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Oral histories of nearly 300 civil rights era teachers reveal their activist roles in new podcast

The director of the podcast noticed strong parallels between educators from the Civil Rights era in comparison to those today and feels as though a lot can be learned from what happened during that time..

Some of nearly 300 Civil Rights-era educators  — mainly from South Carolina — are featured prominently in a new podcast, which highlights the life lessons they taught and received.

The podcast, “Teachers in the Movement,” is spearheaded by Derrick Alridge, who oversaw the 2014 research project of the same name at the University of Virginia, the Charleston Post & Courier reports. It is a collection of oral histories of educators who worked in South Carolina and four other states between 1950 and 1980.

“Teachers played very important roles in the movement,” Alridge says on the Teachers in the Movement page on the University of Virginia website. “What drives our research team is our desire to bring their stories to light.”

Henrietta Hilton, front left, daughter of tenant farmer William Hilton, and her fellow students, are seen in their ninth grade classroom in Summerton, S.C., June 4, 1954. A podcast from Derrick Alridge explores the oral histories of more than 300 teachers so far. (AP Photo/Rudolph Faircloth)

Alridge said he was interested in learning what it was like for educators to work amid this revolutionary social movement that was happening right outside the classroom.

“We’ve learned that people often don’t see themselves as being part of the movement in their work as teachers,” he told the Post & Courier. “After we interview them and they start recalling the things that they did, then they’ll say, ‘Well, maybe I was an activist.’”

The podcast focuses on the teaching methods, curricula and volunteer work of several trailblazing educators, such as James Wright, who in the 1970s established a Black Studies course at the newly integrated Eau Claire High School in Columbia, South Carolina.

According to the Post & Courier, Wright recalled being told, “We don’t have Black Studies at Keenan High School, we have it in U.S. History where it belongs.”

The podcast also shares the story of Johnnie Fullerwinder, who became the first Black teacher at George Washington High School in Danville, Virginia, in 1966, and Carolyn Addison, whose grandmother started her own school in Mississippi.

Alexis Johnson, the project’s co-associate director, called it a “gift” to be able to document so many stories. She noted how educators brought up past encounters with significant civil rights activists, citing one teacher who spent time working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and grew close to Martin Luther King Jr.

“They were really history makers in their own right,” she said.

The Teachers in the Movement researchers hope to conduct 500 interviews by the end of 2023.

 Visit teachersinthemovement.com to hear the interviews. Interested parties can email the researchers at teachersinthemovement@gmail.com.

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