July 26, 2010
Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA - Professor Akinyele Umoja's (left) task on a hot July day was to help 41 educators envision Booker T. Washington's famous speech on race relations at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Piedmont Park in 1895.
It's a task made more difficult because, for a city that bills itself as the home of the Civil Rights Movement and as holding an important place in America's history of race relations, Atlanta hasn't kept all of the landmarks of history in place.
The facilities where Washington made that seminal speech are long gone. The buildings at Morris Brown College where W.E.B. Dubois taught are in disrepair. And the Fox Theater, built in a time when African-Americans had to climb 90 steep stairs in the hot sun to reach the nosebleed "Colored" section, was nearly lost in the 1980s.
But with the help of Georgia State University professors like Umoja and Timothy Crimmins, a group of history teachers from all over the United States and across the globe used these locations to trace the steps of race relations in Atlanta, following the "color line" that separated blacks from whites.
Thirty-eight teachers and three international educators attended the weeklong workshop called "The Problem of the Color Line: Atlanta Landmarks and Civil Rights History," from July 18-23, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
"You can imagine that often times, there are landmarks near where you live where significant events occurred," said Umoja, a professor of African-American Studies. "In terms of race, segregation and Jim Crow, one can take for granted the changes and how they've occurred. What we find shows the resilience of a people, and we try to present compelling narratives, with a variety of perspectives."
Educators toured many sites important to understanding race and segregation, from Piedmont Park and Morris Brown College, to the King center, Sweet Auburn and the location of the old Rich's department store downtown - the site of civil rights arrests - and the state capitol building.
Teaching this period of time presents some difficulties, educators said.
"It's so far removed from what kids have experienced, not just timewise, but also because they've never lived under segregation. They don't have that personal tie," said Courtney Bailey, an 11th grade U.S. history teacher from Durham, N.C.
Armed with a digital camera on a muggy Monday, Antasha Brown, an eighth grade history teacher from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., snapped photos of monuments and buildings to share with her students.
"Being a sensitive topic, for some kids, sometimes there's a little tension," Brown said. "Some of their peers are eager to learn about it. Some have learned about it beforehand, and others learn about it only through school. Some kids don't get a chance to visit, but the PowerPoint presentations I'll make with these photos will help make it real to them."
One international visitor, Chunyian "Lucy" Liu, from Ginan University in Guangzhou, China, said the experience will help her teach classes about American history, of which Chinese students are very interested.
"The color line is one subject of American studies in China," she said. "A lot of the students become interested in Southern history through "Gone With The Wind" and learn more about Atlanta when talking about this subject."
Another weeklong workshop is being held the week of July 26.