

My mama, gave me the knowledge I would need

And in my mind, she planted the seed.

She nurtured that seed with a mother’s love

And prayers for guidance from powers above.

As I grew to be a man, there were times of my life

Full of hardship, I’m talking buku strife.

But in those times of difficulty,

I never forgot the things that my mama told me.

There was a time a few years ago,

I was confused about where my life would go.

Around this time I just found out,

What storytelling was all about.

I’d heard stories from Peninnah Schram, Joel ben Izzy,

Sybil Desta, Elle Erato, and Leslie Perry.

Listening to these folks inspired me,

I said, “A storyteller! That’s what I’m gonna be.”

Was I committed telling tales, took off like a rocket,

Now I’m living by my mama, have mouth, will run it.

Hope this little tale inspires you,

To make a go at something you really want to do.

Thanks for listening. It’s been slammin’

We’ve been getting down, oh, we’ve been jammin’.

JOHN HENRY

By Storyteller Jim May

 

Story Summary:

 This is a true story set in rural McHenry County, Illinois in the 1920s and 1930s about John Henry Higler, a man who claimed to be former slave who assimilated into an all white farm community.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: John-Henry

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you imagine living and working in a community where there was no one who shared your background and “race”?
  2. Do you think this account of John Henry being a beloved member of a white farming community in the early part of the 20th century is hopeful or simply a story that whites told to assuage their guilt about white privilege?
  3. Have you ever gone to a graveyard and imagined the stories behind the people buried there?

 

Resources:

 

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity

Full Transcript:

I grew up in Spring Grove, IL, a little German Catholic farming community about 60 miles northwest of Chicago. And my family has been there for about five generations; they came probably in the 1840’s.

Growing up, I had heard off and on the story of, it seemed to me perhaps like a legend at that time, of a black man buried somewhere in Spring Grove in one of the cemeteries. And there was talk that he had been held in slavery in some time in his life in Tennessee. I probably forgot about that story for years and years. But when I got interested in family history and storytelling, I started digging around a little bit and came across the very person to come across, an 80-year-old man, Tommy Madden, who had been one of my father’s best friends. And Tommy and another acquaintance of his, Jim Holderman, had known this gentleman from Tennessee.

They all referred to him as John Henry, which of course is ironic: John Henry is the mythical hero of black American folklore who won the race with the steam hammer and maybe that’s why John Henry took his name. I’m not sure, but he had come out to Spring Grove, a little side-tracked town, come off of Chicago apparently.

In fact, the story was that he had left Tennessee, either been emancipated at the end of the Civil War perhaps or had escaped, no one knew for sure. But he had come out to Chicago, which makes some sense. But he had told everybody that he met in Spring Grove that he found things too “sportin’” in Chicago.

So he was looking for a quieter place, and he found the right place: in Spring Grove there wasn’t much sporting going on. Nearly 200 people and four taverns and two churches, that was about it. But he worked for farmers there; he was a hired hand, a live-in hired hand. And he found one family, the Stevens family, that particularly took an interest in him, and he lived with that family and worked with that family for years and years.

In fact, he worked often in the farm house helping Mrs. Stevens, and the story was Mrs. Stevens said she just couldn’t part with John Henry, that she would send her husband down the road before she let go of John Henry. He was so helpful to her, he loved children. There was a story that he would sit around the big dining room table, big farm family, and he always liked sitting next to the baby. He liked feeding the baby. And he would read the newspaper; he couldn’t read, but he would hold the newspaper and make up the story. One of the boys, the youngest, I was told by his brother, just wouldn’t go to sleep, wouldn’t go to bed, until John Henry helped him take his boots and shoes off and got him ready for bed.

But there was more of the story, of course. Things couldn’t have been easy for John living out there, the only black man for miles around. I remember this one story where they had a threshing and there were some day laborers hired from out of community to work. There was extra work to do when the grains had to be threshed, and a couple of these fellows were up high on a straw stack and they saw John below, maybe working on the machine, maybe oiling the machine, doing some kind of work beneath them, and they got the oil can and they squirted some oil on him as a joke.

I remember Tommy Madden saying, “John didn’t complain, he never wanted to bother anybody.” Of course, that was the internalized reality of being a slave: if you bothered someone, that might mean your life, your family might be sold down the river. But when the boss, the man who owned the farm found out about it, as they gathered around this big, incredible spread of food for the threshing crews, when the boss Mr. Stevens found out, he fired the two day laborers on the spot after what they had done because they humiliated John.

And old Tommy, who was 88-years-old, told me that story. I remember he was sitting on his couch there on a February afternoon and he had bib overalls on, and he was telling me that story about these two fellows that humiliated John being fired and he kind of raised his fist. I remember that he had a kind of gun metal blue nail on his fist and I remember him punctuating his word and saying, “That was the end of those fellows for what they did to John.”

“He felt a sense of justice there. I think perhaps the uniqueness of having someone who had been once held in slavery, the uniqueness of having a black man in the community, there was a certain deference paid to John. But I remember also hearing my relatives say that he would dance with the girls at church functions, and some of them wouldn’t like that.

He, even with the Stevens family whom he loved and they loved him, they would ask him to come into the front room after dinner in the kitchen, and, no, he would always sit alone in his rocking chair in the kitchen, not in the front room. Things must have been lonely for him, but the story of course was fascinating, and when I heard Tommy that day, that February day when I got this story from Tommy, he said, “I know where he is buried.”

This was new information to me. I heard he was buried somewhere in the county line, but I never met anyone who knew where he was buried. Tommy said he’s in the old cemetery on Wilmot Road. Down along the fence line, over in the north east corner, you’ll find John’s grave.

On that February day I said goodbye to Tommy and left Wilmot, Wisconsin and drove along Wilmot Road looking for the cemetery and found it of course. I knew where the cemetery was. But I walked back and forth, back and forth amongst those grave stones that late February afternoon and did not find the John Henry grave.

And thinking about his life and even so far away from anything that would have been a familiar experience for him of being a helping hand in slavery in Tennessee, far away from family, there was no family that anyone knew of, and I thought, finally, now, his grave is gone too. Even the memory was gone, kind of punctuating the loneliness of his life or that aspect of that life.

And I literally had given up looking for the tombstone and was heading back to my car, I almost stumbled on it. You know, how you give up looking for something and you find it? There at my feet was a very proper granite stone. I knew he had died in the county home and, so, I had already concluded that perhaps there was no marker at all. Perhaps a wooden cross that had rotted or nothing to mark his grave, but there it was: a very proper granite stone that said John Henry Higgler, and he died in 1947, the same year that my grandpa died.

The best of my memory was 1947, there on the stone. There was no birthday, because there was often no birthdays recorded for slaves, but there was a very proper stone and in front of that stone was a bright red, fairly new plastic flower.

And it occurred to me that those people who lived up there in that prairie, the English prairie, north of Spring Grove, had found a way to transcend race and culture and geography, and the monument to that connection that was made across all those challenges was that red rose, that red plastic rose that was there on that cold February day.

And perhaps that’s kind of a metaphor for our country, our culture. Racism is solid still, frozen like the ground was that February day. But here and there we see these patches of red, these signs of life and flowering. Thinking about it, now with the last presidential election, we have kind of a garland in a snow bank, you know we got Obama in the white house. That’s why they call it the White House, I guess. I don’t know. So, it’s still there in the old cemetery, John Henry, if you want to go, if you want to go check out the grave.

CHANGING NEIGHBORHOODS

by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 Sue grew up hearing about “them” – the people who would come and take her and her neighbors’ homes in their all-white neighborhood. When her family watched the Friday night fights, it was made clear who was “the other” and who was “us.”

 For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Changing-Neighborhoods

Discussion Questions:

  1. What activities did your family take part in that brought you closer together?
  2. To what “us” (or us-es) were you told, verbally or non-verbally, you belonged?
  3. Who were the “them”(or thems) when you were growing up?
  4. How did you make sense of racial dislike when you were younger?
  5. Were there areas of life where your community or family acted as though they were under attack?
  6. In what areas of life did/does your community or family take pride?

Resources:

  • American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass by Douglas S. Massy and Nancy A. Denton
  • The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Y. Moore

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

My family, we love to be on the winning team. Oh, we loved our sports. But no sport was watched as consistently, as, as devoutly, I’d say as religiously, as the Friday night fights. Awe, this was a great tradition in my family. My grandparents, who lived with us, came to live with us when I was six years old. They brought their tradition with them that you bet on the Friday night fights. Every Friday afternoon my grandma would show up with a hat, little folded pieces of paper, you put a quarter in, you picked out that piece of paper and have a number written on it. And that number stood for a round if there was a knockout in your round, you won the pot. You got the prize. Now, the Friday night fights in my house were very interactive, and I don’t mean that the adults just sat on the couch and yelled at the TV once in a while. No, I mean, they were up on their feet and in the ring with the boxers. Swinging, punching, taking blows, I mean, grunting away, yelling at the ref of course. “Awe, he hit below the belt, the ref needs new glasses! We were robbed!” And then, ding, the round would end and the adults would fall back on the couch, in true exhaustion. My brother and I would show up with the those towels. We’d pat their head, we’d give him sips of water and we pull on their teeth. Now we didn’t really know about mouth guards but we see the trainers do something with the boxer’s teeth. And then, ding, they’d be back on their feet and swinging. And my grandpa he’d point to us kids and say, “You, you could be a champion. Boxing is the game where poor kids become kings.” I loved those games for the fun, everybody was having. But actually, the game itself kind of scared me. And nobody seemed to answer my questions. I’d say to the adults, “Well, like, how can their mom and dad play the game if they could get so hurt?” And when the adults laugh and they point to me and say, “Because they’re making a lot of money, honey.” Well, we are making some money on the game if you won the bet, you know so that made some amount of sense.

