Many people knew about the heroes who grabbed headlines during the African-American civil rights movement, but a new exhibit at the Robert H. Jackson Center is showcasing the foot soldiers of that struggle.
The exhibit, entitled "Civil Rights: Making the Movement, 1909-1976", was provided to the Jackson Center by David Crane, son of former chief prosecutor of the Special Court of Sierra Leone, David M. Crane, and opened on Thursday evening with a reception for the public and other guest speakers in attendance.
"I started collecting these artifacts related to the civil rights movement about 10 years ago," said Crane. "I've always been interested in the civil rights movement. The first thing that I got in my collection was an NAACP membership button from 1954. I think the woman wanted $10 for it at a swap meet. I began to realize that 1954 was the same year as Brown v. Board. Ultimately, the people that paid their membership dues to the NAACP in 1954 got that pin sent to them in the mail, and they wore it. That's going to cause their friends to ask about it, and the money from that membership fee was going to the legal defense fund that eventually paid for Thurgood Marshall's defense team that successfully defended Brown v. Board. As I got more of these, I realized that the objects themselves were telling the story of the civil rights movement. They represented a particular period or event - Those objects were what made the movement."
Greg Peterson interviews Pomfret Town Justice David Prince, who served as a military policeman during the civil rights marches from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery, Ala. with Martin Luther King Jr.
P-J photos by Ryan Atkins
After talking to Jennifer Champ, collections and exhibit manager at the Jackson Center, Crane decided to bring his collection to Jamestown to be showcased. According to Champ, this exhibit will help to bridge a gap that is present in many schools currently due to the restrictive, fast-paced nature of their curriculums.
"One thing about organizations like the Jackson Center is that as state schools get restricted about what they're able to teach and how long they can teach things, they provide a much needed resource for educational purposes," said Champ. "Everything is so much faster these days, so the Jackson Center provides an outlet for thinking and critical discussions about important topics, and it allows teachers and students to come through here and absorb so much that they wouldn't be able to teach in school because they don't have time.
The Jackson Center currently has multiple field trips scheduled for area schools over the next few months that will allow children to come in and see materials that they wouldn't have access to otherwise.
"The students learn about the major players in school, but the materials that we have here tell the story of the everyday people in these movements." said Champ. It helps the students realize that they could do this kind of thing and make a difference."
While researching in preparation for this exhibit, Champ found that there was a report that was released by the Southern Poverty Law Center about the state of civil rights education in public schools. States were graded, and New York state did fairly well, earning a "B," but most other states were given failing grades due to the lack of time spent on the subject.
"What David brought to my attention with this exhibit is that these were the people that defined what it meant to be a citizen," said Champ. "They came together to change the world, and I think that's something important for the Jackson Center to talk about."
Champ then approached Kirsten Hansen, an ESL teacher at Jamestown High School, to see about getting some of her students involved in the exhibit as well. According to Champ, they have class time where they are able to work on creative projects related to what they are learning, but also, they're learning the language.
"We thought it was a good idea for them to immerse themselves in the language of the civil rights movement, so they came to look at some of the materials that David sent me and each picked a word and really explored what it meant to the movement," said Champ. "We're really excited to have them working with us on this. It's reinforcing the idea that they can be a part of this. When we have field trips that come here now, the first thing that students see when they get to the exhibit is the face of a teenager."
The exhibit will be open at the Jackson Center through August, at which point it will be taken to Allegheny College, a partner of the Jackson Center. According to Champ, Allegheny College is currently looking at running two years of civil rights programming, focusing on the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, so the materials from this exhibit will be an excellent fit.
"They have a smaller space so we'll have to think about curating it a little differently, but I think they have a great space there and they're going to have a lot of guests coming through," said Champ.
For more information on the Jackson Center and the exhibit, call 483-6646.