I read it in the paper

Over the 4th of July weekend, the Birmingham News published two articles and a guest editorial that caught my eye. Like so many news or feature items that appear in the local, state or even national press, humanities ideas often have something to say about them.

Here are brief excerpts of the three articles, along with reports about related AHF programs:

Brookside, Alabama, mayor leading his town back after devastating flood
by Monique Fields

  • Brookside, once a thriving mining town settled by immigrants from Slovakia, was all but washed away by a flood in 2003. The city’s town hall was destroyed, as were homes and businesses. But the town and its 1,400 residents have been steadily staging a comeback. In October, Brookside opened a $3.5 million municipal complex. A new $425,000 fire station, the final phase of the project, is scheduled to open in August.

    The town has a long to-do list. There is the Brookside Greenway Festival and the Russian Food Festival, annual events that draw hundreds to the area. Then there’s the historic home that sits at the town’s center, awaiting refurbishment into a museum…

AHF will be doing its part to assist Brookside’s revival. In March, we awarded a $5,571 exhibition grant to CAWACO, a regional economic and community development agency that is focusing on creating a Five Mile Creek Greenway through Brookside. Our grant will provide funds for a public program in conjunction with the creation of a historical mural in the Brookside Town Hall rotunda.

Birmingham, Alabama’s, Tannehill State Park may host memorial to unheralded labor, lives of slaves
by Rahkia Nance

  • Not much hints at the slave life that existed during the 1860s at the area that is now Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. Piles of rocks where chimneys once stood are the only silent reminders that a community ever occupied these wooded corners of west Jefferson County.
    But as a Fairfield woman unturned the stones of Tannehill, she happened upon a rarely mentioned part of Alabama’s history: the slave labor that supplied blast furnaces…

    [Shirley] Ferrill is now on a mission to memorialize those slaves and would like to erect a memorial at the park. She came up with the idea after attending a Juneteenth festival last month in Birmingham. Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom.

    Lost history:

    “We’re so busy researching and celebrating what happened in other states, and we have our own history right here,” said Ferrill, a former social worker. “I think it is so sad that we really don’t know about our history and don’t take advantage of opportunities to learn about it.

    “So much of our history goes undocumented and, it’s just not talked about,” Ferrill said. “I think there’s a lot of resentment and embarrassment in Alabama. Most people tend not to want to talk about it. But you have to have some knowledge to gain some knowledge.”

I regret that Ms. Ferrill did not know about our recent SUPER institute, “Slavery in Alabama: Public Amnesia and Historical Memory.” More than 20 teachers from across the state participated in this intensive one-week institute, co-sponsored by AHF and the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery. It was the first program of its kind in the state. These teachers will now return to classrooms from Huntsville to Mobile with the latest and most scholarly information about the history and legacy of slavery in our state.

Facing the elephant in the classroom
Guest editorial by Cynthia Ryan, associate professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • As K-12 and university budgets shrink, many Americans wonder how we can reform an educational system fraught with problems: too large classrooms, outdated technologies, underprepared students, frustrated teachers–the list goes on. There’s talk of extending the school calendar, requiring an additional year of high school, offering incentive programs for achievement, increasing the rigor of testing, or better yet, giving more tests!

    While advocates for these approaches to reform do offer some compelling evidence, I’m struck by how many arguments avoid altogether the rather enormous elephant in the classroom: the critical-thinking skills necessary for applying the information students consume in productive, innovative and ethical ways.

I would encourage Professor Ryan to speak with her colleagues in the UAB English department, Jacqueline Wood and Gale Temple. This summer Wood co-led our first SUPER Emerging Scholars Institute for high-school students from underserved school systems, while Temple led a one-week SUPER teacher institute on “American Literature: From Discovery to the Civil War.” Along with many other university scholars who participate in our summer institutes, they have dedicated themselves to answering Ryan’s cry for greater critical thinking skills among Alabama’s secondary teachers and students.

Written by: Bob S.