On May 5, The Cincinnatus Association announced a new award honoring Cincinnati Civil Rights icons, Donald and Marian Spencer. The Spencer's, known locally as the “First Couple of Civil Rights” in Cincinnati, will have their legacy immortalized in three separate awards: one for a nonprofit, for-profit and an individual, for “exhibiting conspicuous and enduring contributions to creating greater inclusion and promoting diversity in our community.”
As many Cincinnatians know, the Spencer’s lives were filled with firsts. Donald was the first African American on the Cincinnati Park Board; the first African American broker on the Cincinnati Board of Realtors; the first African American Trustee at Ohio University. Marian integrated Coney Island so her children could swim in the pool; she was the first African American President of Woman’s City Club; the first African American Councilwoman and many other amazing accomplishments which we will highlight that evening.
Additionally, the Cincinnatus Association celebrated its own 95 years of civic activism and community improvement, including its support of groundbreaking efforts in diversity and inclusion. Click here to learn more about the signature event.
Image via Cincinnati.com.
When I first learned of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC), I was newly retired and looking for ways to give back to the community. During that time, Candace Simmons was the volunteer coordinator at the NURFC and she invited me to be part of a committee discussing how volunteers would be an integral and essential part of the new center’s success. After learning more, I knew that this new role was right for me and became the volunteer stage manager for the NURFC ground-breaking ceremony, where I had the pleasure of escorting First Lady Laura Bush and Muhammad Ali to the podium to address the crowd.
Needless to say, my volunteer commitment was strengthened. This newly enhanced commitment followed me as I transitioned to become a member of the inaugural docent (exhibit guide) class under the management of Chris Shires. The class was composed of some of the same docents who are still volunteering at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center today. It didn’t take long for me to realize the value of my volunteer commitment to the NURFC. For me, it reflects a sense of belonging. For them, I believe it reflects their commitment to offer our visitors knowledge that can light up their lives, and at the same time, challenge them to become a light for others.
Through structured development and meaningful community experiences, I can explore and understand different cultures and educate our guests and visitors. One such model is the current special exhibition, Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later. Such stories are absolutely necessary, but are so infrequently told. As a docent of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, I’m inspired and believe that I can make a difference in the world and in our community.
James Brock, docent, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Image: James Brock touring a group on the 2nd floor in front of the Slave Pen.
On February 26, 1965, Alabama civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson died after he was brutally beaten and shot by Alabama State Trooper James Bonard Fowler during a peaceful voting rights march on February 18, 1965. His death would spark the Selma to Montgomery marches, organized by Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Director of Direct Action James Bevel, in an effort to channel community outrage. The Selma to Montgomery marches, three in total, were organized as part of the Selma Voting Rights Movement, whose efforts led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 later that summer.
The first march took place on Sunday, March 7, a day that would become known as Bloody Sunday, when 600 peaceful marchers were met by state and local law men with tear gas and billy clubs on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Images of the violence in Alabama sparked national outrage and two days later, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a peaceful, symbolic march to the bridge.
After civil rights leaders received full protection to exercise their right to peacefully protest, the third and final march was held on Sunday, March 21, where over 3,000 marchers began the 54-mile trek to Montgomery. By the time they reached the steps of the state capitol on March 25, the number had grown to 25, 000.
In 2010, nearly 45 years after Jackson’s death, Alabama State Trooper James Bonard Fowler was indicted and plead guilty to misdemeanor manslaughter. He was sentenced to six months in prison. You can learn more about the history of voting rights in Power of the Vote, open now.
-Assia Johnson, Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator
Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, @FreedomCenter, and on Facebook for more historical posts and images.
Images: Alabama activist Jimmie Lee Jackson, image of portrait Jimmie Lee Jackson in All for the Cause and image of the voting machine inside Power of the Vote.
During the month of January, celebrations across the tri-state will reflect upon Dr. King's legacy and dream. At the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the 2015 King Legacy Awards Breakfast will highlight past King Legacy Award honorees and the courageous actions of the veterans of Freedom Summer 1964 and the foot-soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. The breakfast, which is presented in partnership with the MLK Coalition, has called the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center home for the past 8 years.
The program following the breakfast will be a celebration of courageous individuals, past and present, and honor the staff, docents and volunteers who have served the center for 10 years. In addition to reflections from past honorees, the program will feature performances from the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Glendale, Ohio and The Filo Quartet of Walnut Hills High School. Courtis Fuller of WLWT-TV will preside as master of ceremonies with a keynote speech from Freedom Center president, Clarence G. Newsome, Ph.D. Below is a full list of events and activities happening in and around the Freedom Center on Jan. 19.
Prior to the Martin Luther King, Jr. day events on the 19th, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center president, Clarence G. Newsome, Ph.D. will address the students of the University of Cincinnati, Tuesday, Jan. 13 in the TUC Great Hall beginning at 12 noon. In addition to Newsome's keynote speech, information will be provided to attendees detailing his theme, which presents various chronological concepts of freedom, from the perspective of "time" until the present thought, of what freedom should look like in our future society: "Freedom Yesterday, Freedom Today, and Freedom Forever." For more information on this event, contact MLK coordinator Eric Watford.
