Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Keep the Casket Open

After Emmett Till was brutally murdered, his grieving mother made one of the most unthinkable decisions- she asked that her son's casket be kept open.  Open casket funerals are nothing new in the African American community; but this was different.  Till's body had been brutalized beyond recognition.  He was bloated, scarred, and each of his teeth had been knocked out.  The bright-eyed boy with the sweet smile was unrecognizable as he lay in the casket.  Despite the horror that she knew each mourner would experience as they filed past his body, or opened up their weekly Jet Magazine, Emmett's mother insisted that his casket be left open.  "Let the people see what I have seen," his mother told the funeral home director. "I think everyone needs to know what happened to Emmett Till."

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a lot like the decision of Emmett Till's mother.  It tells the story of the enslavement of African peoples in the United States and in the Americas.  It lays open one of the most long lasting and brutal stories in our historical records.  What is so powerful about the Center is its pinpoint detail about this period.  For example, in the 1800s, due to the rising demand for cotton, many slaves were placed on forced marches from northern states to the deep south.  They were in essence being sent south to work the cotton fields. These men, women, and children walked an average of 750 miles form cities like Cincinnati to Natchez, Mississippi.  These marches spanned so many decades and included so many people, that to this very day  one can find miles of sunken-in paths (paved by the feet of slaves) within the forests and swamps surrounding Route 68.  Another fact- of those sent south, 25% signaled the destruction of a nuclear family.  

The museum is accurate, also, in its nomenclature.  These were not slaves, but "enslaved people."  They were not blacks, but "Africans."  These enslaved people were not simply picking cotton.  They were providing "free labor."  Labor that someone else was profiting from.  Those enslaving them had names, and families, and their lives were made better and more prosperous by the labor that they did not pay for.  Likewise those who did the laboring lost dignity, family, and centuries of wages.  

I think the easiest way to handle such a brutal past is to ignore it.  I would dare say that this is the stance that most Americans take in relation to the topic of slavery in the US.  In school I learned more about the Ottoman Empire, the Romans and the Greeks than I did about the Choctaw, the Navajo, the Seminole, and the African in the Americas.  Few people want to deal with shame when it sits so closely to their doorsteps.  But, ignoring is rarely the way forward.

The Freedom Center's work is about resistance and in particular the concerted resistance of Africans, White Americans, Europeans, and Native peoples against enslavement and oppression. The museum lays open the gruesome story of enslavement. An actual slave holding pen sits in the middle of its gallery and it sits on the northern shore of the Ohio River- the dividing line between free and slave states.

How many people died trying to cross the river?  We may never know.  What we do know is that by telling the story, we liberate ourselves from repeating it.  As well, we gain courage, wisdom, and resolve for the struggles that are both with us and ahead.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Rains: The Battle for a Heart and Soul of a Nation

This morning we had the incredible opportunity to meet with Sulayman Clark, the author of “The Rains”, a historical fiction novel about Philadelphia in the mid 19th century when the abolitionist movement and struggle for freedom through the Underground Railroad took place. Here is a little more about the historical fiction novel the Rains as well as my insights after our discussion with Sulayman Clark:

About The Rains:
Inspired by true events and the heroism of a remarkable inter-faith and multi-racial group of men and women, The Rains presents history that gives value to the present. In defiance of the law and at great personal risk, free people of color and other activists, such as Reverend Catto, William Still, and Harriet Tubman, sacrificed life and limb to help fugitive slaves escape from bondage and resettle in the northern states and Canada. The novel expresses how free persons of color (i.e., responsible and industrious citizens who “played by the rules”) collectively fought back and agitated for critically needed social change. Although they had to struggle through much political resistance and hard times, (slavery, fugitive slave act, burning down of buildings) which often times was violent and tore families apart, The Rains allows one to see that the moral foundations of our nation were established by people of all ages, races and religions who responsibly exercised the blessings of liberty and were willing to extend those same liberties to others. To me, The Rains was a living history that enabled me to learn about the abolitionist movement, Underground Railroad and many key historical figures that have been glazed over and in essence forgotten about. These moments, made America who we are today and provide a historical understanding of how what happens in the past can be used to change the future. 

