Rosa Parks, Pete Seeger and friends at the Highlander School

December 1, 2014

December 1, 1955, was not an accident of history.  Rosa Parks, often described as “a seamstress,” was college educated, trained as a teacher, and trained in civil rights actions at the Highlander School in New Market, Tennessee.

On this anniversary of Mrs. Parks’s Earth-moving action of civil disobedience, I think back to a photograph taken a couple of years later, at the Highlander School.

It’s a stunning photograph, not for its photographer’s skills, nor the artistic nature of the taking.  It’s a true snapshot.  Five people on a farm in Tennessee, in black and white.  Probably the photographer used a Kodak camera made just for snapshots.

Except, it was 1957.  The farm is the Highlander School.  The five people in the photo include folksinger Pete Seeger, and Rosa Parks, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pete Seeger, MLK , and others at Highlander School, 1957

From left, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, one of the founders of the Highlander School, Rosa Parks, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. At a workshop at the Highlander School in Tennessee, circa 1957.

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Who was the photographer?  Perhaps Myles Horton, the director of the school (and Charis’s husband).

In a sort piece filmed at his home in Beacon, New York, for the Highlander’s 75th Anniversary in 2007, Pete described the time and the occasion.

Don’t  you love the cricket singing along with Pete?

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Pete Seeger and the Highlander School

January 28, 2014

It’s a stunning photograph, not for its photgrapher’s skills, nor the artistic nature of the taking.  It’s a true snapshot.  Five people on a farm in Kentucky, in black and white.  Probably the photographer used a Kodak camera made just for snapshots.

Except, it was 1957.  The farm is the Highlander School.  The five people in the photo include folksinger Pete Seeger, and Rosa Parks, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pete Seeger, MLK , and others at Highlander School, 1957

From left, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, one of the founders of the Highlander School, Rosa Parks, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. At a workshop at the Highlander School in Kentucky, circa 1957.

12,346

Who was the photographer?  Perhaps Myles Horton, the director of the school (and Charis’s husband).

In a sort piece filmed at his home in Beacon, New York, for the Highlander’s 75th Anniversary in 2007, Pete described the time and the occasion.

Don’t  you love the cricket singing along with Pete?

More:


Little Rock’s Central High School, monument for civil rights

July 1, 2011

On the way out of Little Rock, Arkansas, after our day at the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, we stopped at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

Little Rock Central High School in 2011, photo by Ed Darrell - use permitted with attribution

Little Rock Central High School in 2011, photo by Ed Darrell - use permitted with attribution

In 1957 nine African American kids tried to enroll at the school, breaking high school segregation in Little Rock.  After assuring President Dwight Eisenhower that the Arkansas National Guard would preserve the peace, Gov. Orval Faubus ordered the Guard to keep the students out.  Eisenhower called up the Guard to federal duty, and sent in the 101st Airborne from the regular U.S. Army to enforce the desegregation rules.  (Imagine any president doing that today!)

Pre-Art Deco front of Little Rock Central High School, built in 1927 - photo 2011 by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

Pre-Art Deco front of Little Rock Central High School, built in 1927

Eventually Little Rock closed down all the schools for more than a year, and then federal courts ordered the schools opened, but desegregated.  One black student graduated that first year, Ernest Green.  The other eight all graduated, but from other schools around the world.

Today, it’s history, even in Little Rock.

Little Rock Central High remains in use today.  The National Park Service maintains a visitor center across the intersection from the school, with the old Magnolia Oil gas station, restored, on another corner, and a monument to the Little Rock Nine and civil rights on the remaining corner  (Magnolia Oil was absorbed into Mobil, which took on Magnolia’s flying horse emblem).  Our Dallas Independent School District, Teaching American History Grant group visited in mid-June.  Classes were out.   The visitor center remains open year around.

I was particularly curious to see whether and how the historical events, and the commemoration of them, affect the school itself.

Hallway inside Little Rock Central High School, photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

The hallway outside the auditorium on the main floor of Little Rock Central High School.

On the inside, it’s a normal American high school — though in a grand building (I’d compare this to Ogden, Utah’s Ogden High School, a WPA-style project of a decade later’s construction, and a grand old building students and citizens have come to love).

Walls bear posters from student clubs.  Signs direct students to classes, or the auditorium, or the lunchroom.  The office looks more like the 1970s than the 1930s — I suspect it has been updated.  Ceilings have been redone since 1927, with newer fluorescent lighting and acoustic ceiling tiles, which only brings the architecture of 1927 down to 1970s box-style building standards.

Sign announcing a club meeting, Little Rock Central High School, 2011 - photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

Walls of Little Rock Central carry notices of club meetings, much as in 1957. Some of the clubs have changed; the Gay-Straight Alliance probably was not active in LIttle Rock in 1957. Changes in U.S. culture in the 54 years since the Little Rock Nine, are reflected in the citizens and their actions, and not necessarily in the physical buildings.

It’s a working school, and not a monument on a pedestal frozen in time in any sense.

