StoryCorps’ National Teachers Initiative was not coming to Mississippi until they heard about McComb’s school-community plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the high school walkout. They added McComb to the national map and conducted 12 pairs of interviews with teachers, administrators, parents, and students. These stories have now been submitted to the Library of Congress for posterity, and interviews that capture the African-American experience will be housed at the future Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. Below is an article relating the experience:
“The Bible states how we are not supposed to be boastful… so many stories don’t get told.” Mary Isaac, a retired educator from the McComb School District, made this statement after reflecting on a cathartic conversation that she recorded with friend, fellow educator and retiree Helen Washington for StoryCorps, a national non-profit organization. “I have known Mrs. Washington for years [but today] I learned about something that happened in the classroom that I never knew!”
Mrs. Isaac and Mrs. Washington are among two of the 20 McComb educators, administrators, support staff and students who recorded stories on October 20th and 21st, 2011, for the National Teachers Initiative. Some participants reflected on why they made the decision to enter the teaching profession, sharing the victories and challenges that they overcame to make a difference in students’ lives. Other participants talked about the impact that attending school in McComb had on their life choices and their outcomes as adults. The National Teachers Initiative selected McComb in honor of the community and school districts activities to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Burglund High School Walkout.
Before the interviews commenced ten students from vocational teacher Falana McDaniel’s Digital Media class at the Business and Technology Complex had lunch with Story Corps facilitators Yasmin Peña and Lauren Waites. The Digital Media class launched a McCombLegacies.org website to share local history with a focus on the Civil Rights Movement and labor. The students learned about the facilitators’ career trajectories and their current roles as StoryCorps facilitators, learning how they use digital animation, videography, graphic design, and other aspects of digital media in their work. Students commented that they now have a better understanding about how their class work can translate into a rewarding career.
All of the participants said that their experience with StoryCorps was worthwhile and provided them a form of “relief.” Superintendent Palmertree shared, “I remembered why I came back [as a young teacher] year after year while my peers moved on to other professions.” Mrs. Palmertree’s interview partner was Donovan Craig, a 2011 alumnus of McComb High School who served on the district’s advisory board and who is now a freshman at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Camita Nobles, principal of Otken Elementary School, learned new information about her own father, Deacon James Kate. The deacon shared stories about his early days as a student teacher and revealed why he did not pursue a teaching career. James Brown, principal of Denman Junior High School said he was honored to share his story as both a principal and former student in the McComb school district, knowing that now his story “will be preserved.” Robert Lamkin, principal of McComb High School, participated with his wife, Cynthia, sharing: “We both loved the idea of leaving such a wonderful legacy for our children … we talked about how we met and our experiences in the field of education.” High school teacher Vickie Malone was interviewed by Dr. Elaine Coney, the only African-American English and Spanish professor at Southwest Mississippi Community College where Malone studied. Dr. Coney’s parents were career educators at South Pike. They sent her to boarding school on the East Coast during the 1960s to avoid the problems during this time in Mississippi. She studied abroad, attended Juilliard Music Conservatory, and received her PhD in Spanish in Mexico.
Overall, participants felt there were many special stories that needed to be told and they hope StoryCorps will return to McComb to collect more stories.
To continue the tradition of highlighting local voices, audio clips from selected interviews will be posted online through the McComb Legacies website. Interview coordination by the McComb School District, Teaching for Change, and StoryCorps was supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which funds the “Community of Promise: Building Strong Schools and Neighborhoods Through History, Activism, and Collaboration” partnership.
StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 35,000 interviews from more than 70,000 participants at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. In addition, interviews that capture the African-American experience will be housed at the future Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, also in Washington D.C. The StoryCorps’ National Teachers Initiative continues through 2012.