Discussion with Sulayman Clark
Overjoyed and emotionally impacted by the novel The Rains, it was a delightful opportunity to talk with Sulayman Clark and get his perspective on the novel and its intended impact for readers. Based on William H Dorsey’s, scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings of several biographical profiles of “notable Negroes” who had distinguished themselves in one way or another, The Rains presents a living history not taught in schools. Slavery often times is not honestly and thoughtfully interpreted to children and even older students, leaving a negative viewpoint on the whole issue. The discussion with Sulayman Clark and reading The Rains allowed me to see slavery and the abolitionist’s movement in another light, the struggle for freedom made up of many everyday people becoming leaders for their community.

This moment in time became a time of courage, cooperation and perseverance to create hope instead of seeing slavery as a horrid depiction of the oppressed (slaves and many people of color) being controlled by the oppressor (slave owners). Figures such as William Still, the “president” of the Underground Railroad, Octavius Catto, a major activist fighting for freedom and educating people of color, Harriet Tubman, one of the greatest freedom seekers, Fanny Copin Jackson, an educational leader before Booker T Washington and so many more became involved and gave hope to their community in a time of much political resistance and slavery. They became leaders risking their lives to save other people. They fought for their rights to freedom and made sure their community was fought for as well, including those runaway slaves. The real question is: Why is this rarely ever discussed about? The very history of America has come from struggle, but yet neglects to teach others about it. The preamble of the constitution starts off by saying, “We the people.” But who are “the people”? Does it include people of color being more than just slaves? Slavery is often seen by many as a factual part of the natural order of America.
“Slavery is a fact. We are not responsible for it; the people of the south are not responsible for it. It was brought here before the Union was born A mysterious Providence has cast upon this continent two races, distinct in origin, character, and color.”
Henry M. Fuller

But it is so much more.
The history of our country is a battle between inclusion and exclusion, struggle and hope. The abolitionist and Underground Railroad historically expresses slavery as a courageous struggle that was overcome by a community actively involved with many leaders that formed along the way. These people and moments, as Clark expressed allow “history to give value to the present and its moral duty.” History should not just focus on the moments that glorify the achievements of White Males but the entire “people” of America. Students as well as ctizens, teachers, historians and “Americans” can be the change. The Rains emotionally connects people to history and then they are able to find themselves in it. It is not until you are able to do this that a belief in change occurs. As Ghandi once said, “You have to be the change you want to see in the world.” The ability to believe in change and how an individual impacts history in a positive manner is the problem I still believe exists today.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

First Day in Philadelphia

This morning we left the beautiful city of Cincinnati, Ohio and continued our journey to “the City of Brotherly Love”, Pennsylvania, PA. Pennsylvania.

Facts on Pennsylvania:
William Penn
  • William Penn founded Pennsylvania on March 4, 1681 with the goal of creating a colony that allowed for freedom of religion due to his desire to protect himself and the Quakers from persecution while in Great Britain. 
  • Those who lived on this colony were granted the freedom of worship and religion because the Quakers did not believe on imposing their faith on other people. 
  • Philadelphia is the first city built on a grid system in 1682 when William Penn planned the system of organized streets to help facilitate future growth. The present city of Philadelphia still runs on a grid system. 
  • Penn decided to name the east-west streets after trees. Since then, the names of all but 4 streets remain the same. 
  • The state was founded along the Delaware River near the site of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. This bridge was opening in 1926 and was the world’s longest suspension bridge span until the Ambassador Bridge was built. This bridge connects Pennsylvania with Camden, New Jersey. 
  • Philadelphia is home to the: 
    • Philadelphia Phillies who play at Citizens Bank Park, 
    • Philadelphia Eagles who play at the Lincoln Financial Field, and the 
    • Philadelphia Flyers who play at the Wells Fargo Center.
  • The Delaware River today holds the remains of dead Navy ships and the merchant’s exchange where the first insider trading markets were held. 
Our docent, Joe

After we checked into our hotel in Philadelphia, we began our day with a tour into the heart of Philadelphia with out guide, Andy. We then met with our docent, Joe, who was retired from the Parks and Recreation in Philadelphia. Through our tour with Joe, we visited residence sites of:

James Forten
  • Thomas Harrison, who was part of the Anti-Slavery society 
  • Anthony Bennison, who taught slaves to read, write, and count 
  • Richard Allen, who was a minister and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • James Forten, who was a wealthy businessman and abolitionist 
  • Dr. Benjamin Rush, who signed the Declaration of Independence and attended the Continental Congress, and 
  • The Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society. 

