The student historians of the McComb Legacies Project in Mississippi kicked off their 2014-2015 school year program with the fourth annual summer institute. The institute lays the groundwork for a full year of researching local history and creating ways to share that history through film, performances, websites, public events, and/or tours. In past years students’ work has been entered and won at the Mississippi History Day and National History Day competitions.
The 2014 institute was a success thanks to the students, their teacher Ms. Falana McDaniel, and support from donors who have made their work possible.
The institute began with community building activities, leadership exercises, and selecting their areas of research for the school year. The topics they chose are: Young Black Activists; Black Power Movement /Weapons Used to Stop Integration; African American Railroad History; and Major Conflicts of Civil Rights Organizations.
The students divided into groups and used question-based strategies to guide each topic’s development. You can see in the photo to the left a list of questions from the group focusing on the Black Power Movement, including: “What would life be like now if movements like this had never existed?”
One of the many highlights of the institute was the students’ opportunity to conduct oral history interviews with community members about labor history. Mr. and Mrs. Johns, the grandparents of several McComb Legacies students, described their work at Kellwood Garment Factory, where they both faced discrimination. After Mr. Johns was terminated, he went to work with the railroads. There he faced sabotage from white workers who did not want him to advance. He persevered and retired just three years ago.
On the final day of the Summer Institute, the students presented their work to their families and school district leaders.
The multi-talented group used various mediums to express what they had learned. Some recited poems, others made formal presentations, and one presented a short film.
All of the students expressed that their studies this week have influenced them. Speaking about their topic “Young Black Activists,” Ronique Taylor, Sherese Martin, and Asia Lamkin drew direct parallels between the work of young people like Ruby Bridges and the Freedom Riders, and what they could expect from themselves. As Asia put it, “The bar is set.” Damion Jordan, a senior at McComb High School who chose to focus on the local history of African Americans working on railroads, said, “I’ll go beyond the books and into the community.”
As the institute came to an end, the students were thankful to have the guidance of Ms. Falana McDaniel in their studies. “I hated history before,” remarked one of them, “but now it’s my favorite subject.”
Sherese Martin spoke to the importance of McComb Legacies: “Exploring our topic can help young people to know their past so that they will know how to deal with issues they have today.”
Although the Summer Institute has come to an end, this marks the beginning of a what promises to be a rewarding year of students learning from history and sharing their work with their peers.
Contributions are vital to enable the school year activities of McComb Legacies including facilitation, travel to conferences and archives, refreshments, website hosting, and competition entry. (The 2011-2013 institutes were supported by a grant to Teaching for Change from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The 2014 institute was being supported by individual donors.)
You can see reports from prior summer institutes here:
Photos courtesy of Charla Johns and Falana McDaniel.