Now all the adults, they also made side bets on who they thought would win the game. And the betting went like this. Vote for the white guy, if it was white against black.  Vote for the Mexican or the Cuban Boxer who is brown against black. And it was two black boxers vote for the light skinned man. Now there was this lot of hatred where I grew up and there was… it was all for one reason it seemed to me because this is what I heard about all the time when I was growing up, that there was a fight over turf, a fight over our houses. All the time I was growing up, it was like I was surrounded by this kind of ambush talk, this war mentality. I would sit on the front porches of 84th Street and I would hear things like, “Do you think Halsted Avenue will hold. I hear they took 63rd Street. All the time I was growing up, white people who had lived east of us in what they called changing neighborhoods, flooded into our parish like refugees from war, exiled from their parish. And night after night we would sit on the front porches of 84th Street and we would hear these new arrivals weep for their old parishes. But how they missed their skating parties or their championship volleyball team, the Holy Name Society they belong to, the altar guilds.

And once in a while I would drive with the ladies downtown, to go shop at Marshall Fields Department store.  And when we would cross that line, the colored line, from the all white neighborhood to the all black neighborhood. One of the ladies, who would come from one of changing neighborhoods, she might say, “Oh I, I wanta go see the old house and drive in. And we’d turn the corner, they’d say “Here it is.” And we’d turn the corner and they would be…  burnt out building, a boarded up building, no building at all. And the ladies would sit there and they’d cry and they’d tell it how it used to be in the old neighborhood. Their mothers, their dads, how the neighbors were so good to each other. Now, nobody explained to us why this had happened. About the real estate blockbusting, about how the banks had red-lined the neighborhoods. We never heard the reason why. It was just, this is what black people had done.

And you think they would they would have known something more about this. Maybe people didn’t think it through because they would tell us how they get calls in the middle of the night. Before they move, people would get calls from strangers terrifying them. They’d say things like, “You better get out now. Get out now while you still can. While, while your kids are still safe. While you can still get a good price for your house.”  And people had pledged each other,  this what they do in the old neighborhoods, when they’d say, “Our neighborhood is going to hold. If we don’t move out they can’t move in.” But you keep getting these calls the night. People would sneak out under cover of night. They’d make their deal with the real estate agent and then they’d sneak out. And they told us how they would wake up, you know, one morning they had been talking just the night before with their neighbor over the fence about the pot roast cooked for dinner, about the new tulips they were growing, and they’d wake up the next morning and their neighbors of 40 years would be gone. I mean, they had just left and a colored family had moved in under cover of night. And the ladies would weep about this and tell us and we would drive on. But then they try to reassure us they’d say, “Oh this won’t happen to us. Our neighborhood is going to hold.  We love it too much.” As if loving your neighborhood is what could save it.

And people did love their neighborhoods. I got to tell you, people would work all day and come home and wash their sidewalks in the summer. People would wash the outside of their houses. I’m lucky sometimes, after a day of work, I can get the dirty dishes out of the sink. But they would wash the inside and the outside of those houses. And how they took care of those lawns. I grew up with the Southwest Side of Chicago version of the American Gothic. Husband and wife standing next to each other, grass clippers in hand. Just staring ahead, daring a blade of grass to grow. And they would dig these moats. I mean, these bordered ditches around those lawns so that not one blade of grass would escape and make contact with the sidewalk. People loved those small bungalow houses, those postage stamp sized lawns. That said you were somebody. That said you took care of your family, your whole family. Because not only were most of our moms working at home back then, but we had aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas all living with us. This multigenerational households, keeping an eye out for us kids.

The good news is I had hundreds of parents. Bad news is I had hundreds of parents. But we all belonged to in St. Thomas Moore Parish. We all belonged on 84th Street. But I was told some people would not belong. They would come and take our house. They would come and they would make us leave. Well, don’t worry kids.  Our neighborhood will hold. But deep inside I think we knew, we were only shadowboxing. Because deep inside, in the tone of that voice, I could hear that it was hopeless. Black people were going to do us in.  It was a fight. It was a fight to the finish. It was us against them.

 

ROSA

By Storyteller Linda Gorham

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Story Summary:

 Rosa Parks is best known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955. Her action galvanized the growing Civil Rights Movement and led to the successful Montgomery bus boycott. But even before her defiant act and the resulting boycott, Ms. Parks was dedicated to racial justice and equality. Linda Gorham tells the story of those times through the eyes of three people: Claudette Colvin (a 15-year-old who refused to give up her seat nine months before Rosa Parks), James Blake (the bus driver), and Rosa Parks herself.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Rosa-Parks

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Given the climate of violence Rosa Parks faced, would you have had the courage to do what she and the other people of the Civil Rights Movement did? Have you ever stood up for something you believe in? What happened?
  2. Would you have been one of the people involved in the Civil Rights movement? How would you have helped?
  3. Many Whites thought things were unfair in this country and supported the Civil Rights Movement yet were afraid to say so to their own spouses, families or neighbors. When have you felt afraid to share your beliefs?

Resources:

  • Film – Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks by Hudson & Houston produced by
  • Teaching Tolerance and Tell the Truth Pictures.
  • Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins. In this straightforward, compelling autobiography, Rosa Parks talks candidly about the civil rights movement and her active role in it.
  • Rosa Parks: A Life by Douglas Brinkley. Historian Douglas Brinkley follows this thoughtful and devout woman from her childhood in Jim Crow Alabama through her early involvement in the NAACP to her epochal moment of courage and her afterlife as a beloved (and resented) icon of the civil rights movement.

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

“If you miss me at the back of the bus and you can’t find me no where, Come on up to the front of the bus ’cause I’ll be riding up there.” Those words come from a song written by James Neblett. And he said, in that song, that he was celebrating all the accomplishments that African-Americans had made during the 1950’s and the 1960’s in the civil rights movement. And one of the very basic accomplishments, which is unbelievable that it was not possible to do, was for African-Americans to be able to sit anywhere on a public bus. You know, for 68 years in this country, there were laws called Jim Crow laws. And those laws, well, they were mandated to separate the races. Now, they did a good job of keeping the races separate but they sure didn’t do a good job of keeping things equal. Separate but equal, they called it. No way. Not at all.

Well, all that changed in 1955, especially on the buses. The buses, you know, they used to have the front rows for the white people and African-Americans had to sit in the back and if the white section filled up and a white person was standing, well, don’t you know, an entire row of African-Americans would have to get up and move to the back. It was totally unfair.

But in 1955 that’s when Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old woman, from Montgomery, Alabama, she was ordered to stand up on the bus and give up her seat. And Rosa Parks refused. Now I will tell you, her dignity stood up. Her commitment to ending bus segregation stood up. Her inner spirit and, I’m sure, her soul stood up. So, Rosa Parks could make the difficult decision to remain sitting down. Now, there have been many books written about that day and the ensuing year. But I think Rosa Parks said it best herself. So, from excerpts from her autobiography and the many interviews that she had, I’m going to tell you Rosa Parks’ story in mostly her words.

When that bus driver came back at me, waving his arms, yelling at me saying, “Make it light on yourself. Give up your seat.” I was ready. I was not going to give up my seat. I had prepared for that moment for a long time.

You see, it was December 1st, 1955. Ha! The newspaper reporter said that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired.  Ha. I’ll tell you what I was tired of! I was tired of seeing men, women, and children disrespected because of the color of their skin. I was tired of Jim Crow segregation laws. I was tired of being oppressed. You see, my feet were not tired, my soul was. The United States of America was supposed to be the land of the free; the land of equality. But it seems to me, the only people who are equal, well, are people with white skin. And I too am an American and I too deserve respect.

Hmm. Those newspaper reporters… well, they said that I was just a seamstress. No, I am a tailor. I work downtown for the Montgomery Ward Department store. I tailor men’s clothes so they fit nice. I do a great job! But that’s not all I do. You see, I’m also a volunteer secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. We call it the NAACP. I’m also the head of their youth group. I will tell you, many times I’ve sat in those meetings taking the minutes and I hear about all the horrible crimes against Negro people. White hate crimes we call them. Where Negroes are cheated, and abused, and harassed, and murdered, and lynched, and much, much more.

You know that young girl, Claudette Colvin? She was 15 years old when she didn’t give up her seat on the bus. Oh, I was very proud of her. What she did was hard and brave. She could have gotten killed for that small act of defiance. I invited her to talk to my youth group and we talked about her case many times at the NAACP meetings. And you know, after hearing what she did and after thinking of all that I’ve been through, well, I’ve made up my mind I was never again going to give up my seat on any bus.

