Civil Rights

Diane Nash: A True Heroine in Leadership and Bravery

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Diane Nash with fellow Civil Rights Leader Congressman John Lewis
Diane Nash with fellow Civil Rights Leader Congressman John Lewis

Not everyone is born to lead. Not everyone has greatness thrust upon them. Not everyone lives in remarkable times. For Diane Nash of Chicago, she did all three in just a short span of time. Diane Nash’s life changed when she left Chicago behind in the late 1950s to go to college – first at Howard University in Washington, and then at Fisk University in Nashville. There in Tennessee, the young coed met Southern segregation for the first time. As a result, she became a leader in fighting against segregation. Nashville and that fight came to define the rest of her life and helped changed the nation.

Born in Chicago in 1938, Diane grew up on the south side in a middle class neighborhood and attended Catholic schools. While her father was overseas during World War II, her grandmother, Carrie Bolton, helped raised her and became a huge influence on how Diane looked at the world and treated other human beings. Her grandmother taught her that no one person was better than any other. After World War II ended, her father came home, her parent’s marriage ended, her mother remarried, and yet her Grandmother still remained in her life.

Even in that positive environment, Diane experienced racism and discrimination. However, racism in the North was more subtle than in the South. Most racism was unspoken. Diane experienced Northern racism whenever she tried to enter beauty pageants. She was denied entrance to several because of the color of her skin. She was even denied entrance to a charm school because it “was not equipped to handle Negroes.” She graduated with honors from Hyde Park High School. When it came time to pick a college, Diane chose Howard University in Washington, D.C. She later transferred to Fisk University in Nashville to major in English.

Heading South: The Sit-Ins

It was in Tennessee that Diane experienced a more “in-your-face” spoken and legislated form of racism. Diane writes:

In September 1959, I came to Nashville as a student at Fisk University. This was the first time I had been as far south as Tennessee; therefore it was the first time I had encountered the blatant segregation that exists in the South. I came to see the community in sin.

A young Diane Nash
A young Diane Nash

The controlling nature of this form of segregation was an affront to the young Nash, as if being slapped in the face constantly. From the signs in every place in society to being denied service in commercial parts of the city, Nash knew she had to do something. Her frustration at being treated so overtly turned to anger.

Under the guidance of James Lawson, Diane began to learn nonviolent forms of protest. As the young age of 22, Diane rose quickly into a leadership position in the newly formed Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. At Fisk University, Diane’s natural leadership and stunning presence began to attract members to the organization. In early 1960, inspired by the Greensboro Four Sit-In in early February, Diane organized a sit-in in Nashville for late February.

Nash describes the scene:

The sit-ins were really highly charged, emotionally. In our nonviolent workshops, we had decided to be respectful of the opposition and try to keep the issues geared toward desegregation. And the first sit-in we had was really funny, because the waitresses were nervous. They must have dropped $2,000 worth of dishes that day! I mean, literally, it was almost a cartoon. I can remember one in particular. She was so nervous, she picked up the dishes and dropped one, and she’d pick up another one and drop it. It was really funny, and we were sitting there trying not to laugh, because we thought that laughing would be insulting. At the same time, we were scared to death.

Diane is sitting third from the left with glasses
Diane is sitting third from the left with glasses

When the police came, they arrested whoever was sitting at the counter. The police became perplexed quickly as the empty seats were soon filled with new protesters to arrest.

Nash explained her view of the Civil Rights Movement:

The Negro is seeking to take advantage of the opportunities that society offers; the same opportunities that others take for granted, such a cup of coffee at Woolworth’s, a good job, an evening at the movies, and dignity. Persons favoring segregation often refer to the rights of man, but they never mention the rights of Negro men.

The Sit-Ins drew national attention to the cause, but also to Diane. She knew the risks involved. As one of the few women in a leadership role, Diane spoke eloquently and forcefully for human dignity in ending segregation.

Diane confronts Mayor West
Diane confronts Mayor West

In leading a march to the steps of city hall in Nashville, Diane stood face-to-face with the mayor of Nashville, Ben West. Diane, calmly but firmly asked Mayor West, “…do you recommend that the lunch counters be desegregated?” To many people’s surprise, he answered “Yes.”

Spurred on by her success, Diane organized other protests in and around Nashville’s downtown economic center thereby desegregating the city through economic power and boycotts.

Showing such grace, style, and a steadfast approach to bridging the race barrier, Diane left Fisk without graduating. Her professors understood that she had a greater calling. Over the next five years, Diane Nash was at the center of the Civil Rights Movements greatest moments. She was also behind the scenes orchestrating them as well. She became a key strategist for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1961-65.

Other Key Events

The leadership skills Diane learned at Fisk would serve her well in several other key moments in the movement. In Rock Hill, South Carolina, she was arrested in early 1961 and refused to pay bail – a strategy that she in part helped to plan in order to clog the jails. When arrested, Diane wanted Civil Rights protesters to not post bail but rather remain in jail and cause the local government to spend more money to house and feed them all. Not all agreed with her methods including her father who sent these telegrams to President Kennedy.

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In 1962, while six months pregnant, Diane refused to post bail and was sentenced to two years in jail. She said, “I believe that if I go to jail now it may help hasten that day when my child and all children will be free – not only on the day of their birth but for all their lives.” A judge was none too happy and commuted her term to ten days.

