I'm doing the Florida Humanities Council's Jump at the Sun workshop this week. The FHC program is focused on Zora Neale Hurston and her Eatonville Roots. My job is to talk about the context around black communities after the Civil War. I'm lucky that I can tell the story through a number of different narratives. I'm always experimenting with new techniques around visualization and narrative. I put together this graphic to grab people's attention. Is it working?
This Adventure of Superman radio show features a classic story of Superman facing down the KKK. This is a story with deep roots to Florida. Stetson Kennedy, a native of Jacksonville and writer and human rights activists is credited for inspiring the Superman radio show to produce this serial in 1946. There is some debate about how much undercover work he did to write I Rode With the Klan (later republished as The Klan Unmasked). You can find out more about that here. What is clear is that Kennedy was a lifelong opponent to racism and promoted social justice. Whatever the origins of the investigative work here, the effect of the Superman radio program to undermine the KKK in these years is clear.
Rollins College has a historic link to Zora Neale Hurston. As coordinator of the Africa and African-American Studies program, I've tried to build strong relationship. For me the focus is on the community that create Hurston and the demonstration of African-American agency in late 19th century and early 20th century. In the face of violence and systemic exclusion they strived to create a space to thrive.
This semester I'm venturing into the critical making space with my African-American History Since 1877 course with a simple mapping exercise. My internal theme for this course, which carries a community engagement (CE) designation is "Education and Work." These two issues are arguably central themes for African Americans after the Civil War, so I'm using them as the focal point for our critical making projects. The first focal point is education, so students are making a simple map of the schools the Rosenwald Fund supported in Florida. I'm tailoring this to the number of students in the class, so it will be a partial map. The information on the schools is available through the FISK University Library website. Well, a lot of information is available, some crucial questions must be answer and this is how making/learning happens. The database is based on county and uses a somewhat simple naming practice. I say simple because they might use the name of the community or not. So, the funding information is great on the school type and year funded. The students need to come up with a narrative of location that establishes the exact location for each school. This will be simple for some locations, but tricky for others. What does this project do? Well, first the students will engage in deeper dive into the education landscape facing African Americans while doing this. We will read two pieces about Rosenwald and Florida history, but this allows theme to go deeper on an individual level. Second, this is a simple mapping exercise (it needs to be), but it will highlight variations associated with education experience. The narrative of location requires both a primary and secondary source for it to be acceptable. I'm hoping this will create a kind of internal validity to each entry. I also believe this will be a good digital literacy exercise as they will need to move between digital resources to make this work. I do not know if we can claim to be adding to public knowledge in a powerful way, but mapping does create a kind of visual engagement that simply writing it down in paper does not. Of course, as I write this, I worry about the assignment design (this is my world), but I have made a decision to engage at the intersection of digital and history. As always, my fingers and toes are crossed.