Although these residences or sites do not actually exist today, their legacy remains with the city and many are remembered by placards that tell the story of many important men of the Underground Railroad movement.  This walk into history allowed us to step back and look at where historical events took place in our history.  Listening to Joe speak about the abolitionist movement allowed us look at Philadelphia in the actual setting where these events took place.

African American Museum
After visiting the site of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, we moved onto the African American Museum in Philadelphia, where we mainly concentrated on the exhibit on Audacious Freedom. Here we were able to experience simulated re-enactments of different abolitionists like Octavius Catto, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Robert Purvis, James Forten, and many more.  Because we have been so invested in learning about these amazing men and women, it was definitely a sight to see the re-enactment and actually see and hear the figures that we have made up in our heads.

Our journey continued to Mother Bethel AME Church where we were greeted by the Pastor who gave insight on the church, then we were lead to the basement museum which held the tomb of Richard Allen and other collectables of the church.  Here we learned more about the history of Mother Bethel and how the site was a significant place not only for worship, but it was a site that aided those involved in the Underground Railroad.

Quick Facts on Mother Bethel
  • Mother Bethel AME was founded by Richard Allen, who earned his way to buy his freedom from slavery. 
  • Allen was friends with Absalom Jones and they along with other free Blacks founded the Free African Society on April 12, 1787, this society then lead to the creation of Mother Bethel
  • Mother Bethel is now on it’s fourth church on the same site. 
  • Richard Allen
    • The First Church was opened on July 29, 1794 and was site of shelter for many runaway slaves. 
    • The Second Church was built in 1805 because there was a high need for a larger building to accommodate the growing congregation. 
    • The Third Church was built 10 years after Allen’s passing and was made of bricks and stone. This church was completed in 1841 and housed the growing community. 
    • The Fourth Church, which is the current church standing today, was dedicated on October 26, 1890. 

Our day concluded with a drive through the Seventh Ward, which was the site of a large population of Blacks and one of the settings in the book, The Rains.  We were able to visit the placards that described the men of William Still and Octavius Catto.  Throughout the course, we have learned about Still, Catto, Allen, and many more, but being in the city where this history took place made such a connection and impact to my personal learning journey.

Throughout the day, we continued to reiterate the theme of the struggle for equality.  Whether it be the Black slaves fighting for their freedom, to the Quakers who supported the abolitionist movement, to those involved in the AME church of Mother Bethel, they all strived to achieve one goal to view themselves and the people of their community as equals regardless or religion or the color of your skin.  At many of the sites we visited, we continued to look at the issues that many of these abolitionists had to face in order to either free themselves or free those who were bound to enslavement.  This struggle towards equality was a difficult road traveled and still continues on in our society today in many different aspects.

“To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of preservating friendly relations with the southern white man who is their next door neighbor, I would say: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” Cast it down, making friends in every manly way of the people of all races, by whom you are surrounded… To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted, I would repeat what I have said to my own race: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your fireside...” -Booker T. Washington, Atlanta Compromise Speech

Visiting Oberlin

We embarked on a four-hour drive from Cincinnati to Oberlin to visit the historic Oberlin College.  Founded in 1833, Oberlin College is recognized as the first American institution of higher education to adopt the policy to admit students of color in 1835, and the first college to award women with a bachelor’s degree in 1841.  Today the college offers both the BA degree and a double BA/BM degree. 

Quick Facts:
·      Approximately 2,800 enrolled
·      Tuition and Fees:  $57, 025
·      Student Body
o   9% in-state, 85% out-of-state, 8% from abroad
o   54% female, 46% male
o   20% underrepresented students
·      Geographic Distribution
o   Mid-Atlantic: 29%
o   Midwest: 23%
o   New England: 12%
o   Southwest: 4%
o   South: 10%
o   Far West: 15%
o   International: 7%

While there we were able to meet with Professor (Emeritus) Booker Peek, who retired last year after 44 years at Oberlin College.  Professor Peek, originally from Jacksonville, Florida received his BA from Florida A&M University in 1964, and MAT from Oberlin College in 1966.   While at Oberlin, he was a member of both the Education Department (which dissolved) and African American Studies Department. 
In our conversation with him, and two current Oberlin students, we discussed the attitudes surrounding education and racism in the town of Oberlin and across the nation.  The common thread throughout the conversation dealt with concept of lack of progress.  Professor Peek’s shared that over the years, we have maintained goodwill and righteous ideals, but have lacked in forward progression.  We’d like to think that we all have this deep internal desire to improve opportunities, especially for the poor and underrepresented, but just having it is not enough.  As many of us know, the betterment of life is not at all a new concept.  We have been battling this same issue for years, and yet find ourselves in the same place.  

