ETHS and Northwestern join forces to teach forgotten history

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John and Mary Jones, pictured here in the 1840s, were both delegates to Illinois color conventions. Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia commons and Bruce Purnell

Michael Pond, a civics and history teacher at Evanston Township High School, says his motivation is simple.

“Everyone I talk to remembers two types of teachers,” he said. “They remember their best and their worst teachers, and they remember them very well. And I believe it is my responsibility to ensure that I am among the best they remember.

Pond’s interest in government, his passion for history and his enjoyment of working with young people fuel his commitment to teaching. These interests aligned when he and two colleagues, Yosra Yehia and Kamasi Hill, were invited by Nicole Parker, chair of the history and social sciences department, to participate in the Colored Conventions project, led by Kate Masur, professor of history at Northwestern University.

Masur collaborated with P. Gabrielle Foreman, Paterno Family Professor of American Literature and Professor of African American Studies and History and Founding Director of the Colored Conventions Project.

The project, Pond explains, was to “build lesson plans to accompany the original research that Masur and his Northwestern graduate students had done on black life in Illinois and specifically for those colorful conventions in Illinois that have took place throughout the 1850s.

Color conventions were “a cornerstone of black organizing in the 19th century,” according to its website. Conventions began in the 1830s and continued into the 1890s. There were national, regional, and state conventions. Thirty states have held conventions, more than 200 in total, where free, self-empowered black men and women have met, organized, and strategized about how to gain and maintain civil rights and racial justice.

The genesis of the Colored Conventions Project came about 10 years ago, following an assignment Foreman gave to a class of graduate students. Foreman organized the project as a collective based on five ethical principles to guide research, writing, and collaboration.

The scope of the project is vast. Much of the history of the conventions is hidden in diaries, letters, and other ephemera. Researchers are needed to search microfiche files for long-forgotten journal articles and outdated historical documents. Volunteers are needed to transcribe the recordings when found.

Masur’s expertise as a researcher and educator is in American history before 1900.

“Some of the minutes of 19th century black conventions had already been compiled into books, and as a historian I was well aware of that. But the CCP found evidence of much, much more convention, and they made this story widely available,” she said.

Masur was also drawn to the project’s focus on teaching and collaboration, two of her interests.

“I really wanted to invite high school teachers to create educational materials to accompany our web exhibit on black life and activism in pre-war Illinois,” she said. “Secondary teachers are experts in their field; specifically, they are experts in creating adaptable grade-level content. I wanted the educational materials associated with our exhibit to be created by people who know and work with high school students.

Michael Pond, professor of civics and AP history at ETHS, is developing lesson plans for the Illinois Colored Conventions Project. Credit: Wendi Kromach

“I was also excited to develop an opportunity to collaborate with teachers from ETHS. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from the Kaplan Institute for Humanities at NU, through which I could provide teachers with a stipend for their work. This is how our collaboration was born,” Masur wrote.

Masur gave Pond, Yehia, and Hill electronic access to all documents associated with three conventions known to have taken place in Illinois. Their task was to develop ways to engage high school students with skill-level appropriate material that would highlight newly discovered content. Pond described a collaborative process in which Masur suggested areas to emphasize, directions to consider, and areas to refine during a series of meetings with ETHS faculty.

Pond proposed a lesson plan built around a scavenger hunt in which students must find connections between the various personalities who attended a particular convention.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Masur said. “That was exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for from the teachers – that they apply their expertise in designing practical materials to use in the classroom for our Illinois exhibit. Teachers know their students and they know the types of questions and activities that help students learn. The scavenger hunt is designed to help students learn about the lives of the people we’ve featured in the exhibit, while encouraging them to ask questions and move around the classroom. Open-ended questions at the end of the lesson help students put people’s individual life stories into a larger historical context. »

Pond’s Scavenger Hunt draws on the profiles of convention delegates to help students discover and understand what black life was like in Illinois in the late 1800s.

An example of prominent figures was John and Mary Jones, both delegates to Illinois color conventions.

“John Jones was Chicago’s most prominent black man in the mid-19th century, known for both his activism and his wealth,” Masur said. In 1865, he helped convince Springfield legislators to repeal Illinois’ discriminatory and restrictive “black laws.” His wife, Mary, was an active abolitionist and later became involved in women’s rights.

The couple “often sheltered fugitives from slavery in their home and hosted Frederick Douglass when he was in town,” Masur writes in her Mary profile. After the death of Mary Jones’ husband in 1879, much of Chicago’s “black society” revolved around her and her interests. She influenced dozens of younger, politically active black women, gave speeches, and became active philanthropically.

For her part, Pond spent nearly all of spring break putting the finishing touches on her latest lesson plans. He is proud of the end product.

“We wanted it to be a useful tool, but we also wanted it to be flexible,” Pond said. “As teachers, we know that flexibility is really important in the classroom, and we have different time constraints, and now we have different skills or content that we need to teach or put in place. value.”

Pond said some of what he found in the files made him think even deeper.

“It got me thinking about my teaching and some of the things I need to make sure I incorporate into my classes. I think some of my other colleagues are doing a better job than me in this area, but it makes me realizing that I need to incorporate, for example, more of the role of the AME Church,” Pond said.

“As I learned from that convention, it played a really, really important spiritual role, a leadership role in education and in activism, against those anti-black laws in the 1850s,” he said. he declares. “I have some familiarity with the AME church as a white teacher, but I don’t have as much knowledge as many of my other colleagues, those who might even be church disciples.”

Looking back on the collaboration, Masur is pleased with the outcome, saying, “I love that the initial partnership with CCP has opened the door for collaborations between Northwestern students, staff, and faculty, between researchers in Illinois, and beyond. and with teachers from ETHS. I hope the web exhibition will continue to generate collaborative projects in all kinds of institutions. »

Pond was more philosophical.

“I have an obligation to make sure that when I teach history, I do it as accurately as possible,” he said. “And then, perhaps most importantly, I make sure to provide relevant connections between the past and the present so that my students can always see themselves coming out of the story to improve where we are today and their coming.”

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