Hidden Histories and Cultural Preservation from the Ground Up
American Educational Research Association 2015 Chicago
John William Templeton
Venturata Economic Development Corp.
California students are never told about the black millionaire captain who financed the Mexican War for the U.S. side, welcomed the victorious commanders at his home, started the state’s first public school and was a mentor to the abolitionist views of the first Republican presidential candidate. An annual anniversary tour marking the April 3, 1848 dedication of that school gives visual evidence of the monumental impact of Capt. William Alexander Leidesdorff. Other 19th century mariners were Capts. William Shorey and Micheal Healy.
African-American Freedom Trail: Belonging as a Prerequisite for Success
Moments before hearing from the African American who invented the first video game console, a college professor, entrepreneur and author of a textbook in game design proclaimed, “I Belong.”
An expert in critical race theory and the law brought her parents from a hurricane damaged home in New York City to the top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill for a revelatory moment to see the mural of the black warrior queen whose saga gave California its name.
The direct descendant of the rulers of the greatest West African empire walked up that same hill with the architect of Brazil’s black studies legislation to pay homage to that same image.
A white commercial real estate magnate invested hundreds of thousands in a towering statue in honor of the black millionaire who used his personal credit to finance the America occupation of California.
Earlier this year, the State Historical Resources Commission unanimously approved a motion by Commisioner Rick Moss, the director/curator of the African-American Museum and Library in Oakland, to endorse legislation to create a heritage corridor under the California Public Resources Code titled the African American Freedom Trail as part of the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, the most important event in black history, and the 50th anniversary of the United San Francisco Freedom Movement, the most successful civil rights movement of the 1960s.
In 2014, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors endorsed the 400 local sites on the trail in a resolution by Supervisors Malia Cohen, London Breed and David Chiu (now an Assemblymember) and San Francisco Travel entered a three year agreement to promote the trail.
The African American Freedom Trail was vetted during the seventh annual Preserving California Black Heritage conference led by Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson (ret.) inside the world’s largest African American collage The Great Cloud of Witnesses. Jackson, just having completed service as California’s commissioner of parks and recreation, personally demonstrated the salience of the trail by sharing his family and personal history.
Before serving 36 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Jackson led the black athletes at San Jose State University as they rallied behind John Carlos and Tommie Smith following their black power fist salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Still a teenager, he explained to the press why the football team would boycott Brigham Young University necause of the Mormon church’s segregationist policies. Unbeknowst to anyone, Jackson’s mother and grandmother were both practicing Mormons. His descendant had been the wagon driver for Brigham Young when the Mormons migrated to Utah.
Implementing the Trail is ReUNION: Education-Arts-Heritage, the African-American childrens network, providing culturally responsive instructional television to schools by subscription.
Another 1960s teenager is the subject of its documentary Who Was Tracy Sims? recently screened at the University of California Office of President. Before anyone had heard of Huey Newton or Angela Davis, this 18-year-old piano prodigy shut down San Francisco’s Palace Hotel with 2,000 demonstrators in March 1964 after promising to do it in front page headlines the previous day. The next day, all 37 San Francisco hotels desegregated, one of 375 employer agreements obtained by the United San Francisco Freedom Movement.
Unlike her peers, her role has been completely obscured. The documentary is the first full length interview she has given in 50 years.
Similarly, the 90 year old LeRoy King told his story in the labor movement for the past 70 years in the documentary The King Behind King, Bridges, Chavez and Mandela as the retired International Longshore and Warehouse Union vice president for northern California described his behind the scenes role in the Montgomery bus boycott, the Red scare, birth of the farmworkers union, anti-apartheid movement and the careers of Willie Brown, Diane Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi.
A Great Day in Gaming: the Gerald A. Lawson Story was the only time that the late inventor of the Channel F cartridge game console got to tell his story, only weeks before his death. He attended the Game Developers Conference to speak to Blacks in Gaming. With one exception, the contemporary gamers had never heard about him. Rob Miles, a Sega executive, told of visiting Anderson’s house at the age of eight to see a whirring, clanking DEC mainframe in Lawson’s garage in Santa Clara. It inspired Miles to complete a double major in math and computer science at the University of California, participate in the creation of Madden football and build a 20 year career in the industry.
Freedom Riders of the Cutting Edge depicts Anderson and three other Silicon Valley pioneers of the 1950s, 60s and 1970s. Roy Clay Sr., who grew up next to Ferguson and had a teen encounter with its police, was the first tech employee in Cupertino as founding manager of computer research and development for Hewlett Packard in 1965. The late Dr. Frank Greene designed the circuit board for the Iliac IV supercomputer. Both belong to the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame. The late Ron Jones, labelled innovator of the decade in the 1990s, developed the raster image processor for large format graphics.
All this programming employs the Learning Garage (c) proprietary pedagogy as a psycho-social intervention for learners of African desecents. The Learning Garage analyzes 24 points of influence– a richer tableau on which to practice culturally responsive instruction.
Templeton (2008) found that only 20 percent of California social science educators practiced the tenets of culturally responsive instruction after reviewing self-reported descriptions of Black History Month activities.
A 2010 proof of concept experiment using the Learning Garage to present a biotech magnent for far below proficent students indicates that six weeks of immersion is needed to restore normal learning activity.
Instructional television is used to provide the quality control needed to scale psycho-social intervention to the school and district level. Draft immersion ordinances for districts based on the strategy designed in the New York State Freedom Trail by the Schomburg Center introduce a standards-driven rigor to the practice instead of haphazard, sporadic cosmetic gestures.