Now I will tell you, I rode that bus to work, five mornings a week, five evenings a week, four weeks out of every month. And each time I try to sit as high up as I could in the Negro section and each time I said to myself, “If I’m asked to give up my seat, I will NOT.”

Hmm. When that day came, and that bus driver came running after me waving his arms, I rapped my determination around me like a quilt on a cold winter’s night. And when the police came on that bus, I looked up at one of them and I said, “Why do you push us around?” And I’ll never forget what he said to me.

He said, “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you are under arrest.”

Now I will tell you, they didn’t push me around like they did with Claudette. They were very polite. One took my purse, one took my shopping bag, and they escorted me off the bus. And once off the bus, we got to the squad car, and they opened the door, and I got inside. And actually, once inside, they gave me back my purse and my personal belongings.

On the way to City Hall, one of those policemen turned around and he looked at me and he said, “Why didn’t you give up your seat when the bus driver asked you to?” I didn’t tell him a thing. I was silent all the way to City Hall.

Now let me tell you, after my arrest, the NAACP called for a boycott of the buses. And all the Negroes in Montgomery, Alabama who had been silent or who had been afraid or who had been fearful or who had been angry, we all came together. And we said, “We’re going to boycott the buses until the laws change. We’re just not going to ride.”

Hmm. You know, there were 17,000 Negroes that rode those buses every day and they made up more than three-quarters of the ridership. And when we stopped riding those buses, the bus company lost money. It was hard on them. But let me tell you that, was nothing compared to how hard it was on us.

We walked. We walked everywhere. We walked to church. We walked to school. We walked to work. We walked to visit friends. We walked to buy food. Now, the NAACP did set up carpools – 300 of them. And they did run on a regular basis and that was helpful, especially for those who were older or infirmed. Most of us, we just walked. No matter what the weather. No matter how we felt. No matter how many bundles we had to carry. No matter how many children we had in tow. We walked and not for a day, and not for a week, and not for a month. We walked for 381 days. Three hundred and eighty-one days.

Well, finally after all that walking, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional. Look, I have to tell you, what took them so long. Well, in any case, the   Negroes of Montgomery, Alabama walked for 381 days so that Negroes throughout the United States of America could sit anywhere they wanted on any trolley, any train, and any bus. It wasn’t easy.

LOOKING AT MY YEARBOOKS

by Storyteller Shanta Nurullah

 

Story Summary:

Looking at high school yearbooks, Shanta reflects on the “change” in her neighborhood from mostly white to all black. As a child, Shanta could not understand when the adults told her “the white people are running away from us”. Even as an adult with a larger understanding of the times – blockbusting and other societal and economic pressures – the sting of being “the other” remains.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Looking-at-My-Yearbooks

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stories can photo albums or school yearbooks tell you about the people in your family or neighborhood?
  2. How do you feel when you realize that someone doesn’t like you?
  3. What keeps you strong when you’re in uncomfortable situations?
  4. How does your family influence your ideas and feelings about people from different backgrounds or cultures?

Resources:

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Bluest Eye by Tony Morrison
  • Seed Folks by Paul Fleischman

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

As a child, I was fascinated with high school yearbooks. I would study my mother’s yearbooks from the 1940s, the Inglewood High School books. I really enjoyed seeing how she and her friends looked when they were teenagers. And I would also become real familiar with the most popular, best dressed, the cheerleaders, the guys on the TV. I mean, you would have thought they were personal friends of mine. So when we moved in our new house and Frank, next door, was going to high school and he brought his yearbook home, I couldn’t wait to see it. Now, his sister, Marcia was my friend and she would have to sneak the book out of the house and then we would spend hours looking at it noticing that Frank was one of the few black students at Hirsche.  But we also took time to learn the cheerleaders, the guys on the team, the captain of the debate team.

Now, race consciousness was not so unusual for eight-year-olds at that time. I mean, we moved into this new neighborhood. There were lots of white people on the block. But the very next year, they were all gone. And the adult conversations, I mean we couldn’t help but hear, the tones when people would talk about how when they moved into the new house, so many things were broken or destroyed. And that had been done by the previous owners who just had some kind of resentment or something about these people who were moving in. And then there were the warnings to not let yourself get caught at night or by whites, passed Ashland and then passed Damen and then passed Western. They would talk about how white people kept running away from us. Why would they run away from us? We were good people. We went to church. We mowed our grass. Why would they run away?

Two years after we moved, my brother went to Hirsch. And when I saw his yearbooks, there were, lots more white…, lots more black kids in the books and fewer whites. That meant that there were fewer white kids who were studying with and playing alongside my brother. And by the time I got to Hirsch, there were only three white faces that peered out of those pages. And those three kids were all from the same family. My child mind wondered what was wrong with us? Why were people running away from us?

I now know that it was fear. People were scared, not necessarily just because we were who we were, but they were getting phone calls late at night by realtors and insurance agents warning them that they had to get out of the neighborhood. I now know that there was nothing wrong with us. That there is nothing wrong with us.  But…that little girl, she felt the sting. She felt the hurt of people running away. And even now when I travel around the country to places near and far, tell these stories… if I mention that I’m from the South Side of Chicago, invariably some well-meaning person will come up to me and say I’m from the south side too. And as I ask why and where, while they’re telling me how they lived in and moved away from the South Shore, Roselyn, or Chadham, in my mind, I can’t help but think. Yeah, yours was one of those families that ran away from us. And the child who still lives inside of me, she’s still hurt.

PRECIOUS LORD

By Storyteller Rev. Robert Jones with Sister Bernice Jones

 

Story Summary:

 Robert Jones talks about the roots of Gospel music and the influence of Thomas A. Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson.

For a print friendly version of the transcript: Precious-Lord

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Gospel is a blend of spirituals, blues and African rhythm. How do musical forms morph into their next evolution?
  2. What was happening in the U.S. and for African Americans as Gospel music evolved? How did Gospel music provide comfort and artistic expression for African Americans?

Resources:

  • People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music by Robert Darden
  • Thomas A. Dorsey Father of Black Gospel an Interview by Robert L. Taylor
  • Mahalia Jackson: Born to Sing Gospel Music by Evelyn Witter

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures

Full Transcript:

You talk about the development of American roots music and how much wonderful music came out of the blues. But probably one of the most… least, understood styles to come out of blues would be gospel. That you had piano players like Georgia Tom Dorsey who played these little ditties like… (Singing)

I got a gal who’s crazy about me.

She’s just as crazy as a gal can be.

Well, she ain’t crazy. She’s just funny that way.

And this was in the 1920s – a kind of music called hokum. It had a lot of really suggestive lyrics and double entrendres and stuff like that. But he went back to church in the midst of the Great Depression. He went back to Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago and started playing for his father off doing the revival. He had settled down, he had married the girl of his dreams, and they were waiting the birth of the first child when he got a telegram that told him to come home. Your wife has died. And he comes home. And, already devastated by the fact that his wife was gone, he found out that the baby, who they had managed to save in childbirth, had died as well.

And he talked about putting them both into the same casket and being devastated. Not being able to play anything. Blues, nothing. Spirituals, nothing. And then one day, he’s sitting diddling around on the piano, and following those same old chord changes that he played for blues. But he slowed them down and sort of gave birth to another style of music we call gospel.

Those chord changes weren’t enough. Thomas Dorsey had a kind of a light, high voice. He needed a powerful voice in order to sell his music. So he found a woman by the name of Mahalia Jackson. And Mahalia and Georgia Tom Dorsey, now known as Professor Thomas A. Dorsey, made gospel music what it is with songs like this.

(Guitar playing and singing)

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand

I’m so tired, I am weak, I am worn

Lord, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand, precious Lord, and lead me home

 

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand

I’m so tired, I am weak, (I am weak) I am worn (Lord, I am worn)

Lord, I am worn

Through the storm, (Through the storm) through the night (through the night)

Lead me on (lead me on) to the light

Take my hand, precious Lord, and lead me home

DOGS & HOUNDS

By Storyteller Rev. Robert Jones

 

Story Summary:

Rev. Jones describes how American Roots Music tells a story. He plays a harmonica piece by Sonny Terry called Lost John. Lost John tells the story of a man who escapes a chain gang trying to get home to see his family. In the song, you hear the hounds chasing and the train a’ coming.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Dogs-and-Hounds

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does Rev. Jones mean when he said that American Root Music (gospel, blues, country, western, Cajun, zydeco, folk, tejano, Native American) needs to be simple so that people can change it?
  2. What kinds of changes to this song would other musicians make?

Resources:

  • American Root Music by Robert Santelli
  • Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music by Benjamin Filene

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History

Full Transcript:

When you think about American roots music, one of the things that makes it American roots music… makes it so cool… is that not only is it simple, has to be simple so you can change it…  you can remember it and you communicate it, but also it’s gotta tell a story. And one of my favorite storytellers just didn’t use words to tell the story. He was a guy named Sonny Terry, great harmonica player. And he used to do a song called “The Lost John.”

The idea about “Lost John” is while John is on a chain gang trying to get home to see his mama.  And there’re dogs around, big dogs, (harmonica sound), little dogs, (harmonica sound), Chihuahuas, (harmonica sound), and hounds, you know. And as he runs for this train, he hears this train slow down. He starts running forward. And if you listen real close, you can hear the train. You can hear him running. You can hear the dogs. You might even hear his mama.