Diane was also a strategist for the Freedom Rides that included her then husband, James Bevel. Her she explains the event and strategies:

Here is a letter she wrote to the Kennedy Administration about actions taken in Mississippi against the riders.

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While many of the riders served several months in jail, her leadership garnered the attention of the President Kennedy. She was named by President Kennedy to a committee that began the Civil Rights Act. She later worked for the SCLC in Selma in 1965 and spoke out against Vietnam in 1967.

At work in Washington on what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
At work in Washington on what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The leadership skills she learned in Nashville served her well throughout her life and have helped many people. She reflected on those times by saying:

The movement had a way of reaching inside me and bringing out things that I never knew were there. Like courage, and love for people. It was a real experience to be seeing a group of people who would put their bodies between you and danger. And to love people that you work with enough that you would put your body between them and danger […] But when the time came to go to jail, I was far too busy to be afraid. And we had to go, that’s what happened. I think it’s really important that young people today understand that the movement of the sixties was really a people’s movement. The media and history seem to record it as Martin Luther King’s movement, but young people should realize that it was people just like them, their age, that formulated goals and strategies, and actually developed the movement. When they look around now, and see things that need to be changed, they should say: “What can I do?”

When the Civil Rights Movement began to wane, Diane returned home to Chicago where she still lives. She has spent the last 45 years working tirelessly to help people find affordable housing, taught in the Chicago Public Schools, and is an advocate for Civil Rights. She tours the country and is a highly sought after public speaker.

Diane Nash’s experiences were unique because of the remarkable times, but her leadership also helped to make them remarkable. Her strategies meant that some would die and that she was putting her own life at risk for freedoms denied.  When most of the leaders of the movement were men, she, as a woman, stood out as an inspiration. Her distinct style, manner, grace, and forthright ability to find solutions made her an excellent leader. She is a true heroine.

Sources

Books

Women and the Civil Rights Movement

The Children by David Halberstam

Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970

Magazines

http://books.google.com/books?id=e7MDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA49&lpg=PA49&dq=diane+nash+jet+magazine&source=bl&ots=Y15rN2gkaq&sig=j0QsZMa9YLfW5yJvEIo1Cz4cmUk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=y1tJU9WrBIma2AWFhoHoAw&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Video Interviews

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/interviews/civil-rights-activist-diane-nash/

http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Lessons-from-the-Freedom-Rides-Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEsD8DtWNLk

Internet

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHSFHW-005-003.aspx

http://archive.tennessean.com/civil-rights/

http://www.sc.edu/uofsc/announcements/2014/02_diane_nash_leadership_dialogue.php#.U0lJXVfqiSo

http://www.gertzresslerhigh.org/apps/download/k1ykbaSP3BFywG9xdFuzD8QzKKAhxTFRupBQYNmWUjCKI4R1.pdf/INTERVIEW%20WITH%20DIANE%20NASH.pdf

Becoming an Historian: A Weird and Wacky Path

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The other day in class, a student asked me why I became an historian. It was hard to answer. In fact, all I could come up with was, “I don’t think it was any one thing, but a series of events pushing me to becoming an historian.” And I think that it is different for every historian. Looking back at my life, five things influenced me into loving history: the context of my life, television, some wonderful professors, my family, and some great books and authors.

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Shell Shocked Soldier by Don McCullin

The Context of My Life
Being born in 1963, some of first memories are of the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Beatles. Every day, my family would gather round the television at 5:30 p.m. to watch Walter Conkrite do the CBS Evening News. The images I saw still impact me today. I am a very visual teacher in that students examine a lot of images like political cartoons and images. For me, the images of Vietnam have been seared into my brain. They do not haunt me, but I will always remember the images I saw like “Napalm Girl,” “Shell Shocked-Soldier,” and Eddie Adams’ “The Assassination.” I introduce them to my students along with other images from that era including the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, Bull Connor, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers. The era is ripe with stark images of the events.

Add in my own personal fascination with the Beatles, and everything about them. When older, I began researching them and finding out information about them. They were my favorite band up until I was a junior in high school. That fascination would continue when I began listening to Led Zeppelin, The Police, Rush, and Pearl Jam – my other favorite bands. I always researched every artist. I still do today. I dig into their past and find out who influenced them, why they picked up an instrument, and how they got in the record business. It is always interesting to me.

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The favorite band of my youth

Television
You wouldn’t think that TV as a medium would influence an historian in the pre-cable days, but the show I would always watch when I came home from school was “Hogan’s Heroes.” I know it sounds corny, but the truth of the matter is that I wanted to learn more about what was happening on each episode of “Hogan’s Heroes.” I would always use an encyclopedia to find out about something mentioned on Hogan’s Heroes whether it was the Gestapo or the city of Hamburg or some member of the Nazi hierarchy. It really piqued my interest in World War II. I remember there was a kid in my class named Larry Weaver whose dad served in World War II. His dad had brought back/mailed stuff from his service and I always thought those artifacts, including a Luger and a Nazi flag, were the coolest things!

Hogan's Heroes got me interested in World War II
Hogan’s Heroes got me interested in World War II

College Professors
When I went to college in 1982 to Western Illinois University, I had the great honor of learning under Larry Balsamo and the late Darrel Dykstra. Both were quite different in their teaching styles and I think I liked that about them. Larry Balsamo was very energetic, always had a story to tell, and he loved the little details he found interesting that no one else did. His Civil War and Reconstruction class is my all-time favorite class. It was hard if you had Larry not to love history because he did so much.