Looking at this idea, the town, and college itself was quite perplexing.  Going into this discussion, I had already made the presumption that everything was ideal because of its reputation that proceeded.  Because the town has a rich history for abolitionist activities, and the college has had a past of thriving on social justice and progressive causes, I think I subconsciously or maybe even optimistically thought Oberlin as a whole would truly be an “oasis.”  After our discussion and looking at the statistics of the college, I am somewhat disheartened to see that the lack forward progression.  I had made the presumption that everything was, for lack of better words, a-okay.  And maybe they are a few steps ahead of the rest of us, but there is still a long uphill journey.  Though I am not giving Oberlin enough credit because they have in fact done amazing things and have overcome many challenges, we can still see that there is no utopia, no one right answer, and no ideal to solve issues surrounding equity.  

Since much of what we are learning in this class and on this trip has Christian roots, I thought it would be appropriate to mention the Book of James.  A section of this book in the bible discusses that faith without works is dead.  Though we all may have different beliefs, this is applicable to all of us as educators.  We can believe all we want things will get better--that our one child who is not learning the material will eventually get it, or educational opportunities will one day be fair and beneficial to all, but in all honestly, just thinking it is not enough.  If we want change, we must be willing to fight for it.  We must be willing to put our words into actions, to walk what we preach.  If we expect to see and experience something different, we must start acting and doing differently. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday May 18th Post: The Fight for Freedom

Today we concluded our time at the National Underground Railroad Museum.  Over the past two days the underlying theme that has caught my attention is that of Freedom; more importantly the ongoing fight to achieve this.  Three quotes throughout the museum that caught my attention are inserted below.

These quotes caught my attention because I believe that they encompass a large portion of the Underground Railroad and especially the struggle for educational equity.  Many of the individuals that were fighting for equality and civil rights of all were putting their lives on the line not only for their freedom and equality but for the freedom and equality of generations of humanity they would never come to know.  In addition, there were also many individuals that were putting all that they had worked for and achieved and facing imprisonment if caught to help in this fight.  As Counts sums leadership up; “Any individual or group that would aspire to lead society must be ready to pay the costs of leadership: to accept responsibility, to suffer calumny, to surrender security, to risk both reputation and fortune.  If this price, or some important part of it, is not being paid, then the chances are that the clam to leadership is fraudulent.  Society is never redeemed without effort, struggle, and sacrifice.” (Counts, 1932)  I believe that it takes an extremely proactive and dedicated person to become a leader and sacrifice their own lives and freedom to fight for the freedom of others.  Many of these individuals were fighting the very roots of where I believe the struggle for educational equity began; the notion that education enabled power so many African American slaves, and slaves in general, were denied the rights for education because it created a society were slave holders held all of the power.  In which education is freedom and with education freedom can begin to be pursued.

As some slaves purchased their freedom, others escaping through the Underground Railroad and trying to begin their new lives they were still faced with the notion of not being free.  They were put in situations where being captured and returned, even if they were free people, was a terrifying aspect that always had to be at the top of their minds.  If they were free/escaped and had a chance to try and find work to bring forth an income to support/start families they were faced with not being able to find work or being put into the lowest of low jobs.  All of these individuals are fighting for freedom and equality and even when there are chances for these two notions to begin to be touched and make a better life for themselves and families, the society had been created to constantly push them back down.  W.E.B DuBois asks the one of the most valid questions of all time, “Is it possible, and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meagre chance for developing their exceptional men?"

This I believe is where the struggle for freedom and equality in all aspects of life finds its roots and the problems we still face in life today.

*Counts, G. (1932)Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order?
*W.E.B. Dubois wrote a scathing critique of Washington's "Compromise." Read his chapter entitled, "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others" from his book, Souls of Black Folks. The critique can be found at:


FREEDOM CENTER- a powerful name for a powerful place
On the west cost The National Underground Railroad -Freedom Center was a place of legend. Yesterday our University of San Diego class entered the Cincinnati legend and the dream came to life as we were transported to an amazing space full of history, reality and hope. The five story museum located on the banks of the Ohio river encompasses a lineage of heroes from the past that impacted history by helping those enslaved or helping create freedom.

