Friday, April 3, 2015

C = Civil Rights: A-Z Blogging Challenge 2015: History Stories and the Telling of Them

Quick Performance Update (next two weeks):
    Apr. 3, 4, 6, 7 & 13 - Performances for Worldstrides, Inc. Student Tour Groups in Williamsburg, VA. 
    Sat., Apr. 11 - Lancaster Court Days, @Mary Washington Library and Museum, Lancaster, VA; 10 am – 4 pm (Oney Judge Historic Character Presentation, Ol’ Bess Historic Character Presentation, General Storytelling)

     Other Apr. performances:  California (Hawthorne); South Carolina (Woodruff), Virginia (Herndon, Oregon, Portsmouth, Williamsburg)
     Upcoming May performances:  California (Fresno); New York (Westchester County); VA (Norfolk, Williamsburg), West Virginia (Shepherdstown)

The second day came in late, but it came.  And this day will be so close to midnight we could spit at it.  Day 3 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge 2015.  My theme is “History Stories and the telling of them.”  My desire is to share some history facts and the stories I think are intriguing around them, along with some ways I’ve told history stories and techniques of researching and telling historical stories.  Day 3 (and I can’t wait to share!)….

C = Civil Rights

I always thought I should have been an adult during the Civil Rights Movement from the late 1950’s to early 1970’s because I think I would have been on the front lines.  Didn’t happen that way, but I have had a longtime fascination with this time period.  I created my newest program, “We Own the Night”:  Storytelling and Poetry for Teens about the Movements of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, around this very fasciation.

After I presented this program at a Middle School, the Principal came up to me afterwards and shared, “You know we don’t talk too much about this time period.  We are required by standards to do colonial times, Civil War time period and definitely World War II, the Greatest Generation and all.  But we seem to gloss over the Civil Rights Movement.”  Then he paused, took a breath, and in almost a whisper said, “I wonder if that’s on purpose.” 

WHOA!  What a thought!  Could our illustrious educational leaders (and politicians) also have an agenda with the standards of our students?  Well, of course, they can, they have and probably always will.  But why not teach this time period?  Maybe because then we can act like what people are standing up for now, protesting now, boycotting now, is something that’s never happened and will never make change.

So I couldn’t get this thought out of my head, but I just ruminated on it.  Then my friend and fellow storyteller/actor, Sarah Brady (, went to Larchmont Elementary to present our Young Audiences of Virginia, Inc. program, “Tubman-Craft:  Two Women of Freedom.”  While waiting to present, our wonderful contact person and the school’s music teacher, Carrie Green, taught a class of 2nd graders a Civil Rights Song.  I remarked after her class left, that I was impressed that she taught children about this time period.  Carrie said, “I love that time period, but there are no programs from Young Audiences around that era.”  Sarah and I looked at each other, smiled, and quickly said we would create the program.

Then the synergy began.  Everything we ran across pointed us to creating this program.  I picked up a DVD from the Library, PBS’ special, “Freedom Summer:  1964.”  I learned more about Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the women I portray; about how the Jackson, MS, police militarized itself in fear of the Freedom Riders (reminiscent or precursor of Ferguson, MO); and heard the story of Miss Mississippi who, along with her family was kicked out of Mississippi for trying to help the white Freedom Riders understand the Mississippi point of view.  (Hear her story, Jan Nave Barnes,

We started looking at white and black women that both believed and disbelieved in the Civil Rights Movement.  We both agreed the story of Viola Liuzzo, had to be told, and then found out that just last week she was awarded the first ever-awarded posthumous honorary degree from Wayne State University.  Sarah was going to find the book Elizabeth and HazelTwo Women of Little Rock by David Margolick, and came across a book to help us understand our local civil rights movement and people, Elusive Equality:  Desegration and Resegregation in Norfolk’s Public Schools by Jeffrey L. Littlejohn & Charles H. Ford.  Then I picked up a pleasure reading fiction book, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell, which ended up being about the early Mississippi civil rights movement by “the help”.  Besides being an EXCELLENT read (oh, storytellers and lovers of a well-told story, this is a tremendous story that leaves you just desiring more, and yet totally satisfied); the research shared in the back of the book really opened my eyes, and made me even more excited that we are looking at the Movement through women’s eyes.

All this and life was also happening.  More black children killed by law enforcement, law enforcement killed by assassins in the “name of gaining equality”, and Oklahoma University Sigma Alpha Epsilon chant videotaped.  Everywhere I went, my friends were asking me, “Are race relations getting worse or has it always been like this?”  I kept answering, “Actually, things haven’t changed much, just become more open.  And I think it’s a great time for us if we decide to stop yelling at each other and actually start a conversation.”

Then to seal the deal for Sarah and me, our Pastor [we attend First Baptist Norfolk, 312 Kempsville Rd., Norfolk, VA – join us one Sunday] had a sermon about “What God Requires of Us.”  The answer is found in Micah 6:8 – “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.”  We felt God-ordained to make sure the conversation was happening.  We have decided to entitle our program, “Civil Rights:  Finding a Voice”, and the summary is, “Many of us take our freedoms for granted, forgetting that for far too long many people were denied their basic rights. This oppression continued until one person, and then another, decided that they could no longer let their voices be silent; together they formed the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. We all have a voice. But if you are silent though your cause is just, how can you make a difference? The voices that rose from the Civil Rights Movement help us answer this question. As students learn through this interactive program about those who paved the way to equality for so many people, they will be challenged to raise their voices to continue to make America the land of the free.”  However, we are doing the program in such a way, that it can be made age-appropriate by the various life and event stories we tell, AND, we want this to be a program not just in educational settings, but in churches and at conferences.  We want the voices to be raised for today’s issues, and we want people to know that they will join the voices of so many in the past, and just like them, A DIFFERENCE CAN BE MADE!!

What are your thoughts:  have race relations changed?  Worse, better, the same?  Why or why not?  Do you think stories can change the way we have a conversation?

P.S.  Check out Sue O’Halloran’s RaceBridges and the video stories (including 3 of mine) -  Sue definitely works to make our diversity our strength, check her out,  Listen to one of my stories about race and my family which is on RaceBridges, and which I most recently did (with great acclamation) at Scott Whitehair’s “This Much is True” monthly storytelling event ( on Mar. 10, 2015 - A Son's Survival

What am I reading?  Currently reading “Passionate God” by Bishop ? Ulmer (my evening reading) & “Revolution in World Missions” by K. P. Yohannan.  


  1. What a great post! I always assumed when I started teaching college in the US that American kids would be very very familiar with the Civil Rights Movement... and most of them really aren't. I was surprised. I also have a lot to learn yet, and what better way than storytelling? :)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Epics from A to Z
    MopDog - 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

  2. Csenge, again, I apologize for the delayed response to your comment. I really appreciate when you read the posts, thanks so much. I loved your comment about students not knowing the Civil Rights Movement; can I use that in some of marketing for the program? (That is actually a serious question?) By the way, this is the post that got me more excited about the Blogging Challenge. Peace, my friend