Darrel Dykstra was the opposite of Larry Balsamo. He was quiet, reserved, and meticulous when I learned about Middle East History. His attention to detail and material were some of my favorite of college including a book we had to read called “Guests of the Sheik.”

Fifteen years later, I had the pleasure of taking a class in grad school at NIU with the late Jordan Schwarz. Dr. Schwarz was a huge Cubs fan, but he taught me a lot about writing history. After the class ended, I played golf with him several times and all we talked about was the Cubs…nothing else. I have enough Andy Pafko stories to last me a lifetime.

Another professor who had a huge impact on my career was Bruce Field, now at South Carolina. Bruce engaged me to write the proper lesson plan (he would later speak at my wedding as he was friends with my wife before I met my wife). Later, Carla Shaw of NIU tapped into my creative side to get me to create my own teaching models/style for history. She had a huge influence on how I teach. Later, she would be my initial doctoral adviser before her retirement. She Skyped into my oral defense. I was really touched.

The Family
My older brother Mark had some influence on me when it comes to being an historian. He is five and half years older but he always used to have models he constructed of the space program. There used to be models of a Saturn V rocket, the lunar lander and the capsules on his shelf. I found them so interesting. I tended to build model battleships/aircraft carriers. But when he left for college in 1976, I had the bedroom to myself and one of the first things I did was to research the space program including each astronaut and Apollo mission.

My parents probably had the biggest role in me becoming an historian. In the early 1970s, they bought a set of encyclopedias and a set of World Book Year Books. They would keep adding the Year Books until I graduated. I found them fascinating and even read them throughout college. Having moved several times in my youth and young adulthood, the yearbooks were like my best friends as I read them constantly to find out what happened before I had memories, and to gather more data about what events I did remember from my youth. As I sit here and watch some football, I also remember using the yearbooks to look back at who won sports championships in those years.

The 1968 World Book Year Book - a classic and huge influence!
The 1968 World Book Year Book – a classic and huge influence!

Books on History
Beginning when I was in 5th grade and through my late 40s, I read a lot. It was not until 8th grade that I read my first historically tinged book. It was in 8th grade history class with Kent Crear at Polo Junior High School that I read “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren and it was stunning! Today, it is still one of my favorite books of all time ( I never did see the Sean Penn movie as I thought there was no way it could match the book). I think the book that got me hooked on history was “Ordeal By Fire (1st Edition)” by James McPherson. I read it when I was junior in college (1984) and I found it totally fascinating. Up to that point in my life, I loved short stories, science fiction, and 19th century literature. From that point on, it was all history for the next few years (along with Science Fiction). Today, I like Doris Kearns Goodwin and her writing style, Michael Beschloss is good, too, along with John Eisenhower, and I can read about the New Deal by Jordan Schwarz anytime.

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A great tale and a great warning about political power

Thinking about it, I could add baseball cards, being a Cubs and Bears fan, but whatever I get interested in, I learn the history about it. I know these things are what made made me an historian, but what keeps me an historian are the students that I teach. I still enjoy learning about history and sharing it with them. I don’t really consider it teaching, just sharing what I enjoy about the past and how I found it and experience it. In the present, my wife and I rarely plan a vacation unless it involves a historical site or two. In fact, that is my plan for this summer. I plan on going down to Nauvoo to see some Mormon history, over to Hannibal for Mark Twain, and then on to Kansas City for some Negro League Museum stuff. It is who I am. It is what I do. It is what I enjoy.

Fred Hampton: An Assassination Gone Wrong

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Fred_Hampton.gif“So we say — we always say in the Black Panther Party that they can do anything they want to to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat, I am the people.” ~ Fred Hampton

Not many people today know who Fred Hampton was outside of Chicago. In 1969, not many knew either. At 21 years of age in 1969, Hampton and fellow Black Panther Mark Clark were assassinated by the Chicago Police Department and the FBI. The resulting investigation into their deaths would end careers but also shed light on the dirty tactics of J. Edgar Hoover and the cult of fear in white America surrounding the Black Panther Party.

The Black Panther Party did not begin in Illinois. It migrated there from California. Formed by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland in 1966, the original purpose of the party was to defend itself from police brutality and authority. Their ten point plan (see poster below) called for the taking back of neighborhoods through programs in the community. In White America, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a cause for major concern as the party itself was an armed group. Photographs of armed black radicals caused the rise of fear in the public eye and in the halls of Washington, mainly the office of J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI. Hoover deemed the group too radical and went as far as calling them terrorists.

BlackPantherParty-TenPointPlan-Yell

For Fred Hampton and many other black youth of the time period, the Black Panther Party attracted youth for their radical ideas of standing up to oppression in black communities. At this time, America was at war in Vietnam and here at home. The Civil Right movement that began in the south in the 1950s and early 1960s fought segregation. By the middle 1960s, the movement had come north but the goals were completely different. The movements in the South had fought for the extinction of the last vestiges of Jim Crow Laws. While in the North, unwritten forms of segregation were evident in housing, jobs, education, and opportunity.

Hampton grew up in Maywood, Illinois, and graduated with honors from Proviso East High School in 1966. He was a scholar and an athlete and dreamed of playing for the New York Yankees. In 1967, Hampton was arrested for allegedly robbing a Good Humor Ice Cream truck of $71. The case would take two years to get to trial.