The Freedom Center describes the essence of the museum as a place that,
"...celebrate[s] freedom's heroes, those brave men and women who came together to create a secret network through which the enslaved could escape to freedom. From their example of courage, cooperation and perseverance, we relate this uniquely American history to contemporary issues, inspiring everyone to take steps for freedom today." 

Our first stop on our journey through the freedom center stared with Courage, a seasonal exhibit that forces on ending segregation and moving to a world of integrated education. Courage was not just the name of the exhibit; It was the essence of a generation. The courage to put individuals lives on the line in the pursuit for equal education and freedom to learn. Our group was given a tour by a historical scholar named Carl Westmoreland. As educators and students, our class discussed how we all recalled the history of the impact of the Brown vs.Board case however we lacked a complete understand of the events that preceded the case. This exhibit showed the courage and will power of Rev. J.A. De Laine and other brave citizens of Clarendon County town along with five other lawsuits in various areas of America that fought for equality in education and civil rights.
Our class with our guide, Carl Westmoreland
Reading about an even has a completely different impact than walking through and seeing the faces of history. One of the biggest takeaway from this exhibit involved how was when our tour guide Carl showed us a photo of the Briggs vs Elliott Petition of November 1949. It was when Carl reminded us that each of these one hundred signatures belonged to no one famous. Each person was not trying to contribute to the petition for the recognition, and in reality the act of signing the petition could put their lives and families in danger. There was even a sign that was posted above a makeshift petitions that visitors could sign reading "The signers of the petition risked everything, their homes, their lives. their safety. Would you sign your name?" (picture seen to the right).
Would you have the Courage to sign your own name?

This reflected on the idea of what black people were fighting for. Since students of color were not given this opportunity they were driven to make change. Carl made a reference how change starts with a "drive, a want, but most importantly a need." Carl assisted our class to be thankful and appreciative of the opportunities we have and how education was probability available and insisted. If we as individuals did not go to school these days, people would just assume that we were too bright however in the past if a black individual did not go, it was due to his/her "laziness or inability to learn." This was assumed for the black community however their ability was not the true concern. Since a majority of black students came from rural backgrounds the could not afford the time or resources to appreciate a proper education. In a way it was many ways the black culture was looked down upon because their lack of education caused their unhappiness but it was the lack of access to education that was the true problem.
This theme was very relevant throughout our EDUC 597 course. The idea of judging and accusing caused people to avoid the injustice and believe that things were fine they way they were. In class we read William Ryan's book Blaming the Victim. In the book Willam Ryan states,  "If one comes to believe that the culture of poverty produces persons fated to be poor, who can find any fault with our corporation-dominated economy?" (p.27). This goes back to the idea that if no one fights for he injustice or the reality or unfair opportunity then who will invoke change? The change is only driven by those that want to change. If each person of the De Laine family gave up, then all the previous history or fighting for change would have been lost. The fight is still not over especially in the school system.

As educators it is hard not to be placed in a box and it is hard to not come into a position without biases. The exhibit made us think how we want to be the unsung heros like those that signed the petition and fight to give equal education for each and every student in our classroom. Although I am not famous, although no one may read the words and the passions I share in this blog; at least I am not silent. The Freedom Center reminds us we need Courage, Cooperation, and Perseverance to make hope and change still exist.

According to Lindsey Gross, my EDUC 597 classmate, her experience about Courage was, "education provided a pathway for people to impact society and become active citizens for fighting for liberation." The idea of being active is important. Actions can speak louder than words.

Freedom Center. (2012). In Courage: The Vision to End Segration, The Guts to fight for it. Retrieved May 17, 2012, 

Ryan, W. (1976). Blaming the victim. New York: Vintage Books. (p. 27)

Carl Westmoreland (tour guide). (2012). Courage: The Vision to End Segration, The Guts to fight for it. Quotation given May 16, 2012 in guided tour. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

National Underground Railroad

We begin our journey at the National Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. I invite you to visit the website located at: You will find it to be very interactive and informative. We are so grateful to the amazing historians and researchers on site at the Freedom Center and cannot wait to share about our journey. All the best! Dr. Spencer

National Freedom Center


Welcome to our blog as we embark on our adventure through Cincinnati and Philadelphia!  We are Graduate students in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego.  Throughout our journey, we will be documenting our travels through this blog, so please stay tuned and feel free to comment on any of our posts!