The boy who would go on to be a legendary historian and civil rights advocate had been kicked off a train, along with his mother and sister, simply because of the color of his skin.
“His mother told him, ‘Don’t ever let those prejudiced people make you cry, don’t ever show them you’re afraid of them,’” Izzy says.
“It’s a story that he went back to a lot during the rest of his life. He looked back at his mother’s words and remembered them when he had trouble.”
The history lesson is one of many that has resonated with Izzy during her three years in the John Hope Franklin Young Scholars Program, under the auspices of Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs and Duke’s Center for African and African-American Research.
She says she wants to find a career that illuminates history for others the way Young Scholars has for her.
“I already liked history going into this program,” says Izzy, a rising 9th grader at Durham School of the Arts. “I just like it even more now.”
That’s music to the ears of David Stein, who leads the program which is entering its fifth year.
Some 35 students plucked from many different Durham Public Schools spend one week during the summer in an immersive course, zeroing in on one area of study involving the black experience in America. They’ve examined the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the North, the Greensboro sit-ins, the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898 and even studied construction practices on plantations.
The students do research projects and take trips to get a hands-on education. They continue to meet for further research and discussion throughout the school year, and for field trips. Lots of field trips.
For the Great Migration section the group traveled to Washington D.C. and Harlem. They visited the site of the 1960 Woolworth’s sit-in.
“It’s meant to let students do original historical research and generally get them excited about history,” David says.
“What’s happened on the state and national level, because there’s testing starting in elementary school in only math and reading and writing and science, people have dramatically cut back in how much they teach the social sciences. We would like to rekindle some of what’s lost from those years.”
LeRae Umfleet, who heads the education and outreach branch of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, taught the students about the Wilmington Race Riots, in which whites violently overthrew black elected leaders, a shocking coup that is unfortunately not widely known.
“I’m amazed at the critical thinking skills they develop through the program and the ways in which they get invested in the history they learn through the project,” LaRae says. “I’ve learned from them too – about what they like about museum experiences, and how we can re-tool exhibits and learning experiences to meet the needs of 21st century students.”
Maritza Mercado, 14, is a rising 9th grader at Riverside High School and entering her fourth year of the program.
“The program made me realize so much more that goes on in our world,” she says. “I learned so much not only about history, but also how the past influences modern times. I also enjoy meeting students from different schools. We learn so much from them, and we make new friends.”
“We hear from the parents that [their children] are definitely motivated and more excited about academic research,” David adds. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s wonderful.”