Want the latest on upcoming special exhibitions, events and programs? Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, @FreedomCenter and on Facebook, for more historical posts and images.
Assia Johnson, Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator
Images: Detail image of the voting machine inside special exhibit Power of the Vote.
More authored by Assia: 150th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment: President Obama Gives Presidential Proclamation, Flame Friday: Artist James Pate, Freedom Center to Host Award-winning Author and Yale University Alumni Jeff Hobbs Thursday, King Records now a Cincinnati landmark, On This Day in History: The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Connect with History Labor Day Weekend, 50 Years Later: The Voting Rights Act of 1965, 50 Midwest Museums We Love, Mother's Day Gift Ideas, Flame Friday, Jimmie Lee Jackson, MLK Day 2015
Last year, the Links and National Underground Railroad Freedom Center's Youth Docents program held the 2013-14 graduation ceremony and induction of the 2014-15 class in the Grand Hall. It was a night filled with reminiscing and pride for all that the previous year’s youth docents accomplished, as well as an opportunity for our new class to see where they would be just a year from now. Stories of students coming in as shy, introverted teens and leaving as confident young adults as a result of the youth docent training proved to everyone how important and life changing the experience can be.
In addition to learning about the content of the Center’s exhibits and serving as a resource for visitors, participants of the program also enhance their public speaking skills and work on personal development to make them more well-rounded students. The many hours of community service that they devote to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (over 30 hours each!) is great-- not only for resumes, but also for a personal sense of satisfaction.
Last year’s class of Links Youth Docents, represented by 13 local high schools, is full of energy and talent-- I can’t wait to hear from them during the Nov. 19th where they will share with their community, family and friends about what they accomplished in the past year! Students still have time to apply for this year's class of Youth Docents-- click here to fill out the online application. Be sure to follow the Links Youth Docents during their journey on Twitter @FCYouthDocents!
Brittany Vernon, IMLS Coca Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
More authored by Brittany: Connecting Art with History: The Freedom Center Team Visits the Contemporary Art Center
Be sure to follow the Youth Docents on Twitter, @FCYouthDocents! Click here to learn more about the Youth Docent Program.
Earlier this month, Malala Yousafzai made history as the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Winner ever at age 17. Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education rights and has been engaged in activist work since she was only 11 years old! She began by writing blogs for the BBC about her life under Taliban rule and her views on the importance of education for girls all over the world but especially in her country. After Yousafzai was profiled in a New York Times documentary, she rose to fame as a speaker promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Tragically, as Yousafzai was headed to school one morning, she was shot in the face by a gunman and remained in critical condition for several months. After rehabilitation, Yousafzai was healthy enough to continue her activist work, giving speeches and interviews for women’s education rights and her tragic story provided even more impetus for people to believe in and support her cause. What was called an assassination attempt on Yousafzai’s life caused the United Nations to launch a campaign calling for the education of all children worldwide and eventually led to Pakistan’s first Right to Education Bill.
Yousafzai has won numerous awards in addition to her most recent Nobel Peace Prize including being named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2013. Her story is one of inspiration, courage and perseverance. Yousafzai believed in her cause and did whatever she could to get her message out there. As a young girl, she may have thought that there was nothing she could do or that no one would listen to her message but even a small action such as writing a blog entry led to bigger and bigger platforms for her to advocate for equal educational opportunities for all children. Malala Yousafzai’s story proves that anyone and everyone has the power to fight for change and inclusive freedom for people all over the world.
Brittany Vernon, IMLS Coca Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Image: Malala Yousafzai, The Vancouver Sun.
As an museum apprentice at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, one part of my job is to go through the museum every day to make sure every single aspect of each exhibition is functioning, undamaged and ready for a day of visitor interaction. I carefully walk into each exhibition as if I am visiting the museum for the first time, looking at every text panel, listening to all of the audio panels, manipulating all of the interactive displays and watching a small bit of each film. As I check items off on my list, I sometimes get quizzical looks from visitors wondering about my curious behavior. To be honest, if I wasn’t the one doing my job I would also find it strange to see someone pressing every single button and looking so closely at displays. But I try to normalize the experience for the people around me by explaining what I’m doing, and that is usually met with praise and awe that I’m lucky enough to explore our awesome exhibits every day.
Another aspect of daily museum walkthroughs is collecting the surveys from the Invisible: Slavery Today exhibition and the guest book reflections from the And Still We Rise exhibition. Every question, comment or concern gets read by me and entered into our records every day. In And Still We Rise, many people commented in hopes that the exhibit could travel to other states and now that it’s run here at the Freedom Center has ended, I am happy to say it is currently traveling all across the country on a two-year tour! In Invisible: Slavery Today, many commenters reflect on the surprising facts of modern day slavery that make them want to become involved as an abolitionist- so great news! There are now updated fact sheets at the end of the gallery and a new website, which list ways you can get involved.
Every visitor and all feedback is extremely appreciated and helpful in determining the future of our exhibitions so please continue to visit and let us know what you think!