In 1967 and 1968, Hampton was an organizer for the NAACP recruiting over 500 people to join the ranks. In addition, he tried to create more recreational areas for youth in the city. A pre-law major at Triton Junior College, Hampton was well aware of the brutality of the day as he and fellow NAACP would often follow police on their rounds to find instances of police brutality in the community. The non-violent structure of the NAACP was not enough for Hampton. He wanted something more.

In 1968, Fred Hampton joined the Black Panther Party. He rose quickly through the ranks. Hampton was a charismatic young leader. He was knowledgeable, well read, and commanded the microphone. He brokered peace deals between rival street gangs, and additionally coalesced several student and civil rights groups into what he called “the rainbow coalition” years before Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHzSdniqi4g

In 1969, Hampton ascended to be the head of the Black Panther Party in Chicago. With that title came scrutiny from within Chicago and Washington. The FBI actually opened a file on Hampton beginning in 1967. By 1969, the file was 4000 pages long. But as a Panther, Hampton’s so called “radical” activities included: starting a People’s Medical Clinic, education classes, a free breakfast program, police oversight, and holding weekly rallies in the community to raise awareness and inform the public. 16636_208335267532_673902532_4020795_1045438_n

Throughout 1968 and 1969, leaders in this new era of the Civil Rights movement wound up either in dead or in jail. Some groups even fragmented. Hampton’s mentor, Bob Brown left to start a new group with Bobby Seale. Hampton knew his days as a free man were numbered. Hampton’s previous arrest from 1967 finally saw the inside of courtroom in May of 1969. He was found guilty and sentenced to 2-5 years. Hampton got out a $25,000 appeal bond.

Throughout 1969, confrontations between Chicago Police and the Black Panther Party grew with deaths on both sides. With urging from J. Edgar Hoover, the Chicago Police and the FBI stepped up their surveillance on Hampton, his new girlfriend, and their living arrangements. The FBI had grown tired of Hampton and saw him as a threat to stability. They got a warrant to search his apartment for weapons and were hoping to put him away on that charge since the burglary charge had not stuck yet. The FBI even had an informant, William O’Neal, infiltrate the organization. The night before the raid, O’Neal put a chemical substance into Hampton’s food and drink so that Hampton would be unconscious when the raid began in the morning.

FBI Drawing of the layout of Hampton's apartment
FBI Drawing of the layout of Hampton’s apartment

December 4, 1969, the Chicago Police entered Hampton’s apartment expecting to find 20 Black Panther Party members in residence. Only Clark and Hampton were there. They were soon killed. The amount of fire power used to kill the two men was overwhelming and overpowering creating a bloodbath. State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan claimed that Hampton and Clark fired first citing two holes near a door as evidence. They later turned out to be nails.

Here is Fred Hampton's bed after the shooting
Here is Fred Hampton’s bed after the shooting

Hampton’s girlfriend, Deborah Johnson, who was present, describes the carnage and how the raid took place

“Someone came into the room, started shaking the Chairman, said, “Chairman, Chairman, wake up. The pigs are vamping.” Still half asleep, I looked up, and I saw bullets coming from, it looked like, the front of the apartment, from the kitchen area. They were — pigs were just shooting.

And about this time, I jumped on top of the Chairman. He looked up. Looked like all the pigs had converged at the entranceway to the bedroom area, back bedroom area. The mattress was just going — you could feel bullets going into it. I just knew we’d be dead, everybody in there. When he looked up, just looked up, he didn’t say a word. He didn’t move, except for moving his head up. He laid his head back down, to the side like that. He never said a word. He never got up off the bed.

The person who was in the room, he kept hollering, “Stop shooting! Stop shooting! We have a pregnant woman, a pregnant sister in here!” At the time I was eight-and-a-half, nine months pregnant. My baby was to be delivered in two weeks. Pigs kept on shooting. So I kept on hollering out. Finally, they stopped.

They pushed me and the other brother by the kitchen door and told us to face the wall. Heard a pig say, “He’s barely alive. He’ll barely make it.” I assumed they were talking about Chairman Fred. Then they started shooting. The pigs, they started shooting again. I heard a sister scream. They stopped shooting. Pig said, “He’s good and dead now.” The pigs were running around laughing. They was really happy, you know, talking about Chairman Fred is dead. I never saw Chairman Fred again.”

The police claimed they were fired upon twice by the Black Panthers and as a result, used excessive force to “protect and defend” themselves.

Chicago Police Officers Seem to Enjoy Carrying Out Fred Hampton's Body
Chicago Police Officers Seem to Enjoy Carrying Out Fred Hampton’s Body

In the community, cries of a coverup and a conspiracy began as soon as the news hit the street. Hanrahan claimed,

State's Attorney Hanrahan
State’s Attorney Hanrahan

“The immediate, violent, criminal reaction of the occupants in shooting at announced police officers emphasizes the extreme viciousness of the Black Panther Party. So does their refusal to cease firing at the police officers when urged to do so several times.”

