VCU, ODU professors awarded grant to create civil rights, desegregation course for educators nationwide

Chris Suarez
Staff Writer

Even a half century later, the civil rights movement and legacy of school desegregation in Virginia is still a topic of huge relevance and next summer, teachers from across the country will visit VCU to partake in a course focused on both historical issues.

In September, the College of Humanities and Sciences announced it had received a $175,000 one-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The money will be used to educate two groups of 35 middle and high school teachers who will visit the university next year.

Developing and teaching the course will be VCU History professor, Brian Daugherity, Ph.D., and Yonghee Suh, Ph.D., an assistant professor of social studies and history education at Old Dominion University.

Suh, a South Korean expatriate who moved to the United States in 1998, said he and Daugherity hope teachers will implement a refined approach to how they educate young students about the civil rights movement following their participation in the course.

“Whenever schools teach about civil rights and school desegregation, it’s all about the story of success,” Suh said. “We really don’t teach students what happened after that.”

Suh said he found that when talking to teachers, they sometimes seem uncomfortable talking about the topic.

“Using primary sources, we could see multiple sides of the topic and see it’s not just a conversation about politics or preaching,” he added.

Both professors believe studies like theirs will provide greater context and understanding of the movement and its relevance today.

“(The civil rights) era is still impacting our day-to-day lives in so many different ways,” Daugherity said.

“It’s essential that we teach it both to school teachers and students more broadly. Racial issues in the United States stem from historic inequalities. We study the past, seeing how those events unfold, so we can learn lessons that we can apply today,” he added.

The grant was given to VCU and ODU after Daugherity and members of the Desegregation of Virginia Education Project—an organization hosted by ODU which seeks to “tell the story of Virginia’s desegregation process”—successfully petitioned support to develop an updated and improved way to educate teachers about the civil rights movement from the National Endowment office.

While not technically a sponsor or host for the grant, DOVE was pivotal in proving merit for a deeper analysis and discussion about civil rights and school desegregation in higher education, according to the two professors.

Daugherity currently serves as a co-chair for the DOVE project. He is an expert on the civil rights movement and Virginia history, currently writing two manuscripts related to the school desegregation  movement in Virginia. He was also credited as an editor for a collection of essays about the Brown v. Board of Education case, titled “With All Deliberate Speed: implementing Brown v. Board of Education.”

The visit next summer will take teachers around the state to see landmarks and towns where crucial moments in the civil rights movement took place, such as the The Robert Russa Morton Museum in Farmville, which commemorates the 1951 student strike that helped shape the plaintiffs case in Brown v. Board of Education.

With the study’s main focus being school desegregation, Daugherity and Suh will discuss the Prince Edward County decision to close its public schools in protest of school integration and “massive resistance” the counter movement led by several Virginia politicians following court-ordered integration in schools.

The teachers’ travels will also take them to New Kent County, where the Green v. School Board of New Kent County case started and eventually led to the Supreme Court ruling to hurry school desegregation across the country in 1968.

During the two separate week-long sessions, educators will visit James Branch Cabell Library’s Special Collections and Archives, the state Capitol and the Virginia Historical Society.

They will also hear lectures from guest speakers and experts from Virginia Tech, Norfolk State University and the College of William & Mary.

While the course will have teachers visiting these historic locations and studying old texts, educators will obtain a better understanding of the complex history of the time period.

“When people think about the civil rights movement, they don’t typically think about Virginia. They typically think about Alabama or Mississippi,” Daugherity told VCU News. “But the same struggle that was unfolding in those states was unfolding in Virginia as well.”

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