So he called it “Lost John.”  I call it “Dogs and Hounds.”

(Harmonica playing)

All smoke.

(Harmonica playing)

I love you, Son.

(Harmonica playing)

I know you do.

(Harmonica playing)

Come on home.

(Harmonica playing)

Coming mama

(Harmonica playing)

THE OBERLIN RESCUE OF 1858

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 John Price escapes from the Kentucky plantation where he had been enslaved. He plans to go to Canada but when he arrives in Oberlin, Ohio and sees Black shopkeepers and Black students going to college, he decides to stay. However, he doesn’t know that a slave catcher under the protection of the Fugitive Slave Act is coming for him.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Oberlin-Rescue

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why was the Fugitive Slave Act enacted in 1850? What did it require of citizens and what was the punishment for disobeying this law?
  2. The Supreme Court upheld the Fugitive Slave Act. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices participated in slavery. How do you think their involvement with slavery affected their vote? Do you think it would have been possible for the judges to remain “impartial”?
  3. Why did President Buchanan’s administration decide it had to make an example of the Oberlin Rescuers? In what ways did the federal government’s plan to punish Oberlin backfire? What actions did the public take to show their support of the Rescuers?
  4. Susan tells a story set in the period when slavery existed in America. She tells this story without ever using the word “slave” (except to refer to the already-named Fugitive Slave Law). What difference does it make to talk about “a person who escaped slavery” or “a person who was captured and enslaved” rather than “a slave”? How does language hide responsibility? Give other examples such as calling an area a “ghetto” instead of a “dis-invested neighborhood.”
  5. Do we have a responsibility to make things “better”? What would you like to change? What would you be willing to do to make a difference?

Resources:

  • Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom in Antebellum South by J. Brent Morris
  • History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue by Jacob R. Shipherd

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Slavery was invented. We often don’t think of it that way but it was created step by step and law by law. At first, you know, somebody could be enslaved only a certain period of time but they changed that.  And it used to be that the children of people who were enslaved, they wouldn’t be enslaved, they were free. Well, they changed that. And it used to be they would give rewards to people if they caught somebody who escaped but that wasn’t working because so many people were escaping slavery. So they tried punishment. In 1850, they patched… passed the Fugitive Slave Law. Now, it said if you knew somebody was escaping and you didn’t assist in their arrest, you would get fined. If you helped, you’d get fined and you would be sent to jail.

But one town, Oberlin, Ohio, said, “Uh, uh, we’re not doing it.” Now it had been known as a pretty progressive town, they refused to celebrate the 4th of July. And they said, “How can we celebrate Independence Day when we have people on our land who are enslaved?” And they’re the first folks to send men, women, and blacks to college. And they were the first folks you had, um, had more… um, everybody could vote there before that was true of the rest of the nation.

So, some people said that the Civil War almost started earlier in Oberlin because of something that happened in 1857.  Here’s what happened. There were two people who are enslaved down in Kentucky. They’re just a quarter mile, two blocks away from the Ohio River that separated the South and the North. But they had been enslaved by a man named John Bacon, and their names were John and Dinah. And they wanted to be free. Now this was very risky business because, of course, you’ll be shot, killed, maimed, whatever, trying to escape. And that was kind of the lucky ones because if they caught you and brought you back, ah, your life could really be hard.

But John and Dinah didn’t care. They were two cousins who wanted to be free. And they saw their chance.  One night, when John Bacon went off to visit family, and the man who was put in charge to watch the enslaved people on that plantation, kind of had a reputation of being somebody who fell asleep on the job.  Well, word spread that he was asleep. And then, John and Dinah, they crept into the barn. Now can you imagine how hard it was to keep two horses quiet? They managed to get the horses out of that barn and then they rode in the opposite direction. Now it wasn’t that they didn’t know where they were. Now, this happened to a lot of people. You get captured in Africa, you get brought here. It’s not like somebody showed you a map of where you were. But it wasn’t because they didn’t know where they were. They were doing something very brave. They were going the opposite direction to go get their friend, Frank, who also wanted to escape. They picked him up, two on one horse, one on the other. They raced back to the Ohio River. Got across with no problem because it was winter and the river was frozen. When they got to the other side, they couldn’t find the path up that bank.

Now remember, this was back in the 1800’s. There were no electric street lights or whatever.  Pitch darkness; scrambling all night in the freezing cold. They didn’t have coats or anything. (That was one of the ways they kept people who are enslaved from running is that they take their shoes or heavy coats at night.) Scrambling, trying to find the path up and couldn’t find it. And they knew that if the sun came up that morning, oh, my goodness, they’d be so easy to spot. Three people, two horses on the bank. So they kept on all night. And finally, they find their way up.

And then John did something,to me it’s kind of amazing.

He said, “Nobody can own me, but John Bacon owned these horses.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’ve been working free all my life, and my mom had been and my grandma had been, I’d be thinking these horses belong to me. But he hit them on the rump and sent them home. And then they went on their way. They split up. Dinah went with somebody from the underground railroad and Frank and John headed up to Oberlin. Now, the plan was they’d be in Oberlin and wait for Lake Erie to thaw and move up to Canada. When they got to Oberlin, it must’ve felt like a fantasyland. There were black storekeepers. There were black people going to college! They got a job with a farmer paying a dollar a day. Well, after working for free, that seemed like a lot. So they decided to stay. And John took the name John Price.

What he didn’t know was that slavecatchers had been sent after them. A man named Anderson Jennings was a professional slavecatcher. He could get as much as a thousand dollars, a lot of money back then, if he caught somebody. So, not everybody was progressive in Oberlin. He found a family he knew that he could count on, the Boyntons, and this is a great name. He got their son, 10-year-old boy, Shakespeare Boynton, gave him twenty dollars and told him to go pick up John and Frank. So, Shakespeare took his buggy and went to the farm where John was working. “Hey, my dad’s paying two dollars a day, twice as much, come and help.”

Now, John, he was a loyal friend. He said, “No, my friend, Frank, is kind of sick. I can’t go.” Good!  But then he said, “But I know somebody who really needs the money.  I’ll show you where he’s staying.” And he got in the buggy with Shakespeare. And Shakespeare started driving the wrong way and John’s like, “No, my friend’s over here.” Drive them into the woods. And, all of a sudden, another buggy comes tromping up behind. Men jump out with rifles, grab John, tie him up, throw him in their buggy and off they go!

Now, Anderson Jennings and his men knew they weren’t going to try to get on the train at Oberlin. That town was not a friendly place for them. So went nine miles south to Wellington and they rented the third floor, like, attic, because it wasn’t coming… a night train was coming, and they had to wait. They could see from that vantage point iF anybody was coming, if there was any trouble. Well, luckily, an Oberlin student saw all this going on, saw John get captured, and went running into town.

“They’ve got John! They’ve got John Price! Hurry!”

People went out on horses, on their buggies, they went to the livery station and rented some, they went out on foot to go the nine miles to Wellington. And imagine Anderson Jennings surprise when he saw a hundred people show up in front of that Wadsworth Hotel where they were waiting. And then two hundred people in the square. Three hundred, four hundred, five hundred, six hundred, seven hundred people came down. Remember all these people were breaking the federal law, the Fugitive Slave Law. All of them could be in prison but they were shouting, “Give us John Price!  Give us John Price!”

Well, Anderson Jennings got kind of nervous. He sent one of his men to the telegraph office to send a wire, sending for soldiers because it was federal law. Sent for the federal soldiers to come help them. And the rumors spread in the crowd.

“The soldiers are coming. We better make our move.” So one group went up the front of the hotel, the other went up the back.

But now it was kind of light, and they couldn’t see where they were going. All of sudden, the group that went up the back, saw Anderson Jennings’ men there with rifles. And one of the Oberlin (Anderson Jennings’) men took his rifle, ready to shoot. And just at that moment, then the Oberlin man hit that rifle, and it hit – the bullet went right up into the ceiling. He said, “No! No violence!” Now this was an African-American man who had the lashes down his back to prove that he could have been out for revenge but instead, he said no violence. But that was enough to scare Jennings’ men. They went running off. That group went up the back steps, they met the group that had gone up the top steps. Remember, there’s no lights, electricity, back then.  It was getting dark. So it’s kind of like, I don’t know if you saw the old comedy of the Keystone Cops; doodalum, doodalum; kind of running into each other, trying to figure out where is the room John might be in. And just at that moment, Anderson Jennings pulled his head back and looked through a hole where an old stove pipe he had been, trying to see down the dark of the hall; who’s making that noise.

Just then one of the Oberlin men took his rifle and put it down that hall and bonked, bonked Jennings on the head. He fell to the ground and let go of the rope he was holding. That’s all they were using to close the door, wasn’t even locked. The door swung open. The Oberlin people came in. There was all this confusion. But they knew they had John when they heard the cheers outside of,  “Yeah, John!” of the whole crowd cheering.  And they whisked him off. We don’t know where exactly. Some say Canada. I like to think he and his cousin Dinah found each other.