Hanrahan had been seen as an up and comer in the Daley Administration and the Democratic Party. His cover up of the investigation would result in the downfall of his political career and a Republican, in Chicago of all places, winning the next election for State’s Attorney. This newspaper article details some of the actions Hanrahan took in the cover up of the assassinations of Clark and Hampton.
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No one was ever convicted for the crime of killing Hampton and Clark. In 1971, a raid in Pennsylvania on a FBI office there uncovered documents about O’Neal’s role in the assassination and the lengths the FBI went to in order to take Hampton. O’Neal later killed himself, despondent over his role in the assassinations.
In 1983, a civil suit ended with $1.8 million being awarded to the victim’s families.

Author and Hampton family lawyer Jeffery Haas states the assassination marked a turning point in politics between blacks and whites in Chicago:

Well, I think, for one thing, it marked the independence of the black political leaders in Chicago, who had, up until then, had been pretty much lackeys of the mayor and the Democratic machine. And a young congress — a young state senator named Harold Washington spoke out, and Danny Davis spoke out, and Jesse Jackson welcomed Bobby Rush. And all of a sudden you had an independent and much more progressive black political machine, or part of the machine, that was independent. And I think that group and white liberals were given credit for eventually electing Harold Washington mayor, as Chicago’s first black mayor.

Chicago and the Black Panther Party have never been the same since. Deborah Johnson (now called Akua Njeri) gave birth to Fred Hampton, Jr. a few weeks after the raid.

For Further Reading
Jeffrey Haas: The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther

Other Sources
http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/4/the_assassination_of_fred_hampton_how

Chicago Tribune Newspaper Articles

Court Orders New Autopsy of Hampton; Chicago Tribune; Feb 7, 1970

Koziol, Ronald: Panther Slayings Split the City Into Name Calling’ Factions; Chicago Tribune, Dec 14, 1969

Lee, Edward: Hanrahan Backs Police; Gunfight Probe Urged: Praises Judgment: Chicago Tribune, Dec 9, 1969

O’Brien, John: ‘Let U. S. Probe Killing’–Hanrahan: Negro Lawyers Demand Action; Chicago Tribune, Dec 12, 1969

Hanrahan Actions Reviewed: Chicago Tribune, Nov 6, 1970

WHY JUDGE JAILED BLACK PANTHER AID: He Saw Hampton as ‘Dangerous’: Chicago Tribune, Dec 12, 1969

For Further Viewing

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sMUWMkuGYE

Primary Source Paradise: Trends in Teaching History

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For about 18 years, I have relied on using primary sources to teach history. The Internet made it possible. It is, after all, the information super highway. But for teachers, the Internet is a portal to another world, a wormhole if you, please. Before the Internet, access to primary sources was rare unless you bought a book, traveled to a museum, historical site, or an educational institution. In fact, those sources were only accessed by historians and were often closed to the public.  One could only see a document behind a glass cover/shield.

Beginning in the late 1990s, companies like Jackdaws and Discovery Enterprises, Ltd. began producing collections of primary source materials for teachers to use. Now, any Social Studies catalog is filled with primary source collections from events as far back as Ancient Greek. For US history, however, these collections can change how one teaches and how students learn.

Digressing back to the effect of the Internet, in recent years, libraries and other educational institutions are now putting these primary documents online for the public to peruse and use. The John F. Kennedy Library put an amazing amount of sources from the Cuban Missile Crisis online a few years ago. I have found collections from the McCarthy era, the Civil War, the Black Hawk War, the rise of Barbed Wire in DeKalb, Illinois, and a ton of sites with documents about Lincoln and the Civil War.

More recently, the John F. Kennedy Library has added a collection of materials regarding the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. This seminal event almost galvanized the nation and inspired thousands of young African-Americans to attend traditionally white southern schools like the University of Alabama.

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The collection contains amazing documents from Meredith, the Kennedy administration, the courts, and the Mississippi establishment. It is quite expansive and quite in-depth. As a teacher, these documents can provide a plethora of activities and teachable moments through decision making and analysis. Using these documents makes history come alive. As a teacher, you could create a series of dilemmas to face from many different viewpoints – and that’s what teaching history is about is to understand that there often 3 or more sides to every story – not just two.

I am in the process of using the Meredith microsite to create a 3-4 day simulation lesson. It will be filled with decisions, cartoons, video, letters, court cases, and most importantly, critical thinking.

I also found several space race exhibits and documents online. Educational institutions across the country are creating the digital portals. Whether it is Eastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, or presidential libraries like George W. Bush or Dwight Eisenhower, digital primary source access is changing how history is taught, but more importantly, how history is actively learned.

Title IX: Changing Education

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By Lauren Leffelman

*At the time of this post, Lauren is a senior in high school. She participates in volleyball, soccer, cheerleading, dance, and National Honor Society  In the fall, she plans to attend Aurora University. This is her research paper which won a superior ribbon at the Illinois History Expo. Lauren is the only student I have ever known to openly cheer when told that an essay was going to be written in class.

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Equality is defined as the state or quality of being equal; correspondence in quantity, degree, value, rank, or ability.  In the early 1970s, women were being excluded from the benefits of equality in education. Women were not allowed equal access to athletics, financial aid, and admissions. However, a major turning point came not only the education system, but America as a whole in 1972: the establishment of Title IX. Title IX was an educational amendment act of 1972 that put an end to discrimination among females in higher education systems.  The educational amendment stated that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” [1] Women were now allowed to take full advantage of all that college had to offer and/or to fully participate in the college experience. Higher education had become something for not only men, but women as well. Title IX was a symbol for expanded opportunities for females. The amendment has been a driving force and an inspiration to women throughout the generations. Title IX helped to establish a place for women in the higher education systems of today.

