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June 2012

the latest from Suite 603

June 28, 2012

The participants from the Amerika Samoa Humanities Council who traveled to College Park, MD for National History Day finals.
Participants from the Amerika Samoa Humanities Council who traveled to College Park, MD for National History Day finals. Click on the image to visit ASHC's new website.
Compliance plan reveals a humanities council connection to the closure of an antebellum court case
Read Frederick Douglass this Fourth of July—Mass Humanities does
Humanities Montana talks about constitutions
Local hands doing local work in Arkansas
Tell your humanities council's stories
The Program Officers' meeting in Reno, July 26-28, offers sessions on shrinking grant programs, outreach to Native Americans, promoting intercultural understanding, speakers bureaus, changing demographics and the future of Chautauqua, the effects of economic challenges on programming, and civic engagement programming. There are opportunities to see Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival or to visit Virginia City. Nevada Humanities promises that there will be no humidity.

Compliance plan reveals a humanities council connection to the closure of an antebellum court case

The Village of Middleport, Ohio
The Village of Middleport, Ohio

The Ohio Humanities Council's compliance plan included a story that emerged from a 2011 OHC-supported teacher institute, "River of Slavery/River of Freedom," directed by Greg Miller at the University of Rio Grande in southeastern Ohio.

The teacher institute course material included the story of the Polly family, a slave family that had been freed after which seven of their children were kidnapped and taken to Kentucky where they were enslaved again. The family went to court to have their children declared free, but to no avail. This fight involved three states and lasted 162 years.

During this teacher institute, the mayor of Middleport, Mike Gerlach, led the teachers on a tour of Underground Railroad sites. His daughter is an attorney who had told him of an upcoming trial involving a slave family and its current descendants who were trying to have their ancestors declared free. When the mayor relayed this story to Elaine Armstrong, one of the institute's instructors, she told him about the Polly family, thinking that they might be the family. She shared what she knew with the mayor, who shared it with his daughter, who shared it with the judges.

The case was heard on April 6, 2012 and after reviewing every deposition dating back to 1847, Judge Darrell Pratt of Wayne County, WV, ruled that the Polly children were, as Elaine Armstrong put it, "then and are now declared forever more Free." Read Elaine Armstrong's first-person account of this trial.

You can read more about this story in, for example, the Victorville, CA, Daily Press, the hometown newspaper of Theresa Polley Shellcroft, a descendant of the Pollys; in the Ironton Tribune of Lawrence County, OH; the Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch; the Marietta, OH Daily Journal; and WSAZ in Charleston, WV. In an episode about actor and singer-song writer John Legend, a Polly descendant, NEH Jefferson Lecturer Henry Louis Gates, Jr. included the Polly story in his PBS series "Finding Your Roots." The American Experience documentary, "Slavery and the Making of America," includes documentation about the Pollys on its website.

Read Frederick Douglass this Fourth of July—Mass Humanities does

This Fourth of July, take a moment to reflect on the state of democracy at home before diving in to your hot dogs, hamburgers, and fireworks. Frederick Douglass did just that on July 5, 1852 in his pivotal speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro,” when he publicly took exception to being asked to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Mass Humanities is sponsoring—as it does every year—rereadings of Douglass’ speech in Springfield, Boston, Lynn, and Worcester for Independence Day. They hope that by tracing the words of this powerful speech, community members will be able to come together to meditate, reflect, and perhaps even bond over this novel way to commemorate a national holiday. Participants can choose to read from the speech, or simply listen to others as they read. Either way, they will be inspired and connected to the community through these powerful words.

For more information and event details for specific cities, please visit Mass Humanities event calendar.

Humanities Montana talks about constitutions

Delegates to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, along with journalist Chuck Johnson (standing, right), at Humanities Montana-s conference on the Montana constitution.
Delegates to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, along with journalist Chuck Johnson (standing, right), at Humanities Montana’s conference on the Montana constitution.
Forty years ago, the state of Montana held a constitutional convention to rewrite and replace Montana’s first enacted constitution, approved in 1889. The 100 delegates to this groundbreaking constitutional convention came from all walks of life to represent ordinary Montanans. There were ranchers and farmers, business people, educators, housewives, attorneys, and even a beekeeper and a retired FBI agent. None of them at the time held a political office; all were charged by the people of Montana to rewrite what was seen as an outdated, "creaky, lumbering" state constitution. What came out of this convention was a constitution that the delegates hoped would better serve the needs of Montanans then and in the future.

To recognize and celebrate the adoption of this new state constitution, Humanities Montana organized a two-day conference hosted by Carroll College in Helena, MT on April 20-21, 2012, "We the People: Conversations on the Montana and U.S. Constitutions." Instead of traditional panels, the conference featured a series of moderated conversations on specific topics, allowing participants to represent and offer alternative perspectives. The hope was that the conversations would build toward the closing plenary session where all participants would have the chance to come together to share their discoveries and lingering questions as well as any issues for further reflection. The outcome of the conference was two days of wide-ranging, thoughtful, and engaging conversations on issues central to the civic lives of Montanans.

The conference was televised in full on April 28 and 29 on TVMT, the statewide public affairs television network. The conference recordings are also available on Humanities Montana’s YouTube channel.

Local hands doing local work in Arkansas

by Paul Austin, Executive Director of the Arkansas Humanities Council

The Arkansas Humanities Council is committed to putting resources into local hands for local purposes. Nothing exemplifies this better than the AHC’s “African American Cemetery Preservation and Documentation Grant Program”

It helps local organizations document and preserve endangered African American cemeteries in Arkansas using archeological and historical research methods

The Council and its partner, the Arkansas Archeological Survery, encourages the efforts of families, churches, cemetery associations, local community service organizations, and other interested local groups to reclaim, document, and preserve abandoned and endangered African American cemeteries in Arkansas. There are hundreds—perhaps thousands—of such sites throughout the state. There are also many strongly motivated volunteer groups working hard to identify and preserve the final resting places of their forebears. While historical documentation through examination of headstones, burial registers, church records, family papers, and the like is useful for cemetery research, such records are often sketchy or absent for African American cemeteries, particularly slave cemeteries. In such cases, archeological examination of the sites—through careful excavation or even less invasive electronic remote sensing methods—is a good place to begin research, especially if the exact boundaries of the cemetery are not known. However, the local groups often have little expertise in historical documentation methods, none at all in archeological documentation, and little or no money to buy either. Accordingly, many worthwhile efforts stall.

AHC helps to overcome the barriers that these volunteer cemetery preservation groups encounter in trying to achieve their goals.

AHC assists each successful applicant in planning historical research of its cemetery and in conducting a preliminary archeological survey of the site. Grantees also are expected to do at least preliminary planning for how the cemetery will be preserved and interpreted for those who have a special interest in it and, if appropriate, for the general public as well.

Tell your humanities council's stories

Federal/State Partnership is eager to learn your stories and to publicize them in this newsletter and on the NEH website. Contact Kathleen Mitchell and Meg Ferris for more information—or just send us your stories and photos (minimum: 620 x 370 pixels; maximum: 1000 x 1000 pixels).

We have already posted many stories about state humanities councils in our "featured projects" and "in the field" sections. These stories show the wide range of activities that humaties councils are involved with. We want even more. If there isn't anything posted from your council, you especially need to send us material.

The NEH website is an important medium for sharing news about the important work you do.


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Federal/State Partnership is the liaison between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the nonprofit network of 56 state and jurisdictional humanities councils