Well, the federal marshals came marching into town. They arrest 37 people – legislators, farmers, a 74-year-old man – none of them had previous records except one who had been fined $1 for smoking a cigar on the Oberlin street. When they came into the classroom to arrest one of the teachers, this little first grader stood up and he said, “Why our teacher had more goodness in his little finger than your entire carcass!” And they jailed these people, 37 Oberlin people, at maximum security in Cleveland.

They said, “We’ve got to make an example! These Oberlin people have always been pushing against the laws.  We got to make an example.”

But it backfired. Four thousand people came to visit them. School children wrote letters. People wrote articles calling them the new patriots. And Jennings came up to that trial; which was completely rigged by the way, you can’t believe what they did in that trial; when Jennings, Anderson Jennings the slavecatcher, came up to that trial, the Oberlin people kidnapped him. And they made him sign something that said he would never come trying to catch enslaved people who had previously been a slave before. And after that, the government‘s case just completely fell apart and they had to release them. And when they did, bands met them, people played Yankee Doodle Dandy, cannons were shot up, they got on the train in Cleveland, and they went to Oberlin. And when they got there, this little town of under 2,000 people, there were 5,000 people there to greet them. And they had a huge rally, and at that rally, everybody stood up and took a pledge that nobody would ever be caught in their town again. And nobody ever was.

That’s the kind of people we come from. That’s our legacy. We come from a group of people who have always stood up for each other. People who said they would risk anything for freedom. People who have refused to be divided and said, “No!  We are one American family!”

THE OTHER 9/11 STORY

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, demonstrations against Muslims arose in different parts of Chicago. One group of Chicagoans on the southwest side of the city decided to support their Muslim neighbors. This support grew into a massive rally and teach-in at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Sue witnessed people willing to learn from and about each other and how much taking a stand could mean.

For print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Other-911

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why don’t we hear the stories of what is working?
  2. The teachers taught the students about other times in history when people were stereotyped and scapegoated. Give an example of what they might have taught.
  3. Were the adults correct in keeping the students away from the (peaceful) demonstration of support? Was their alternative way to involve the students effective?
  4. Why is it important to show support to groups of people who are under attack?

Resource:

  • September 11, 2001: A Record of Tragedy, Herosim and Hope by Editors of New York Magazine

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Interfaith
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Two days after the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, found herself in trouble.  She was driving down east on 95th Street when she unwittingly drove right into an anti-Muslim demonstration.  Crowds were milling about, cars would zip across the intersection at 95th and Harlem.  Then across again and again and shouting, “White power!”  They held signs that said, “Choose what side you’re on.”   “This is the beginning and the end.”  They were just ignoring the police.  They were trying to keep all that traffic going but pretty soon everybody just kind of ran their cars into the middle, just took the intersection over.  There were guys in the back of pickup trucks, huge American flags with long poles, looked like jousters ready to ram somebody.  And she found herself caught in the middle of all this.

Took over an hour and a half to get through that gridlock.  Now just the night before, this angry mob had marched on the mosque at 92nd Street.  Only because the police got there moments ahead and threw up barricades did it keep the windows getting broken or maybe worse.  I’m sure it was fresh in the police people’s minds because just a few years earlier the Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been bombed.  And two days later the mosque in Springfield, Illinois was burned to the ground.  So they saved that mosque but the demonstrations went on and on.  And Sister Margaret Zalot finally got home safely but she remembered that saying, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  She’s like, “I’ve gotta do something.  What can we do? Oh, what we can do?”

So she went out and she found some other people with the same concern, the same sense of urgency.  She went to swop… S.W.O.P, Southwestern Organizing Project.  This represented 27 community groups on the southwest side of Chicago. And they were also asking what can we do?  It didn’t make sense to meet violence with violence?  What can we do?  They came up with a brilliant plan.  They said, “Lucky the police got to that mosque with the barricade just in time to save it.  We’ll make a human barricade.”  What they decided to do was next day… was Friday, like a Sabbath for Muslims, Friday afternoon prayer, Jumuʿah prayer.  They said, We’ll make a human barricade around the mosques and we’ll protect the people inside.”  And that’s what they did.

Now some people didn’t even know there were mosques in their neighborhood on 63rd Street.  You know, you can just not pay attention to something that doesn’t concern you?  And these are little storefront kind of places of worship.  But the next day, even though it was a workday, Friday workday, 150 people showed up.  And they stood arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder and they had signs from their religion like, “Pax Christi,” Peace and Christ, or “Shalom,” the Jewish tradition word for peace.  And people were so glad that they were there.  In fact, a newspaper accounting talked about the president of one of the mosques saying how much he appreciated the people being there.  How Islam does not teach that kind of violence.  That they were all grieving over the tragedy of 9/11. And certainly, the president of that mosque, Khatam Pharez, was grieving because his cousin was on the 82nd floor of the World Trade Center when that first plane hit that first tower.

And the paper also talked about this young man on his way to Friday prayer when he saw all these people demonstrating in front of the mosque. Well, he knew about the threats to his mosque, there were death threats , and should he go?  Was that the smart thing to do?  Should he go just back home?  And all of sudden one of the men turned around.  It was an older man with snowy hair, and on the sign he was carrying, it said, “As-Salāmu Alaykum,” the Arbic blessing; peace be unto you.  The young man knew those people in front of his mosque weren’t there to hurt him but to protect him.

Well, unfortunately, the violence continued that next week after 9/11.  So, the people decided that they were going to have a circle of peace again.  And Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, had gone back to her school that whole week.  And they suspended many classes and worked with the kids.  They told them stories about, through history when people have been turned against each other, when people have been used to hate one another to somebody else’s benefit.  So, maybe if kids heard these stories, they’d think. So they couldn’t be used against anybody or any other group.  And then they told them stories when people had stood together and the kids really learned.  Because when they heard Sister Margaret, they got it! Some of the teachers were going back the second time to make circles of peace.  You can imagine what they said.  “We want to go, too!  Come on, you’re teaching us about justice and standing together and universal diversity.  We’re gonna go too!”

But these really were dangerous times after September 11th.  The teachers couldn’t take the students somewhere there might be violence.  So, they came up with an alternative because they didn’t want to discourage the girls.  They said, “Why don’t you write letters to your Muslim neighbors?  Tell them how you feel.”  So, that next Friday, double, triple the crowd showed up at those mosques to make their human barricade, their circle of peace.  And when those folks came out from prayer that Friday, they were handed letters from the Maria High School girls.  And the letters said things like, “You are our neighbors, we love you.  We stand by you and for you.”  And people read those letters out loud and, I tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye off the street.  People were huggin’ and crying.

Well, through the months of that winter 2001 and 2002, Southwest Organizing Project joined with community groups from all over Chicago and decided to have a Muslim/non-Muslin dialogue.  But, you know how winter can be any who live in the north.  Oh my goodness!  You get a nice day and everybody just wants to be outside.  It was one of those kind of days, a Sunday afternoon.  They wondered would anybody show up to talk perfect strangers on a beautiful day in Chicago?  They had rented Navy Pier Ballroom.  What if there was nobody coming at all and it was empty?  Four thousand people showed up to share, to dialogue and even the high school girls modeled how to talk and dialogue with each other.  They asked each other questions and, I remember, the Maria High School student asking a girl from the Islamic school, “You know, I have to admit, I saw those hijabs, those headscarves you wear, and I thought it was kind of weird but then we girls got talking.  You know, you can have a bad hair day, that hijab would come in handy.”  And the Islamic girl said back to her, right in front of everybody, “You know, you have bad hair days, we have bad hijab days.  Sometimes you just can’t get those scarves to sit on right.”

So they would model or they would have some other people come up from Southwest Organizing Project would model talking to each other.  And then we in our small groups, they’d give us a discussion question.  Well, you can imagine the noise in that room with four thousand people!  You had huddle in close to hear each other.  I had a Muslim man, I had a teenage boy from the northwest side, I had two cab drivers who just heard about it and came driving on in and we huddled real close.  As we shared our lives and our hopes and our dreams, it’s like the energy just emanated out of Navy Pier up and down the lakefront, all across Chicago.  Because after that all, the white power and other demonstrations just stopped.

What does it take for ugly history not to repeat itself?  It takes people who are willing to go and stand in front of places they’ve never been, to protect a religion they’ve never practiced, to listen in their classrooms or in their community groups to different people’s stories so that we can cut through all that ignorance and fear, so that we can speak and we can celebrate the truth.  We are one.

DAVY CROCKETT

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 As a five-year-old Sue met a boy her age who was different from her. Sue’s mother subtly lets Sue know that she is not to be friends with the boy.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Davy-Crockett

Discussion Questions:

  1. When was the first time you met someone of another “race”?  What effect did it have on you?
  2. What unspoken lessons around race have been transmitted to you?
  3. What does Sue mean when she says that it was “even more damaging” that she received a message from her mother that they and the place where they lived was “better”?
  4. How was Sue damaged by being taught that she, her family and her community were superior?

Resources:

  • Critical White Studies by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanci
  • Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony Greenwald

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

The first child I ever met, who was my age, who was black wore a Davy Crockett cap. So did I. We met at the Downtown Chicago State Street bus stop. Our mothers had gotten us there just in time for the first release of Davy Crockett raccoon skin cap from Marshall Fields Department store. I was five years old and I assumed the boy was the same age. We showed each other our caps. The very same caps that Davy wore every Sunday night in the Disneyland TV series. We showed each other our Jim Bowie rubber knives. We chased each other on that bus stop bench. We even sang Davy’s song, “Kilt him a bear when he was only three. Davy Crockett. King of the wild frontier.”

