NEH grant enables university professors to share stories from Selma with K-12 teachers

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Rooted in extensive research, “Bloody Sunday, Selma and the Long Civil Rights Movement,” a unique project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) launched this summer with a pair of week-long workshops for dozens of K-12 educators from districts across the nation.

A truly multidisciplinary effort, professors and researchers from Auburn’s College of Liberal Arts, College of Architecture, Design and Construction and College of Education, as well as educators from Alabama State University and Georgia Institute of Technology, created a one-of-a-kind, hands-on learning experience based out of Selma University. Professors conducted sessions aimed at educating and coaching K-12 educators about the significance of “Bloody Sunday” and the importance of including it and other events like it in their instruction plans.

“Bloody Sunday,” as it came to be known, occurred in Selma on March 7, 1965, when John Lewis, Hosea Williams and a group of approximately 600 marchers were confronted by Alabama State Troopers armed with tear gas and metal batons as they began a march for equality toward Montgomery. Marchers were beaten and turned away on that fateful day in an event that served as a catalyst for Americans to rally behind the civil rights movement like never before.

“We see ourselves as the great beneficiaries of such a great workshop,” said Stanford E. Angion, president of Selma University. “It really falls in line with many things we’re trying to do. Understanding at a greater level the history, the struggle and the challenges we faced as people, especially here, is so important. So, when we heard this project needed a place to operate, we were more than happy to offer Selma University.”

While research from College of Liberal Arts professors and project co-directors Keith Hébert and Elijah Gaddis laid the foundation for the workshops, master teachers, graduates and adult education experts from Auburn’s College of Education helped to shape the learning experience for participants.

“My role has been helping our university professor colleagues understand how to work with these teachers who are adult learners,” said Leslie Cordie, project coordinator and associate professor in the College of Education. “My hope is that every participant goes home and engages with content like this in their own communities. And I hope we develop a strong community of practice, creating a long-term collaboration resource for all of us.”

In addition to powerful stories, artifacts and experiences related to Selma and the historic march, the workshop included presentations from experts in integrating oral histories into education.

“I wanted to help teachers think about oral history and how we bring that into the classroom,” said Jason Bryant, director of the Truman Pierce Institute at Auburn and an associate clinical professor in the College of Education. “I also shared work from my dissertation and school systems that I’ve worked with, from a historical perspective, demonstrating how we can capture and share the stories of the past.”

Blake Busbin, a three-time College of Education graduate, including a doctorate in 2013, and the Social Studies Education specialist with the Alabama Department of Education, inspired participants with work from his time in the classroom, working with students to interview and collect oral histories from military veterans — from World War II through wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Our teachers and students need to engage in collecting the oral history of their communities,” Busbin said. “These stories are disappearing and as educators, we have a mission to engage the public and help students cross generational gaps to preserve these accounts in their community and heritage, and to uncover the history behind where they live.”

Kwantrice Robinson, a workshop participant and K-12 teacher in Montgomery, Alabama, cited the opportunity to hear and learn from primary sources as one of the strengths of the workshop.

“I’m a very intentional teacher, and I want to ensure the things I share with my students will have an impact on them,” she said. “I want them to be immersed in the lesson. So, I had to immerse myself in these lessons.

“I’m going to share with my students not just that this happened, but that I was in the place where it happened.”

Because of the NEH-sponsored project, teacher participants from California, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and many states in between, experienced a Selma they previously had only read about.

“I would hope that they would have a greater understanding and appreciation for Selma and the events that unfolded,” Angion said. “I would hope that they would take as much as possible a bird’s eye view of the landscape, the sights and sounds and the struggle as best they can so they can better tell the story in their own communities. It’s one thing to share things you’ve heard and read, but when you get firsthand accounts and meet the people who were involved, then the story is real.”

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