The school opened 30 years before it became an icon in the struggle for civil rights.   It is a massive structure, intended perhaps as a sort of monument to Little Rock and to Education.  NPS describes it at their website:

Built in 1927 as Little Rock Senior High School, Central was named “America’s Most Beautiful High School” by the American Institute of Architects.

Designed as a mix of Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic architectural styles, the building is two city blocks long and includes 150,000 square feet of floor space. More than 36 million pounds of concrete and 370 tons of steel went into the building’s construction. It cost $1.5 million to construct in 1927. The school received extensive publicity upon its opening. An article in the Arkansas Gazette said, “we have hundreds of journalists in our fair city for the dedication” of the new high school.

At its construction, Central’s auditorium seated 2,000 people and included a 60 x 160 ft. stage that doubled as the gymnasium. A new library was built in 1969 and named for longtime principal Jess W. Matthews.  In 1953 the school’s name was changed to Little Rock Central High School, in anticipation of construction of a new high school for white students, Hall High School in Pulaski Heights.

Computer classroom at Little Rock Central High, June 2011 - photo by Ed Darrell; use premitted with attribution

Computer classroom at Little Rock Central High - Historic preservation cannot prevent the updating of classroom technology. Wiring these classroomms for computer networks must be quite difficult.

I thought it interesting that the original construction did not include a library.  The auditorium’s doubling as a basketball gymnasium explains the massive stage — suitable for Las Vegas, really.  “Multi-purpose” building for schools originated much earlier than the 1970s as I had imagined.  The 1927 plans included neither the tendency to overbuild fschools for athletics, nor today’s pre-occupation with making schools appear as academic enclaves.

Visiting the site you can learn that the $1.5 million cost consumed the entire building budget for the district in 1927.  In keeping with the separate but equal doctrine of the times (see Plessy v. Ferguson), the Little Rock district “planned” to build a high school for blacks at the same time.  No money remained for either design or construction.

City leaders — I would imagine black city leaders, without much help from whites, but I may be too cynical — raised money to pay the same architects to create a complementary design for the school that would be called Dunbar.  Private funding paid for construction, too.  Exactly this sort of discrimination against blacks roiled across America from 1896 into the 1950s — only 16 states banned discrimination by race, with laws that were not always enforced.  These issues were key to several of the cases rolled into the Supreme Court appeal that we usually call simply The Brown Decision — facilities were involved in the cases in Topeka, Kansas, Prince Edward County, Virginia, Delaware, and Washington, D.C.

Looking at Little Rock Central High School today one can see the physical manifestation of the insidious separate but equal doctrine, and understand perhaps why it collided with the drive for rights in Little Rock, at the corner of 14th Street and South Park Street.  The school’s address is listed as 1500 South Park.  14th Street, running along the north edge of campus, has been renamed Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive, in honor of the NAACP organizer who provided wise counsel, sage advice, a ride to school on most mornings and friendship to the students who made up the Little Rock Nine.

A large amount of history resides in Little Rock.

Ha! — You don’t need to rely on my photos at all.  Turns out NPS has a photo slide show at their website.  Note how my ideas paralleled theirs — and honest, I didn’t see that before our tour.  Actually, the auditorium curtains were closed, nor did we get into the balcony — the photo from NPS is much better than any I got.

Nota bene: The intense, three-year program of study of U.S. history for this three dozen or so teachers is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, a Teaching American History Grant.  Such grants fund the study of American history for teachers across the nation, to spur better teaching from greater understanding and knowledge of history.  These grants generally float at the top of the pool of programs to be cut first when the budget axes fall.  We are grateful to the Department of Education.  And while my writings here do not necessarily reflect the views of any of my employers, past or present, they should — and the Senate, Department of Education and others in the stream of funding would be well-advised to continue these grants.


Sputnik – part of the series, “Cold War”

February 17, 2011

BBC’s 24-part series on the Cold War included an entire segment on Sputnik.  Kenneth Branagh narrated this episode.

Sarah Palin, you can start your education here.  On YouTube, it’s broken up into five parts, each less than 10 minutes long.

Cold War, Sputnik, Part 1

Sputnik, Part 2

Sputnik, Part 3

Sputnik, Part 4

Sputnik, Part 5



Can we keep up with the Russians Indians, Chinese, Europeans, Japanese, Saudis?

December 29, 2007

Sputnik’s launch by the Soviet Union just over 50 years ago prompted a review of American science, foreign policy, technology and industry. It also prompted a review of the foundations of those practices — education.

Over the next four years, with the leadership of the National Science Foundation, Americans revamped education in each locality, beefing up academic standards, adding new arts classes, new science classes, new humanities classes especially in history and geography (1957-58 was the International Geophysical Year) and bringing up to date course curricula and textbooks, especially in sciences.

On the wave of those higher standards, higher expectations and updated information, America entered an era of achievement in science and technology whose benefits we continue to enjoy today.