His bus came first. Before either mother could see what was happening, I followed him on. He reached down the steps to me. I reached up to him and just as our fingers touched. We flew away from each other. I felt my mother’s fingers deep into my arm as she yanked me back into her body and she said, “We don’t go his way.”  Well, I searched for my friend in a reflection of the glass. And I said to my mom, “Well, maybe we’ll be in the same kindergarten class.”

“No you won’t,” she chopped the words into my ear. And then she added, “He lives,” and she turned to make sure nobody else was hearing. She said, “Oh, honey he lives in a different neighborhood.” Still, her voice in that whisper, I didn’t understand. But the lesson transmitted all the same. He was not the same as us. For the first time I saw it the way my mother saw it. But even more subtle, more damaging, never spoken but transmitted through muscle, right into my very bones. We lived in different places and where we lived was better.

DR. KING CAME TO TOWN

by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

For a print friendly version, click here:  Dr-King-Came-to-Town

Full Transcript:

It was Friday, August 12th, 1966 and Dr. Martin Luther King was marching through my Southwest Side Chicago neighborhood, having an Open Housing March. Now he was marching down 79th Street, that was four blocks from my home on 84th Street. But still, all the lights were out in my house, the windows, the doors were locked, all the draperies were closed. And it was hot. August Dog Days hot in that tiny little living room. And I tried to peek around the curtain, take a look. But my grandmother was like, “Su-san, don’t look! Don’t look!” I said, “Ma, the marchers are four blocks away. It is not going to hurt.”

She was like, “Su-san, the priest said so. The priest said, ‘Don’t go out till the marchers are gone.’ ”

I, kind of, rolled my eyes and seeing that this was having no effect, the priest, she tried the politicians. “You know, Mr. Burke said too. Mr. Burke said, “No going out.’ ” Now, Mr. Burke was our precinct captain and he had gone house to house as he had been told to do by the Democratic Party, telling all of us to stay inside during that Open Housing March. And my grandparents had said, of course, they’ll keep us kids inside and they went back up to their sitting room. And I noticed Mr. Burke came in and whispered something to my dad.

And my dad started to walk out with them and I was like, “What’s happening?” And he, my dad, came back in and said how Mr. Bourke’s rounding up some of the men. There’s some new construction over on 79th Street. There’s some bricks they’re going to put a tarp over or remove the brick so nobody throws them at the marchers tomorrow. “That’s all we need,” my dad said. “People throwing bricks at the marchers tomorrow.  But don’t say anything to your grandma. Don’t scare your grandparents.” Well, he didn’t say anything about scaring me. And I was scared.

That summer, earlier in 1966, there had been race riots all over the country. I mean people had been killed in these riots. Those days I go to sleep with racial conflicts from the 10 O’clock News meshing with my dreams and I wake up expecting to see that the sidewalks have buckled. I mean, really part of me expected the whole city to blow. But with my grandparents, I was total calmness. I said, “Ma, it is hot in here. I’m just going to step out, sit on the front porch, get some fresh air. It’s not healthy in here. I’ll be right back.”

“No,” she said. And my grandparents were sitting at the dining room table, which was only a few steps away from our little living room. And she started moaning, “Oh, what do the coloreds want? What do they want?” My grandfather knew the answer.

He said, “First they want our jobs. Now they want our houses.”

Well, I had had enough. I started to walk to the door. She called again, “No, the priests, the politicians, they say don’t go out!”

I go, “Ma, I’m just going to sit on the porch.”

She goes, “What do they want? What do they want?”

My grandpa said, “They want everything.” I had had enough. I walked out the front door.

And as I did, I felt this kind of strange mixture of shame and triumph. Shame because right then I just hated my grandparents. I was so embarrassed by their prejudice. But I also felt this triumph because I’d done it. I mean, Dr. King’s people were marching down our streets and I’d… marched out my front door. At 16, it was the best I could do.

When I sat down on the porch, I was so surprised to see that the block was empty. There was this eerie silence. I mean, usually on a hot summer day, these front porches would be packed with people because we had no air conditioning back then. People would just be sitting there like drooping flags, begging for a breeze. It’s like a neutron bomb had gone off. Only the buildings remained.

And I sat there… and I could remember the last few Sundays there had been Open Housing Marches at Marquette Park. I remember seeing the TV cameras showing this teenager with a, with a, a band on his arm that said, “Death before dishonor.” And this boy picked up a heavy metal sewer cap. Picked it up and tossed it at the marchers like it was a frisbee. And then his friend picked up a rock and he pitched it into the crowd.  And it, it swerved through the air and then it sliced right across the forehead of a nun…a nun! And then the cameras showed us some of the streets alongside Market Park where the demonstration was happening. And there were some demonstrators, the marchers, cars were set on fire. And then these lagoons that were in Market Park, it showed pictures of groups of white men pressing their bodies up against the marchers, car… just… just pressing into the steel hulks of their cars. Grunting and pushing them right into the lagoons, the tails of the car waving as they sank.

And then it cut over the pictures of the marchers themselves. They were walking shoulder to shoulder to crisscross style. Martin Luther King was in the middle of them. And there were all these people around them.  Like this white people screaming, like making this thin crevice of hate they just had to march through. All the time, shouting, “Coloreds go home! Go back to where you came from! Go to your own kind! Go home!”

But on my street, it was silence like at Mass, at the consecration, where everything got still and quiet. That’s what it felt like but it didn’t feel very holy. It’s like I couldn’t even sit still. So I looked at the bay window to see if my grandma was looking out at me and she wasn’t. The curtains were still drawn. So I got up and walked to Ashburn Park, just three doors down from my house, a lot smaller than Market Park. There was this black and white striped guardrail to keep people from driving into the park. And I just sat there for a moment. It’s like I couldn’t even sit at my house. I didn’t know what to do with my nervous energy. And as I sat there, I suddenly felt this this wave of something like this, this hum of something in the air. And I looked up and there’s this massive swamp… green helicopters. It was the army. The army was in my neighborhood. And then they flew over by 79th Street. And I kept straining to see if I could hear something from 79th Street but I couldn’t. And I wondered were my neighbors like the, the demonstrators at Market Park, the white people there? Were they shouting obscenities, throwing rocks? Had people found those bricks that Mr. Burke and my dad tried to hide?  Was there violence going on? I couldn’t tell. Or were they just behind their locked doors like the priest and the politicians had said, just wishing it would all go away?  I don’t know where anybody was.

And then, down the middle of my street, came this gray metallic truck. And on top of the truck was a flag and I closed my eyes to make it go away. But when I opened my eyes, there it was again. Red flag, white circle in the middle, black swastika in the middle. A Nazi flag. And next to the flag was a loud speaker that was blaring out this voice saying, “White power rally! White power rally! White power rally! Next Sunday! Noon! Market Park! Next Sunday! Noon.”

I mean, was this very clipped, fact-giving voice as if all of the persuading had already been done. And as that truck came towards me, it stopped right in front of me. And this man in black leather pants and jacket and what looked like slicked back black leather hair, came running at me. And I could see on one lapel, he had this, We Want Wallace button, on the other side it said Up With the KKK. And he handed me this leaflet. And I looked down and there were these people in white robes. The Ku Klux Klan. And when I looked up again the man was gone. And then off their truck went again, fact-giving voice just assuming people would want the information.

As I sat there it was like again, my, my block, was still and empty. It was as if the air were thin. It was as if the KKK and the army and the marchers had all come into neighborhoods and stole all the air molecules. I couldn’t breathe.

And I thought about my church. I mean, my church said to love everybody. I thought about the Dr. King poster I had up on my bedroom wall. I thought about my friends of color that I had just met that year in this youth group that met in downtown Chicago. I thought about how much I would love them to live by me. And I said to myself so I would know myself, “I want black people to live wherever they want to. I want everybody to be free.” But deep inside, I felt of two minds because I’d never seen one example of where black people moving in didn’t mean white people moving out. If open housing worked, I mean, black people could live in my neighborhood but I knew that all the people in my neighborhood would be gone. It wouldn’t be my neighborhood anymore.

And I sat there and I, I looked at that Nazi truck now. It was on the other side of the park and I saw it weaving up and down my neighborhood. And I thought, as I sat on that black and white guardrail, that I felt absolutely torn in two. It was like the city’s dividing line, that white neighborhood, the black line, color line, we crossed every month or so in Chicago;  now it felt like it was in my body, cutting my body in two. That’s what I felt. Torn in two.

BEACH DROWNING AND RACE RIOT

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

Story Summary:

 In researching housing history in segregated Chicago, Sue learns about the 1919 Chicago race riot. Why had she never heard of this before?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Beaching-Drowning

Discussion Questions:

  1. Would you hide a family fleeing the violence during a riot?
  2. What led up to the riots? How were people turned against each other? Who benefitted from the separation of black and white?
  3. What choices confronted the city leaders after the 1919 race riot?  What choices did they make?  What were the consequences?
  4. What does it mean that segregation was “forced”?

