Centre receives NEH grant to further discussions on civil rights in America

Posted by Centre News in Academics, News 26 Sep 2013

freedomrides_civilrightsCentre has recently intensified its commitment to diversity, community and equality, first with a revised Statement of Community and now, thanks to the efforts of Pierce and Amelia Harrington Lively Professor of Politics Daniel Stroup and Assistant Vice President for Diversity Education J.H. Atkins, a National Endowment for the Humanities and Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History grant.

The grant awarded the College a set of four videos entitled Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle and $1,200 to defray the costs of related programming. The films engage with questions of race relations in the United States from the 1830s to the 1960s, with particular focus on the Abolitionist Movement, the Jim Crow system, Freedom Rides and Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 Supreme Court case invalidating a Virginia law criminalizing interracial marriage.

“Our obligation under the grant is to arrange for public showing of the videos,” explains Stroup, “to be followed by public discussion.

“The NEH funding will allow us to bring in some locally prominent people to give lectures or conduct the discussion sessions,” he adds. “It will also allow us to publicize the events. We see the grant, however, as the opportunity to engage in related activities, some of which would really require no additional funding and others that could be funded using other resources available to the College.”

Such activities include encouraging both College and local high school faculty to integrate the themes of the Created Equal films into their curricula, including dramatic and musical performances.

Two Centre professors who have already engaged with this idea are Assistant Professor of History Sara Egge and Visiting Assistant Professor of History Jonathan Earle, both of whom will be working with students on an oral history project that will record memories of locals who participated in area events during the Civil Rights Movement.

Ultimately, Stroup wants the grant to launch “a year-long focus on the themes of racial equality in America.”

The importance of the grant will stretch far beyond just this year and the public viewings; the videos will become a part of Centre’s permanent library collection and will be available for use in future classes. The recorded interviews that professors Egge and Earle generate will also be added to the library’s archives, providing valuable primary sources for scholarly work by faculty and students.

“We hope that the film series and related activities will focus our attentions on questions that have shaped profoundly the America in which we live today and which are still not fully resolved,” Stroup says. “We hope to engage students and faculty members in a conversation on these questions, not only among themselves, but also with the wider Danville community.”

Indeed, the video series is just the first of many events on campus designed to highlight and celebrate the Civil Rights movement.

In January 2014, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day convocation will feature Reverend Samuel Kyles, who was with King when he was assassinated. In September of 2014, as part of the 50th anniversary of civil rights activist Medgar Evers’ assassination, Danville will host a literary festival featuring Kentucky’s poet laureate Frank X. Walker, whose latest collection is titled Turn me Loose:The Unghosting of Medgar Evers.

“Many important events at the height of the Civil Rights movement occurred between 1963 and 1965,” says Atkins, “which means we’ll be celebrating lots of 50th anniversaries—both positive and negative ones—in the next year or so.”
For Atkins, the grant is just the beginning of a yearlong campaign related to civil rights that will both commemorate the past and outline a better future.

“First of all, it’s important that we remember and know our history so we will not be destined to repeat it,” he says. “In addition, the main issues of the Civil Rights movement are still the main issues for people of color in this country today and throughout the world. Issues like immigration and employment were important during the Civil Rights era and are still being worked out to this day.”

By Mariel Smith

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