How do you surprise history teachers who don’t live in Alabama? Bring them to the state for three weeks to discover what their education didn’t teach them about the civil rights movement.
“For me the surprising thing was how many people were involved in the movement that I just didn’t know about,” said Kevin Mears, a 10th grade U.S. history teacher from Brooklyn, New York. “You know Rosa Parks, you know Martin Luther King Jr., you know Malcolm X, you know some of the big names, but to take their stories a little bit farther and go deeper into their stories — like, I didn’t know Rosa Parks was a lifelong activist for human rights and civil rights before and after the bus movement. That was really powerful for me. To be in the places where it happened — going to King’s parsonage and being in the room where SCLC was started was overwhelming.”
Mears was among 71 teachers who came to Alabama this summer as part of the Stony the Road We Trod Institute, a three-week workshop presented in partnership with the Alabama Humanities Foundation exploring Alabama’s civil rights legacy. The teachers visited civil rights landmarks around Alabama, including stops in Selma, Montgomery, Tuskegee and Birmingham. Martha Bouyer, executive director of the Historic Bethel Baptist Church Foundation and director of the workshop, said it started years ago as a one-week workshop but expanded to three weeks a few years ago.
“The teachers always said they needed more time, so what I decided to do was to take my one-week project and expand it,” Bouyer said. “Now the program is being offered as a three-week institute, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I’ve had international teachers to come from the U.S. State Department. They’ve sent teachers from emerging democracies, and I’ve had people from places like Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Africa and Colombia.”
Bouyer said the goal of the workshop is for these teachers to change how this history is taught.