Resource:

  • Race Riot: Chicago in Red Summer of 1919 by William M. Tuttle

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

In the summer, between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I took a special summer course with a focus on housing. I had an internship where I was assigned to a community organizer named Lee whose specialty was Chicago housing. Now, I guess today we would describe my mentor, Lee, as an aging hippie. He was in his 40s and his long hair in a ponytail went all the way down his back, only the top of this head was shiny clear skin. It’s as if the ponytail was pulling the hair right off the top of his head. I’d never seen a man with so much hair, going bald.

Now from Lee, I learned one of the most startling facts I’ve ever heard up to that point in my life. That the city of Chicago had not always been segregated. Lee mentioned this fact, oh, just casually, one day as if it were common knowledge. We were on our way to go get a pop. Now this shows you I’m from Chicago. Not soda pop or soda but a pop. We are going to Max’s Barbershop. Because at the front of Max’s shop, he had a vending machine where he sold soft drinks. And Lee opened the door for me and the little bell, to give a little ding-a-ling, announcing our arrival. Lee mentioned again, just kind of casually, you know about Chicago before it was segregated. I liked flipped out. I said, “Chicago was integrated once?  When?”

Well, we got our pops. We settled onto the torn leather couch at the front of Max’s shop and Lee lowered his voice so as not to start a racial diatribe in the barbershop. And he told me at the turn of the century that blacks were less segregated in Chicago than Italians and other European groups. He said, oh, maybe by 1910 or so there were a dozen or so all black blocks in the whole city. You know, because families would want to move in near each other. Near somebody they know. But it wasn’t like those blocks were adjacent to each other.  There wasn’t what we would call black and white part of town. “Well, what changed things?” I asked.

He said, “More and more African-Americans coming up from the south. They were trying to escape the injustice of the migrant farmer system or crops would fail so there was no work. And it was perfect for the factory owners, the business owners, ’cause they could set one group against the other and the competition would keep those prices low.” And I realized I knew something about this because my grandfather told me over and over again while I was growing up, all the times he’d lost jobs to black men. My grandpa had worked construction, worked at the stockyards. And I told Lee about this. And he said that, oh yeah, it was true that my grandpa could have lost jobs.  But the real reason was because all kinds of black workers were shipped up north, I mean, by the train load. Unsuspecting. Because the business owners could use them to bust up the unions. The white workers, they’re working conditions were deplorable too. They were trying to form unions.  And sometimes we’d bring those trains right into the stockyards. They didn’t know, the black workers didn’t know, they were busting unions. But he told me the biggest thing that started the segregation in Chicago was the Chicago race riot of 1919.

One summer day in 1919 a young boy was floating on a raft in Lake Michigan. His name was Eugene Williams.  Now, Eugene liked school well enough, he did well enough. But, awe, how he loved his summers! And he loved to hang out at the beach even though he wasn’t a very good swimmer. Now, some of you know Lake Michigan. It can get pretty wavy, almost like an ocean sometimes. It was one of those kind of rough sea days and it was wavy. And Eugene, some of his friends had made this makeshift raft. And the waves pushed Eugene across this imaginary line that some people thought of as the white part of the beach. And some white men and boys saw Eugene. They got mad. They started throwing stones and rocks, boulders, planks of wood, anything. And they knocked Eugene off and, as I said, he wasn’t the best swimmers, it was a wavy day. And Eugene drown.

Now some black people spotted some of the white men and boys who had thrown the stones and planks at Eugene. They ran up to a white police officer, the only kind of officer there was back then. And said, “There, those guys! Those are the guys that killed Eugene! They murdered Eugene!” But the police officer refused to make an arrest and a fist fight broke out.

That fight spread up and down the beach. It spilled out onto the streets on the South Side of Chicago and then to the middle Chicago to the North Side of Chicago. It’s like all that, that tension that was simmering there because of the competition over housing and jobs, it just exploded. It took four days and the National Guard to finally stop the violence. At the end, hundreds were injured. Scores of men and boys, mostly black were killed. Many right in their own homes, at the hands of their very own neighbors.

I sat on that torn leather couch looking out the door. I had heard absolutely nothing about the Chicago 1919 race riots. And all through my high school years, there had been race riots in Chicago. Just the year before, in my senior year, when Dr. King had been killed, there was unrest all over the city. Why hadn’t I heard these stories before?

I was so stunned by what Lee told me that I actually talked to my Grandmother McHugh that night about race. It was a subject I usually avoided with her at all cost. It was my turn to make dinner that night at our girls apartment for this special summer program. So, I called my grandmother get her spaghetti and meatballs recipe. That’s that famous Irish spaghetti and meatballs. And she was giving me her instructions, I guess it couldn’t get out of my head would Lee had said, and I just blurted out to my grandmother, “Ma did you ever hear of the Chicago race riots of 1919?”

“Oh yeah,” she said. Then there was this long pause and then she added, “I remember a family that hid by us.”

“What do you mean, hid by us?”

“Oh, they were a Negro family,” she said. “They had children. I think they lived a couple blocks away. And well, the city had come through and rounded up all the colored people and taken them to one area like a safety zone, you know. But they must’ve missed this family. And they were hiding in the gangway, next door to us. They were just too scared to move.”

I said, “Ma, how, how long this go on?”

“I don’t know, maybe three, four days. But, but my mom had me feed them. She would make sandwiches and she’d wrap it up in newspapers. She’d have me go out by the garbage cans like I was going to throw the newspaper away, but I tossed the sandwiches to them.”

“So you fed them? How long?

“Well, like three, four days,” she said again. “They were too scared to move through the neighborhood.”

“So now, why didn’t you ever tell me any of this before?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “It happened a long time ago. Besides what good does it do to talk about it?”

Well, Lee and I were talking about it and I wanted to know everything. I said, “And what, what happened after the 1919 race riots?”

And he said, “It was like after that the race riots. You just couldn’t run a city like that with wholesale violence, people punching each other and killing each other in the streets. So the leaders their… their focus became on keeping the peace.”

Now, this is where Lee said the city could have gone one way or the other. Keeping the peace could have meant standing up to everybody and saying, “Hey, we are going to learn to live together.” But instead the politicians, the business owners, they came up with a strategy to separate whites and blacks in more civilized ways. Lee told me, he said, “For instance, in the city council, they invented what we call restrictive covenants. It said that certain areas of the city, and this is a quote, ‘could only be occupied by people of white or Caucasian race.’” And then Lee said, “In certain areas they were trying to make all white, they’d go knock on the doors, they’d invite the black people to leave. They’d offer money or they’d make threats.  And then they go to the store owners in that area and they threatened them that they’d better not sell anything to black families. I’m talking even a loaf of bread,” Lee said. “Or even stamps at the postage office, at the post office.”

Now Lee was some kind of working class scholar. Every quote, everything I heard that summer, he would make me look up, you know. Do research, get primary quotes, get my statistics straight, even if the quote came from him. So I looked and I looked and I found all kinds of tidbits. Like a 1920 Hyde Park neighborhood association newspaper and it put a big ad in there. And said, “Every black man who moves into Hyde Park knows he is damaging his white man’s property. Therefore he’s declaring war on the white man. If store owners and businesses should refuse to give a job to any black man that stays and resides in Hyde Park, well, that would show very good results.”

I’d always been told that blacks live with blacks and whites with whites, browns with browns, because everybody preferred their own kind. But that day I learned that segregation had been forced. I sat on that leather couch, sipping my orange Nehi pop, staring through the door and out at the barbershop pole. It’s red and white stripes twirling around each other but never, ever touching.

MAMA SAID …

By Storyteller Michael McCarty

 

Story Summary:

Michael’s mother models the importance and love of reading, but, mostly importantly, the value of kindness. When Michael tours in Brazil, he discovers that his mother was teaching the students there as well.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Mama-Said

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the power of positive reinforcement?
  2. What was learned from the “Tea & Pound Cake” encounter?
  3. How is reading the key to making your dreams become reality?

Resource:

  •  Live Your Dreams by Les Brown

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My mother thought she had gas but she didn’t. Her stomach was bloated because I was in there. Now this was quite a surprise because my mother was in her 40s. My father was about 50 years old. They weren’t expecting any more chillun. There was 14, 20, 25 years between me and my siblings. Surprise, surprise, surprise. Now, as long as I can remember, and I can remember ’til I was about two years old, my mother always read me and told me stories. She read me folk tales and fairy tales, and told me stories about growing up in Barbados. One of the favorite stories that she would tell me again and again was how much she loved reading.

Every night she would sit in her room and read and read and read until her mother would come in and say, “Close that book and go to sleep and turn out the light!” And then, my mother would go to the window and read by the gas streetlight. And she imparted that love of reading to me.

My mother would buy me books, any kind of book I wanted. Wouldn’t buy me Playboy but any other kind of book I wanted. She’d get me books. Marvel comic books. She turned me on to Marvel comic book, inadvertently. She got, I wanted a Green Lantern. She came back with, with Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. But anything that got me reading, she was for it.

My mother explained that during slavery times, blacks were not allowed to read because the slave masters feared that if blacks could read, that knowledge was power, and they would be able to use that knowledge to escape. So, she imparted to me the belief that, if you could read, you could do anything now.