We were in the worst of the Cold War in 1957. We had an enemy that, though not really formal in a declared war sense, was well known: The Soviet Union and “godless communism.” Some of the activities our nation engaged in were silly — adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance smoked out no atheists or communists, but did produce renewed harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and anyone else opposed to such oaths — and some of the activities were destructive — Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s excessive and ultimately phony zeal in exposing communists led to detractive hearings, misplaced fears of fellow citizens and serious political discussion, and violations of Americans’ civil rights that finally prompted even conservative Republicans to censure his action. The challenges were real. As Winston Churchill pointed out, the Soviet Union had drawn an “Iron Curtain” across eastern Europe. They had maintained a large army, gained leadership in military aviation capabilities, stolen our atomic and H-bomb secrets, and on October 4, 1957, beaten the U.S. into space with a successful launch of an artificial satellite. The roots of destruction of the Soviet Empire were sown much earlier, but they had barely rooted by this time, and no one in 1957 could see that the U.S. would ultimately triumph in the Cold War.

That was important. Because though the seeds of the destruction of Soviet communism were germinating, to grow, they would need nourishment from the actions of the U.S. over the next 30 years.

Sen. John F. Kennedy and Counsel Robert F. Kennedy, McClellan Committee hearing, 1957

Sen. John F. Kennedy and Counsel Robert F. Kennedy, McClellan Committee hearing, 1957; photo by Douglas Jones for LOOK Magazine, in Library of Congress collections

Photo from the Kennedy Library: “PX 65-105:185 Hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate Improper Activities in Labor-Management Relations (“McClellan Commitee”). Chief Counsel Robert F. Kennedy and Senator John F. Kennedy question a witness, May, 1957. Washington, D. C., United States Capitol. Photograph by Douglas Jones for LOOK Magazine, in the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LOOK Magazine Collection.”

Fourteen days after the Soviet Union orbited Sputnik, a young veteran of World War II, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy, spoke at the University of Florida. Read the rest of this entry »


Sputnik on newsreel

October 8, 2007

We still had movie newsreels in 1957. ASAP Retro, a part of Associated Press, I think, features the classic Ed Herlihy-announced 30 second explanation of Sputnik that was seen in movie theatres across America in late 1957 and early 1958.

You’ll need a live internet link to use it in class.

I do wish that more of these newsreels were available for easy use by teachers in classrooms, say on DVD, in short segments.


Sputnik’s 50th

October 4, 2007

America woke up on October 4, 1957.

Sputnik, model hanging in Smithsonian Air & Space Museum

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) launched the world’s first artificial satellite into orbit. After successfully putting the shiny ball into orbit, the Soviets trumpeted the news that Sputnik traced the skies over the entire planet, to the shock of most people in the U.S. (Photo of the model in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.)

New Scientist magazine’s website provides significant details about how awake America became, including very good coverage of the Moon landings that were nearly a direct result of Sputnik’s launch — without Sputnik, the U.S. probably wouldn’t have jump started its own space program so, with the creation of NASA and the drive for manned space flight, and without the space race President John F. Kennedy probably wouldn’t have made his dramatic 1961 proposal to put humans on the Moon inside a decade.

Sputnik really did change the world.

Much of the progress to the 1969 Moon landing could not have occurred without the reform of education and science prompted by the Soviets’ triumph. With apathetic parents and the No Child Left Behind Act vexing U.S. education and educators from both sides, more than nostalgia makes one misty-eyed for the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), a direct product of Sputnik-inspired national ambition. Coupled with the GI Bill for veterans of World War II and Korea, NDEA drove U.S. education to be the envy of the world, best in overall achievement (and also drove creationists to try to block such improvements).

(Today NDEA gets little more than a footnote in real historyWikipedia’s entry is short and frustrating, the U.S. Department of Education gives little more. Educators, you have got to tell your history.)

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) lists 1957 as among the dozen dates students need to know in U.S. history, for Sputnik. It is the only date Texas officials list for U.S. history that is really an accomplishment by another nation. (The first time I encountered this requirement was in a meeting of social studies teachers gearing up for classes starting the following week. The standards mention the years, but not the events; I asked what the event was in 1957 that we were supposed to teach, noting that if it was the Little Rock school integration attempt, there were probably other more memorable events in civil rights. No one mentioned Sputnik. It was more than two weeks before I got confirmation through our district that Sputnik was the historic event intended. Ouch, ouch, ouch!)

Sputnik was big enough news to drive Elvis Presley off the radio, at least briefly, in southern Idaho. My older brothers headed out after dinner to catch a glimpse of the satellite crossing the sky. In those darker times — literally — rural skies offered a couple of meteoroids before anyone spotted Sputnik. But there it was, slowly painting a path across our skies, over the potato fields, over the Snake River, over America.

Sputnik’s launch changed our lives, mostly for the better.

Resources:

Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy provides a series of links teachers can rely on for good information, especially if you’re composing a lesson plan quickly.

New Scientist’s broad range of coverage of the space race, up to the current drive to go to Mars, is well worth bookmarking.

google_sputnik.gif

Google’s anniversary logo, in use today only, gets you to a good compilation of sources.

Fifty nano-satellites launched in honor of the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.

NASA’s history of the event. You can listen to a .wav recording of the telemetry signal from the satellite there, too.

How will you mark the anniversary?

[More links below the fold.]

Read the rest of this entry »


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