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Before the establishment of Title IX women were not allowed to play sports or if they were the sports were extremely limited. Moreover, they didn’t receive the same treatment that boys received. They had fewer coaches and their equipment wasn’t very good either.

To begin with, the Education Amendment of 1972, most commonly referred to as Title IX, originated from the 1965 presidential executive order which did not allow for federal contractors to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, or origin. Furthermore, in 1968 President Johnson extended by adding that employment could not be dependent on gender. Even further, a senior scholar for the National Association of Women in Education, Bernice R. Sandler made a connection with women in the workforce and women in college. She concluded that since colleges were considered federal contractors, they could not discriminate against the admission of women. [2] In 1970, the fight for women’s equality began. Legislations were being drafted banning the discrimination on the basis of gender in education. The original plan was to extend the Title VII, which was the Civil Rights Act. With much effort, Title IX was born and with that it took on its own entity. In the beginning stages of the legislation of Title IX, the wording was difficult to understand, and it was not known whether the bill would cover almost every aspect of college life including sports, housing, counseling, and health services. It took nearly three years for the government to get into specific regulations. Overall, the board decided that the entire school must be in compliance with Title IX. To make sure that all facets of the schooling systems were in compliance, the Office of Civil Rights was in charge of enforcing the amendment wholly and equally. Another piece to the foundation of this amendment was the Vocational Equity Act of 1963, which proclaimed that those with federal funding must eliminate sex bias, stereotyping, and discrimination in school systems. Title IX was subject to over 20 proposed amendments. Signed by Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, Title IX became an amendment that would continue to evolve and benefit the lives of many.

Primarily, education is one of the most important aspects of one’s life. With Title IX now an effective law, the overall education system took on a new persona. Females were now capable of taking any course they pleased, such as criminal justice and auto mechanics, which were originally seen as “men’s work.” As a result, women were beginning to make a bigger percentage of the enrollment. For instance, before the passing of the new law, medical schools and law schools would often times take fewer than 15 women into their programs. With the development of the amendment, women were being rewarded academically much more equally. Men and women were learning by the same rules. Women could receive scholarships, and their admittance no longer was dependent on their test scores being higher than that of the men applying for enrollment. With education comes success, and with success power is sure to follow; women were becoming more and more successful with the implementation of Title IX.

Most commonly, Title IX is known for its reforms in college level athletics. In the beginning, college athletics were for men only. Women were becoming increasingly more interested in athletics. With that interest, colleges were forced to comply by making athletics an equal opportunity. Before Title IX, only one in 27 girls participated in high school sports. [3] With that said only 32,000 played intercollegiate sports. The reason for this was that athletic scholarships for women were virtually non-existent. Equality had to be met in all aspects of government funded schools. Therefore, women were allowed the equal opportunity to play sports while in school. However, with men’s equipment being increasingly more expensive than that of women’s equipment, it was hard to find harmony amongst the sexes.  Although the sports would never be identical, they were still applied and carried out equally. Boys and girls were treated the same by their coaches, and they all reaped the same benefits. The allowance of women in college athletics proved that if you build something up, people are sure to gather.  Women’s participation in sports sky rocketed. Title IX is a true example of The Field of Dreams. It gave way to a new passion that women did not even know they had. Some would argue that men’s sports were because women’s sports were on the rise. In reality, both sexes had sports revoked to avoid having to lower the budget on bigger programs such as football. [4]However, the implementation of female athletics was dependent on interest, budget, and gender ratio. Athletics was one of the biggest addressed issues in Title IX.

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Overall, Title IX had a huge impact in many areas. Generally, it worked to gain access to higher education for women. With women able to get a college education, they were able to work and be more independent. The opportunities were becoming seemingly endless.  If one were to take a glance at our history, women have been making leaps and bounds into the career world and now occupy high paying jobs. The learning environment was also impacted. The government was making it so that even high schools had to correspond to the new rules. Often times girls were separated from boys. Though all girl and all boy schools still exist, facilities were more often than not unisex learning environments. With the equality of the environment, came the equal learning opportunities. Women were now majoring in science and math related careers whereas before it was a predominantly male field. When looking at the bigger picture, Title IX allowed for the evolution of the school system we know today.

Consequently, Title IX was not always well received. People were always trying to battle back against a law that was looking to cause more good rather than harm. Many of the most well-known court cases have to do with females and sexual harassment. Alexander v. Yale was the first case concerning sexual harassment that gave reference to Title IX. With this case, sexual harassment was granted an act of sexual discrimination, thus making it illegal. This case involved five female students who were pushed into silence because Yale University provided no procedure to make sexual harassment illegal. Two of the girls were harassed by a flute teacher and a hockey coach. One of the other females involved was offered an “A” by a teacher in return for sexual acts. When she told the professor no, he responded by giving her a failing grade. Although the women did not win the case, the college implemented a Grievance Procedure and established that sexual harassment was an entailment to Title IX. [5] One would also find that the Land of Lincoln has many well known stories that were in refusal with the new law. In the Cannon v. University of Chicago Case of 1979, when 39-year old Geraldine Cannon applied to two medical schools she was denied. She later realized that both schools would not accept candidates over the ages of 30 and 35. After more thought, she realized that her gender also made the admissions board more partial to her application. As one would guess, Cannon filed for a law suit. Her argument was that women often times could not attend college because it was interrupted by having to raise families, which is primarily seen as a woman’s task, whereas men can attend college whenever they feel like it. Once the case made it to court, all they did was pay for her attorney fees.  However, her long traveled endeavor of gaining equal access to college did not go unseen. In the years to come, changes were made in college systems. [6] Another court case that came from the great state of Illinois was Kelley v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. In 1993, the University of Illinois announced that they would be getting rid of four varsity sports, one of which being the men’s swim team. The boy’s that were on the team brought a lawsuit up against the Board of Trustees.  The school came back by saying that it was part of a budget cut and that it was in an effort to comply with Title IX. Swimming was chosen to be terminated because it was historically weak and it did not bring in many people because it wasn’t popular in high school.[7]This case along with many of Illinois’ other famous court cases helped to shape Title IX.

