In early June, students from McComb, Miss. came to Washington, D.C. for the 2012 National History Day (NHD) contest. While in D.C., they had the opportunity to share one of their NHD entries, a short documentary film about the Burglund High School Walkout. (McComb’s Burglund HS was the site of the first student walkout during the Civil Rights Movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) launched its Mississippi work in McComb, yet this history receives no mention in U.S. history textbooks.)
This exchange was facilitated at a reception on June 12, 2012, at the Zora Neale Hurtston themed Eatonville Restaurant. The reception guests included SNCC veterans who had helped make the history described in the students’ film and others with media and education connections who can help spread the word.
Moderator Jenice L. View opened the evening by recognizing the SNCC veterans in attendance: Dorie Ladner, Freddie Greene Biddle, Reggie Robinson, and Sharlene Kranz. Ladner and Biddle are both from Mississippi and Robinson was in McComb at the time of the Burglund Walkout.
The students and teachers were then asked to stand and be recognized for their efforts to understand, document, and share McComb’s Civil Rights Movement history. The students were Vershunda Coleman, Tre Robinson, Terrius Harris, Adrian Brown, Xaviar Sanders, Manuel Scott, TyKesha Faust, Arcia Caston, Jasmine Dampier, Chrishuna Bell, Dominque Taylor, Gabrielle Washington, and RayKesha Carter. The teachers/advisors on the trip were Falana McDaniel, Gloria Stubbs, and Lisa Brown Deer. (Other teachers who worked with the students on collecting oral histories, studying local history, and preparing for NHD include Larry Johns, Vickie Malone, and Alan Wheat.)
Students shared with the audience a few highlights from their visit to D.C. and reasons why all the guests should visit their hometown McComb. While they enjoyed every site they visited D.C. in advance of the NHD contest, the students picked three locations for special mention: the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the school with expeditionary learning, and Ben’s Chili Bowl.
Then the lights were dimmed and the student-produced film on the history of the Burglund Walkout was shown.
Instead of a panel presentation after the film, guests were invited to pose their questions to students in small groups. This ensured that all 13 students had a chance to speak and that the guests enjoyed in-depth conversations with the young people about the production of the film and how they plan to carry on the legacy of SNCC.
In addition to the SNCC veterans, the guests included Mary Beth Tinker of Tinker v. Des Moines; Benetta M. Standly, executive director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital; Ben’s Chili Bowl owner Nizam Ali and his family; and many more, as noted and named in the slide show above.
To close out the evening, everyone came together for final reflections. Historian and author James Loewen (best known for Lies My Teacher Told Me) commended the students for not just learning about history but actually taking on the role of historians. Loewen had taught at Tougaloo College and one his books, Mississippi: Conflict and Change was rejected for public school text use by the state of Mississippi, leading to the path breaking First Amendment lawsuit, Loewen et al. v. Turnipseed, et al. decision.
McComb student Jasmine Dampier shared greetings from Brenda Travis. Travis’ arrest sparked the Burglund Walkout, and she is interviewed in the film. Travis, who now lives in the Bay area, sent word that she was very proud of what the students had accomplished.
SNCC veteran Dorie Ladner agreed. She told the students, “Our work was not in vain.”
Gannett reporter Deborah Barfield Berry, also in attendance, wrote a news article about the evening that ran in the Clarion-Ledger and Hattiesburg American.
The students’ trip to D.C. for National History Day and the reception were made possible by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to Teaching for Change.