Addressing a historical blind spot in Alabama

The topic of a major 2009 SUPER Teacher Institute is one that SUPER participants have consistently requested the past 7+ years I have served as manager of this program. The Institute, which runs June 28-July 3, will discuss “Slavery in Alabama: Public Amnesia and Historical Memory,” and is a partnership project of the Alabama Humanities Foundation and the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

A summary of the Institute and its aim follows:
For generations, Southerners have made the effort to remove the protection of slavery as a primary cause of the Civil War; going so far as to deny the evidence presented in ordinances of secession as well as state constitutions and the Confederate Constitution itself. The veneration of the Civil War as the romantic “Lost Cause” has influenced how school boards have selected texts, how teachers have chosen to teach, and most importantly, how students have come to understand the history of their country, region and state.

The ultimate goal is for us to move away from modern political assumptions and get ourselves and our students to think historically about how the influence of slavery has shaped America.

This historical blind spot is not just the creation of a national obsession with the Civil War. Scholars and the public alike have welcomed discussions about race in Alabama, but for the most part only by focusing on the Civil Rights Movement. No one denies the importance of that struggle, but the brightness of the light shined upon the mid-twentieth century has left the efforts of enslaved men and women in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in relative darkness.

The purpose of this institute is to provide teachers in the state of Alabama with a deeper understanding of the simultaneous development of freedom and un-freedom and importance of the enslaved as well as history of the state, region and nation. The ultimate goal is for us to move away from modern political assumptions and get ourselves and our students to think historically about how the influence of slavery has shaped America.

Institute sessions will include an overview of slavery in a broad world-wide context, as well as the effect of the transatlantic slave trade on the formation of the American colonies, the contradictions inherent in founding a nation of liberty wherein twenty percent of its population lived as slaves, and the implications that this had for the history of Alabama. Click here for session topics and a list of lead scholars.

As with all SUPER Institutes, participants are expected to complete a hefty amount of directed reading prior to the beginning of the program. This year, for the first time, participating teachers will benefit from a blog set up by Dr. Buckner exclusively for teachers to share with each other and Dr. Buckner their ideas, questions, impressions regarding the readings and thoughts about other Institute-related topics prior to the June 28-July 3 program, and afterward to the follow-up workshop in September.

For more information about this program, other 2009 SUPER institutes, and the SUPER Teacher Program, in general, please contact me directly at 205.558.3997

Significant support for this Institute is provided by Old Alabama Town and the Rosa Parks Museum & Library at Troy University Montgomery. Application turnout was strong, as expected, with 4th-12th grade teachers of a surprisingly broad range of subjects applying. The Institute is now fully booked with a waiting list!

Written by: Thomas B.