-Brittany Vernon, IMLS Coca Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Image: A shot of the new Freedom Center exhibition, Foto Focus: New Voices.
Now that I've been at the Freedom Center for almost a year, regaling you with exciting behind-the-scenes tales of collections and exhibits, it's time to introduce myself.
I'm Gina Armstrong, one of the IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentices at the Freedom Center. I come to the Freedom Center fresh off a masters of library and information studies (MLIS), with an archival concentration, at the University of Alabama. Your next question is probably "How did you get from Alabama to Cincinnati? How did you even know about the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center?" Excellent questions. I have long been a social justice advocate, and spent my practicum time in graduate school working with the archives at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The longing for freedom is just in my blood, I guess. I also have a longtime friend who has lived in the area for close to 20 years, so I'd been to visit the Freedom Center a couple of times before learning of the apprenticeship and applying.
As an archivist, my primary interest is in the artifacts themselves -- "the stuff," as I like to call it. With my information background, I want to make sure that the artifacts are stored, cataloged, and described in the best way to make them easy to access, both for visitors and staff. I've long been an obsessive list-maker and user of databases, so cataloging and describing material comes naturally to me and makes me happy in the best nerdy way.
Outside of work, I am a voracious reader, a fan of punk and '80s music, and a rabid fan of the New Orleans Saints. It will also come as no shock that New Orleans is my favorite city in the country, if not the world. I am a inveterate traveller, and I've been all over the U.S., to Brazil and Zimbabwe on service trips, Great Britain on study and pleasure trips several times, Germany a few times on visits with friends and pleasure trips, and Italy, Peru, and Paris for pure pleasure. It will perhaps not be very surprising that I'd like to visit the three other continents I've never seen.
I'm excited to continue my apprenticeship at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for the next 12 months, learning more and more about museum work while fulfilling my passion for "the stuff."
-Gina Armstrong, IMLS Coca Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Image: Gina Armstrong inside Senzeni Na? Selected Photos from Mandela! Struggle and Triumph.
“OK, so who are the most important people at the Freedom Center?” I asked the Youth Docents. We were doing a training on communication and customer service, and to be honest the answer I was fishing for was “visitors.” The first answer I got, however, was an important reminder.
“The people in the exhibits. The abolitionists and conductors.” Of course, this Youth Docent was right! Our visitors, our audience, the community we work in and seek to educate are very important. But so are the Freedom Heroes whose stories we tell. It reminded me of a college professor who used to tell us that we studied history “to honor the lived experiences” of the people we read about.
Why should we honor their experiences? Because the Freedom Heroes are inspiring – but they are much more than an inspiration. Freedom Heroes from abolitionists to Civil Rights activists were trailblazers who risked their reputations and their lives for a more just and free society. We would not be where we are today without their courage and perseverance.
Yet most of these people never received recognition in their lifetimes. Just the opposite, in fact: many were ridiculed, outcast, threatened or confronted with violence. Many abolitionists were heckled and threatened when speaking in public. Several Civil Rights leaders were assassinated for their activism. Because of the challenging and often thankless work they did, we owe it to them to honor their stories, just as we owe it to future generations to continue the struggle.
- Nancy Yerian, AmeriCorps Member, Ohio History Service Corps
On April 26, 2014, thousands of middle and high school students from all over Ohio gathered in Columbus to participate in the state level competition for National History Day. NHD is an annual academic program and competition that engages students in in-depth historical research. Each student completes a project on a topic of their choice related to an annual theme. They do months of primary and secondary research on their topic and create a project – a website, performance, paper, exhibit, or documentary – to present at competition. The students in Columbus had already been through school and regional competitions to earn their place in the state contest. Their projects were the best in the state, and they were marvelous.
I was lucky enough to be at the state competition because I was judging for a Special Prize. Every year, the Freedom Center gives the Fan the Flame Award to recognize the most outstanding National History Day in Ohio project focusing on an individual, a group or a movement that have contributed significantly to the advancement of freedoms and the assurance of the civil and human rights of others. The award recipients help “fan the flame” by recognizing that “there is a spark within each of us” and challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today.
This year, the theme for National History Day was “rights and responsibilities.” Since this theme fits so well with the Freedom Center’s mission, many of the projects were eligible for the Fan the Flame award. In fact, we received over 50 nominations! This made it very difficult to choose winners, but it was also rewarding to see the incredibly rich research that so many hardworking students had put into their projects. To see some of those extraordinary creations, check out the Ohio Historical Society’s Flickr page pictures of the competition.
In the end, the Freedom Center’s awards went to Erin Barr for her performance, “Residents of Africa Road: Taking Responsibility to Help Escaping Slaves along the Road to Freedom” and Amani Hill for the documentary “Killing a Panther: The FBI Plot to Destroy the Black Panther Party.” The finalists from the state competition will go on to show at National History Day in College Park, Maryland, in June. I wish them the best of luck and, having seen their projects, I know they will do well. Every student who completed a History Day project has already accomplished a great deal and hopefully learned a lot in the process.
- Nancy Yerian, AmeriCorps Member, Ohio History Service Corps
This website was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program