Going back in time, Hiawatha High School of Kirkland, Illinois was subject to many issues that came with women’s equal opportunities. Imagine this: you are a female high school teacher. You yourself never had many opportunities as a woman. Though you were able to attend college, high school was not exactly a breeze. In high school, women had hardly any opportunity to play varsity sports. In turn, not having girl’s athletics was an enormous disadvantage when trying to receive a sports scholarship. It was even more difficult then to make the college team.  Now in the year 2012 when asking Connie Worden, retired teacher from Hiawatha High School, what her experience was like this was her response: Her high school athletic opportunities were limited. However, when she came back to Hiawatha to teach, she decided to make a change. When she first started teaching in the 70s the only sports were for boys, which were basketball, football, and baseball. When looking through the 1976 yearbook, one would find that there were now a girls’ bowling and volleyball team that were coached by Deb Holze. In 1977, Holze coached Junior-Varsity volleyball. Seeing as Holze coached two separate teams, there was still no equity in coaching. Boys’ sports had two coaches just as they had from the beginning. In 1979 Deb Holze was still coach of the volleyball team while Sis Reichart was the bowling coach. In 1980 a new sport was added: basketball. The girl’s Junior-Varsity team was coached by Loarraine Dreska and the varsity coach was Coach O’Black. Connie Worden took on the role of being in charge of the Girls’ Athletic Association, otherwise known as the GAA.[8] Worden lived through a very slow climb to equality at Hiawatha, a school certainly not atypical. Although it was never considered a sport, Worden would take a group of girls for an hour a week after school to do things such as camping and bike riding. Even though it was not a sport, the GAA helped to give young women the opportunity to participate in something that was never allowed in the years before.

The Girls Athletic Association, otherwise known as the GAA, was a club for girls ran by staff at Hiawatha High School and it was led by Connie Worden, a retired English teacher who has been a part of the school for 33 years. The club gave young female students the chance to participate in physical activity, which was otherwise not a feasible task before the assembly of the GAA. The girls would play sports, go on bike rides, or go on camping trips. Activities were planned to happen at least once a week. Groups such as the GAA allowed for women to do things they would otherwise not get the chance to do.
The Girls Athletic Association, otherwise known as the GAA, was a club for girls ran by staff at Hiawatha High School and it was led by Connie Worden, a retired English teacher who has been a part of the school for 33 years. The club gave young female students the chance to participate in physical activity, which was otherwise not a feasible task before the assembly of the GAA. The girls would play sports, go on bike rides, or go on camping trips. Activities were planned to happen at least once a week. Groups such as the GAA allowed for women to do things they would otherwise not get the chance to do.

Today, even though the playing field between men and women isn’t entirely even, women have come a long way in establishing a place in society. Through the years, the numbers have proven to show that women are making their way to the top. Today, women earn between 60-62% of Associate degrees and 58% of Bachelor degrees. Before Title IX, only 7% of women participated in high school sports compared to the 41.5% of today. [9] In other words, today one in 2.5 girls in America participates in sports. In 1970 only 8% of women had a college degree where as it made a huge leap to 28% in 2009. [10] In 1972 women received only 9% of medical degrees; today they make up 38%. In 1944 the percentage of law degrees quadrupled to 43%.[11] The proof is in the numbers, women make up a large percentage of not only our college enrollment, but also athletics and job employment rates.title 9.3.jpg

As a parting thought, Title IX was one of the greatest turning points in America in numerous ways. Title IX gave women equal access to sports, government funding, and college opportunities. Title IX has been around for more than 35 years and it is evident that the law is here to stay and continue to evolve. It has taken 35 years to get women to the place they are today, where there are no boundaries to their dreams.  It is certainly true; a woman can do anything a man can do. Title IX was able to demolish the barriers and stereotypes that were placed before women and give way to a world with endless opportunities. People will continue to challenge it, but Title IX has stood strong. Being one of the biggest turning points in our history to date, Title IX deserves much more credit. With Title IX, we have reached a state where we can all be equal, whether you are a male or female, black or white, athletic or not athletic, rich or poor. Title IX has allowed for women to work in correspondence with men, be CEO’s of big companies, be part of a presidential cabinet, and be gold medalist winners of the Olympics. The playing fields are open to everyone, it is just up to the generation of today to keep it that way and work past the boundaries that society sets before us. It took only 37 words for America to reach the success it has today, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” However, it takes America as a whole to keep it alive and to keep making history. Success has been achieved, but it is a never ending effort to keep pushing forth and create total equality. On a positive note, Title IX has altered the mindset of America and has enforced a strong belief that all men and women are created equal.  Title IX had the power to change a nation and it continues to do so.