Maslow and his research thread posit belongingness as one of five elemental needs next to safety and security.
In a 2013 paper to AERA, this researcher postulated a theory of personal authenticity and perceived chance of success to explain the epidemic of “anti-knowing” which is completely obverse from centuries of black educational attainment. One hundred years after African American families across South built public schools with own funds and sweat labor, schools are being closed wholesale in black neighborhoods across the nation.
Although social science frameworks center on personal and community history in early years, African American youth get nothing from teachers or textbooks to aid them in forming an identity. Outside influences such as gangs fill in the vacuum.
How the African American Freedom Trail instills belonging
In our opening, we showed how individuals at the top of Maslow’s pyramid were transformed by sites along the trail. Since 1991, educators using our anthology Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4 have seen student gains within 60 days, particularly when using the fourth volume thematic lesson plans ( The Black Queen : How African Americans Put California on the Map)
Through ReUNION: Education-Arts-Heritage, there is now the ability to deliver such critically important content across the country throughout the 20 states with existing African American Freedom Trails.
The presence of a rich tableau of public commemorations such as the emerging infrastructure in Washington, D.C. provides visual validation and mass media reinforcement. Added to the Frederick Douglass House, Lincoln Memorial, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and Smithsonian Museum of African Art have been the African American Civil War Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King National Memorial on the Mall, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Howard Theater and U Street Visitors Center.
In Harlem, historic churches like Abyssinian Baptist and St. James Presbyterian undergird institutions like the Apollo Theater, Schomburg Center, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and National Black Theater.
Maryland’s Commission on African American Heritage runs two state museums and has created a statewide curriculum on African American history. Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas actively promote cultural heritage tourism at hundreds of sites in their states.
In addition to a system of markers and sites like the African American Heritage Trail in Washington, D.C. or the Black Freedom Trail in Boston, it is important to have moderated tours of these sites.
A great deal of the narrative of American history is actually fiction packaged as undisputed truth.
That means a substantial burden of evidence is needed to actually convey the evidence based facts of the central role of African Americans in American history. Walk along the streets of Philadelphia and one will be astounded to encounter a sign which describes Revolutionary War musician Francis Johnson as the “father of American music.” At the African Burial Ground in New York City, one learns that the entire Mid-Atlantic seaboard was named Tierra de Esteban Gomes for the black Portuguese captain, who unlike Christopher Columbus, was the first to actually reach North America.
For 25 years, we have used tours to convey primary source data for African -American history in California. Tours give a geographical context, are compelling and provide confidence in what can be observed with the tourist’s own eyes.
Documentaries and scholarly conferences like Preserving California Black Heritage which we began in 2007 also add inside knowledge and additional context. Dr. Oba T’Shala, co-leader of the United San Francisco Freedom Movement, said, they specifically described their effort as a “freedom” movement because they considered freedom derived from the Creator, and not something to negotiate about, as opposed to “civil rights.”
Instructional media (books, video, integrated learning systems)
Effective culturally responsive instruction uses cultural referents to impart skills. Gilbert (2012) said in an interview for ReUNION that black children enjoy solving problems in their communities. Project based learning like the Potrero Progress biotech magnet defines a learning challenge not unlike a video game. While solving the challenge, students are oblivioys to the lessons being imparted. Afterwards, one can show all the new skills they have acquired.
Our design for the California African American Freedom Trail gives students actual work experience with the research and design tasks involved in deploying the Trail. Most jurisdictions separate communities from their history by hiring specialist consultants with no ongoing stake in the community. The legislation creates a heritage corridor trust funded partially by sales of vehicle decals through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Immersion with success figures enhances resilience among the targeted population. At a post-Ferguson meeting at Glide Memorial, a public defender lawyer came up to the researcher and said, “I remember you!” After a moment of suspense, he recalled reading Our Roots Run Deep while in middle school. It inspired him to become a lawyer. Although six percent of California popluation is black, 45 percent of its foster children are black. They have neither school or family support for identity formation. Teachers without cultural competency have little chance of success and usually make things worse.
Paradoxically, black students in the Golden State attend a school system begun by a black millionaire of the 1840s, pass by three Underground Railroad churches founded in 1852 and have public art in prominent places describing how Calfornia got its name.
They have the academic example of Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Ralph Bunche or Dr. Robert Lawrence Thornton, walk in the classrooms where Johnny Mathis and Maya Angelou studied, and can observe the ports where naval heroes like Capts. William Shorey and Michael Healy departed from on vovages to the ends of the seas.
Yet, most counties in the state have no visible manifestations of black history. Like every society in human history, African American young people have to have a visible, available roadmap of normality and success. If teachers do not show students how and where they belong, those educators do not belong in your child’s classroom.
John William Templeton is president of Venturata Economic Development Corp. and executive producer of its joint venture with the Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Foundation, ReUNION: Education-Arts-Heritage, the African-American children’s network. He is editor of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4; Do Not Call Us Negroes: How Multicultural Textbooks Perpetuate Racism and author of Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco; Cakewalk: a historical novel about the unsung creators of jazz; Silicon Ceiling 14: Equal Opportunity and High Technology and Impact Inequality with Investment: State of Black Business, 11th edition. All books are available exclusively at californiablackhistory.com. Templeton graduated with honors from Howard University with additional graduate study at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Contact him at (415) 240-3537 or firstname.lastname@example.org