Monday, December 2, 2019

New Student Exhibit: The African American Experience in Chemung County

by Mr. John Liquori, 5th Grade Teacher, Horseheads Intermediate School

This is our country, as much as it is the country of any other race.... We may be the descendants of Africans, but we are citizens of the United States. This is our home... 
-Silas X. Floyd 

A large part of the 5th grade New York State Social Studies curriculum, which focuses on the history and governments of the Western Hemisphere, is the struggle for equality that happened to many groups of people in the United States throughout its history. This includes the Black struggle for racial equality, from the transatlantic slave trade and the Middle Passage all the way through the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. Black history is American history and the two should not be taught as if one is only a small part of the other. The Black experience in America is the backbone of the history of this entire nation--a nation built by slaves, torn apart by slavery, and suffers from a continuous struggle for human and civil rights that impacts us even today.

March 11, 1968 protest at Elmira City Hall
As a Social Studies teacher, one of my goals is to show students that any historical topic that can be studied in the broad context of American History can also be applied at the local level. For example, while the American Revolution was being fought throughout the entire thirteen colonies, locally, General Sullivan led a campaign through the Southern Tier which included the Battle of Newtown right outside Elmira. When the Civil War was ripping apart our nation in the 1860s, Confederate soldiers were dying in a prison camp called “Hellmira,” located on the banks of the Chemung River. There are always local ripples that affect the history of our entire country. When we begin to understand that the history of a nation is molded by local events and people, we can then truly understand why local history is so important. That is why in our classroom, American History is taught through a microhistory lens to where we live. This makes history relevant and it makes it real.

John Jones and Ernie Davis
 Starting December 5, there will be a new exhibit at the museum detailing the struggles and victories that local Blacks experienced as they fought for racial equality at home in Chemung County. This exhibit was created by a team of forty-four fifth grade students at Horseheads Intermediate School. These students, only nine and ten years old, were able to do the extraordinary task of taking primary and secondary source material and using it to tell the story from the perspective of those who lived and experienced the struggle for racial equality. This is a project the students worked on over a few months and the end product is incredible. In this exhibit, you will learn about the courage of John W. Jones and other abolitionists. You will learn about the humanitarianism of the Neighborhood House as they worked with local youth. You will read about the activism of the NAACP as they fought against injustices and empowered the Black people in this area. You will see beautiful visuals, including original artwork from Alsace Blandford and much more. There is so much that you will take away after visiting this exhibit. The African American Experience in Chemung County will be on display December 5, 2019 through January 11, 2020.

Orpheus Club party, 1942
Please join us on Thursday, December 5th, 5-7PM at the Chemung County Historical Society as we celebrate the 5th grade students and the important historical work they did to tell this history. There will be food and drinks, the opportunity to see and celebrate the new student-created exhibit, and also the chance to view the rest of the museum as well. This event is free and open to the public. We hope to see you there!

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