Now, my mother read the newspaper, every day. In fact, at one point we got four newspapers. So, we would have discussions about what was going on; the civil rights movement, the black power movement, and she would share these things with me. My mother used to go to Evanston and she would clean homes in Evanston, white folks homes, and she loved this because it was her chance to get her own money. And that was something that was exciting to her. And she imparted that too to me; the idea of being independent. The idea of being able to take care of yourselves. Now, my mother, I grew up Catholic, and my mother was the best Catholic Christian I ever knew. You talk about do unto others.

Let me tell you the story about my mom. Now, one day me and my mom were home alone. I was about somewhere eight, nine, ten years old.  Doorber… doorbell rang. I answered the door. There was a woman at the door. She says, “Young man, is your mother home?”

I said, “Yes, ma’am. I’ll go get her.” I got my mom.

The woman said to my mother, “Miss, you don’t know me. I’m passing through the neighborhood on my way to catch a bus but I really have to use the bathroom. May I use your bathroom?”

My mother said, “Of course.” She showed the woman the bathroom and while the woman was in the bathroom, my mother went to the kitchen. She prepared pound cake and cookies, milk and tea. And when the woman came out, she served that woman like she was a long, lost friend.

Now, my mother instilled in me this belief, that I could do or be anything I wanted to be. She said that to me constantly to the point where I believed her. My mother never got to know about my career as a professional storyteller. But I know that if she had been aware of it, she would have said, “You go, boy!” Oh, yeah. My mom said, “You go, boy.” Long before Martin Lawrence was saying it, OK.

Earlier this year I was in South America telling stories in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. This French high school in Buenos Aires wanted to do something different. The director of the edg… of the English department, finding out that I had been in the Black Panther Party and been involved in the civil rights movement, in the black power movement, created a curriculum around my life, for her students to study these things. To study the Civil Rights Movement and race relations in the United States. They designed the curriculum around my life. They had to take tests about me. They had to write papers. One of the test questions was, “What role did Michael’s mother play in influencing his life?” My mama was a test question now. Oh, I feel so good about that. My mother told me that anything was possible. I believed her because that was the sho’ nuff truth.

(Rapping)

When I was a boy my mama told me,

I could be anything I wanted to be.

Reading to her, the mind was the key

To make my dreams a reality.

She said as long as I kept my head in a book,

It didn’t matter what direction life took.

More than beauty, wealth, and fame,

Knowledge is the key to the power game.

My mama, gave me the knowledge I would need

And in my mind, she planted the seed.

She nurtured that seed with a mother’s love

And prayers for guidance from powers above.

As I grew to be a man, there were times of my life

Full of hardship, I’m talking buku strife.

But in those times of difficulty,

I never forgot the things that my mama told me.

There was a time a few years ago,

I was confused about where my life would go.

Around this time I just found out,

What storytelling was all about.

I’d heard stories from Peninnah Schram, Joel ben Izzy,

Sybil Desta, Elle Erato, and Leslie Perry.

Listening to these folks inspired me,

I said, “A storyteller! That’s what I’m gonna be.”

Was I committed telling tales, took off like a rocket,

Now I’m living by my mama, have mouth will run it.

Hope this little tale inspires you,

To make a go at something you really want to do.

Thanks for listening. It’s been slammin’

 We’ve been getting down, oh, we’ve been jammin’.

And that’s the end of that.

VINDICATION

by Michael McCarty

 

Story Summary:

While in high school, Michael and some classmates make demands of his school to include more Black History in the curricula. The students hold a walkout and Michael is expelled. Decades later as an adult, Michael is brought back to the school to receive his high school diploma and the school’s gratitude.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What were the motivations for the school walkout?
  2. What inspired Greg Meyers, who hadn’t had any contact with McCarty or Tyler for decades, to create a movement to get St. Ignatius High School to apologize and give them their diplomas?
  3. Was the walkout the best way to get the school to listen? Was making their point and getting expelled worth the victory McCarty and Tyler experienced years later?

 

Resource:

  •  Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin

 

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

THE POWER OF LOVE

by Michael McCarty

 

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Power-of-Love

Full transcript:

Some of life’s funkiest experiences make some of the best stories. It was 1999, and I was traveling around the south of India. Going to temples and ashrams and doing my, oome, spiritual thing and getting my spiritual groove on. Two friends of my, mine and I had arrived at Pondicherry to visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. We got to the bus station. My two friends went directly to the main ashram hotel, The Park Guesthouse. I told them I would get there a little later. Wasn’t worried about getting a room. It was the hot season in the south of India, 120 degrees in the shade, and according to the guide book, nobody in their right mind would be there, ‘cept me and my friends. I showed up to the hotel about an hour or so after my friends had gotten there. As I’m walking up the steps to the lobby, I notice that this elderly Indian woman gives me a real dirty look, and says something to the man sitting behind the desk. As I walk up to this man, he says, “Can I help you?”

I said, “Yes, I’ll like a room.”

“We don’t have any rooms.” Keys, up and down, all over the board.

I said, “Well, did so and so, and so and so, check in?” Asking about my two friends, who just happened to be white.

He said, “Yes.” Now I’m picking up on something. Duh! But I don’t want to believe what I’m picking up on because I’m at an ashram, a oome, spiritual place, but I maintain my spiritual equanimity.

“When will you have some rooms,” I asked.

“Maybe in a day or two.”

“Alright, I’ll go check in another hotel.”

The next morning I’m having breakfast with my friends in that hotel’s restaurant. There’s another guy I know who has checked into the hotel after I’d been by there, the previous evening. Now I maintain a positive attitude. Some rooms must have suddenly become available. I go to the lobby to check it out.

There is this woman sitting behind the desk, the woman who would given me a dirty look today before, checking some people in. I stand off to the side to wait for her to take care of her business. She looks at me and says, “What do you?” with attitude.

And I say, “Well, I came to see if you have some rooms.”

“No, we don’t have any rooms and this isn’t just some ashram. This is for people who are coming for Sri Aurobindo Ashram and, and only rooms for people who are coming to the Ashram!” Like I’m halfway around the world and I don’t know this? Now I am…perturbed. I’m mad. I’ve had enough of this town. I had this ashram. I make arrangements to leave the following evening.

The next morning, I go back to have breakfast with my friends in the hotel restaurant. I am physically barred from entering and told that I have to go get this…person’s permission to go into the restaurant. Time out. You’re talking about your former 60’s militant. I know how to yell, scream, and fuss, ain’t done it in a while but I still remember how. But…I maintain my spiritual equanimity.

I go to the lobby, I say, “Madam, is there some problem? I’m just going to have breakfast with my friends in a restaurant. May I go in?”

“No, you go and wait in the lobby!” Oh, its on now! She done messed with the wrong person.

I’m getting raise some Cain, up in here. And just as I’m working myself up, this voice in my head says, “This is a test. It’s easy to love those that love you. The test is to love those that hate you.” And I figured this woman qualifies.

Now, you must understand love was not uppermost in my mind, in terms of things I wanted to send her. I can think of a hot fiery place I would joyfully have sent her, and joyfully use my size 12’s to help her get there. So, I’m thinking love. I would love…I’m thinking ’bout the Fred Sanford kind of a love. But then I remember, auras, the energy that surrounds every living thing. And I remember reading that pink was the color that represented Divine Love. And I figure we definitely need some Divine Love up in here. So mentally, I envelop her in this bubble of pink light and I started pumping pink at her butt. I was pumping pink. I was pumping pink. I was pump…ing…pink! I worked up a sweat pumping pink.

I did this for, I don’t know, five or ten minutes. All of a sudden, the woman comes over to me, totally different demeanor, totally different tone of voice. “Are your friends in the restaurant?”

I’m from Chicago, we be suspicious. I’m thinking, “What’s up? You setting me up? Yeah, what’s going on? I don’t know? You wouldn’t let me go see.”

She says, “Oh, well, go. Please go.” And she personally escorted me into the restaurant. And as I walked into the restaurant, and looked back at her smiling sweetly, I realized I had experienced the power of love.

Now, a couple of years later I would become a professional storyteller. I told the story at one of the storytelling meetings that I go to at Los Angeles. And after the meeting everybody was, “Oh, that’s a wonderful story, Michael. It’s a wonderful story.”

And I am someone who is not uncomfortable receiving praise. I’m like, “Mmm, hmm, yes, yes, yes. I know I’m bad. Uh huh.” But this one friend seemed to be particularly moved by the story.

A couple of months later she says, “Michael, Michael, let me tell you what happened!” It seems that at her job her boss had made it her personal obligation to give my friend unholy hell, each and every day. And so, this particular day, my friend decided she would do the pink thing. She would send her love. If not love, she would send light. If not light, she wouldn’t send those, “I want to choke you around your neck,” thoughts. You do the best you can. Well, all the employees were sitting together in a little lunchroom. My friend’s sitting here talking to someone there. The boss sitting next to her, talking to someone there. When the boss turned to her and started to engage her in pleasant, complimentary conversation. And from that day on, there was no more mess between them.

The power of love. Now I’m gonna fess up. I passed that one test but I have flunked quite a few. But it is worth the effort and that’s the end of that.