[1] “Title IX and Sex Discrimination.” U.S. Department of Education. Last modified 1998.   http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html.

[2] “Women’s Equity Resource Center.” Education Development Center | Learning transforms lives. http://www2.edc.org/womensequity/resource/title9/before.htm.

[3] “Women’s Equity Resource Center.” Education Development Center | Learning transforms lives. http://www2.edc.org/womensequity/resource/title9/before.htm.

[4] “Debunking the Myths About Title IX and Athletics | National Women’s Law Center.” National Women’s Law Center. http://www.nwlc.org/resource/debunking-myths-about-title-ix-and-athletics.

[5] “Title IX: Taking Yale to Court | The New Journal.” The New Journal. http://www.thenewjournalatyale.com/2011/04/title-ix-taking-yale-to-court/.

[6] Bruner, Darlene Y. “Cannon v. University of Chicago – Law and Higher Education.” Higher education law. Last modified November 12, 2010. http://lawhighereducation.com/24-cannon-v-university-of-chicago.html.

[7] National Association of College and University Attorneys. http://www.nacua.org/documents/Kelley_v_U_of_I.pdf.

[8] Interview: Connie Worden

[9] Feminist Majority Foundation. “Gender Equality in Athletics and Sports.” Last modified 2012. http://www.feminist.org/sports/titleIXfactsheet.asp.

[10] United States Department of Justice. “Equal Access to Education: Forty Years of Title IX.” Last modified June 23, 2012. http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/edu/documents/titleixreport.pdf.

[11] Curtis, Mary, and Christine Grant. “About Title IX.” Bailiwick – The University of Iowa Libraries. Last modified February 23, 2006. http://bailiwick.lib.uiowa.edu/ge/aboutRE.html.

42: A Movie Review

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Yesterday, my lovely wife and I went and saw the movie 42. The baseball period piece looks at the trials and tribulations Jackie and Rachel Robinson went through when Jackie broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

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If you are looking for an accurate, and historical, depiction of the challenges Robinson faced, you will not get that in a two-hour film. If you want an accurate account of the historical record, that will not happen in this film either. If you want to get the essence of the historical moment, good acting, and an entertaining docudrama, then that is what you will good.

The film begins with Branch Rickey seeking ways to win the National League Pennant. Rickey, who had only been the Dodgers general manager for three years, wanted to steal the thunder from the rival New York Giants, but more so from the Cardinals, the team he built through player development in a minor league system he helped established some 20 years prior. Excellently played by Harrison Ford, the acting echoes Ford’s finest work since Witness and Blade Runner. My wife and I forgot we were watching the same man who was Han Solo, Indiana Jones,  the President in Air Force One, and Jack Ryan. We really believed he embodied Branch Rickey. The relationship between Rickey and Robinson is a key element in the film and touching at many key points in the film and in Jackie’s journey.

However, the key relationship in the movie is the one between Jackie and his wife, Rachel, also well performed by Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie. You do feel the tension and the chaos they endured from the historical significance that the time period placed on them. Other excellent performers include Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese, Hamish Linklater as Ralph Branca, Andre Holland as sportswriter Wendell Smith, and Alan Tudyk’s racist rants as the Phillies manager Ben Chapman. It was uncomfortable at times to listen to the language and hate being spewed at Jackie, but Tudyk’s performance created “sympathy” for Robinson, something the character Branch Rickey pointed out that it would.

The film does claim its fine share of historical inaccuracies including the events surrounding Leo Durocher’s 1947 suspension. The film portrays Durocher’s suspension as something to do with an affair with a Hollywood starlet while in reality the suspension involved gambling with players.

The film also does not include the thoughts of Happy Chandler, the newly appointed commissioner of baseball. Chandler said of the inclusion of blacks into baseball,

“If they can fight and die on Okinawa, Guadalcanal (and) in the South Pacific, they can play ball in America.”
While these details are minor, it is after all a film designed to entertain first and foremost. My wife loved the film and wants to see it again. I, for one, would not object. The whole time I sat watching it, I was stunned by the cinematography and by Harrison Ford. The recreations of Ebbet’s Field, Shibe Park, the Polo Grounds, Crosley Field in Cincinnati, and Sportsman Park in St. Louis. The CGI effects were amazing to see those old ballparks come to life.
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Ebbet’s Field – Home of the Brooklyn Dodgers
Sure, the director, Brian Helgeland, took a few liberties with history, but I think the essence of the story is what matters. I did visit the website for the film and was disappointed that there were few resources for teachers.
As soon as the film was over, my wife turned to me and mentioned that I would not be able to show the film in my history classes because of the use of the use of the “N” word. I told I could if the parents signed off. I then told her that Jackie Robinson is not even in the textbook for the history class I teach. Thankfully, I don’t use the textbook to decide what to teach. Over the years I have collected student news magazine articles from Junior Scholastic and UpFront to fill in the missing part of Jackie Robinson.  The film is something I would consider using combined with historical documents. I don’t think you can teach Jackie’s story without telling what he went through on and off the field (Here’s a sample of some hate mail). The film does a good job of describing that, but as an historian, I wanted more details.
But in the end, it is a film. If you want an accurate historical account, go watch a documentary. If you want an entertaining film, 42 will do it.
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