The year is 1987. In Monroeville, Alabama, Walter “Johnny D” McMillian is driving home from work. It had been a day like any other, but as night begins its descent over Monroe County, McMillian’s journey home to his family—and the course of his very life—is forced to a halt. On a quiet Alabama road, McMillian, a black man, is ambushed by an all-white police unit. He is arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. So begins Just Mercy, the new film based on Bryan Stevenson’s best-selling memoir of the same title. What follows is the true story of Stevenson, a young public interest lawyer, and his tireless quest to exonerate McMillian and achieve justice.
In addition to using Facing History’s teaching resources on black history, we invite you to deepen your own learning about black history with these 6 brand new titles released this month by scholars of black history and art. These books connect past to present in a number of contexts including #drivingwhileblack, mass incarceration, the racial politics of Chicago, and the way we remember and represent political icons including Julian Bond and the Obamas.
Writer and director Kasi Lemmons’ film Harriet debuted in theaters in November, and is the first feature-length biopic on Harriet Tubman. And in an exciting recent development, lead actress Cynthia Erivo was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards for her portrayal of the titular character. Yet for all of Erivo’s skill as an actress, the film and its nomination raise messy questions about how black women’s agency and roles in American society are imagined, depicted, and enforced.
February 3, 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When passed in 1870, the 15th Amendment extended voting rights to all American men “regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”—a move that initiated an experiment in interracial democracy that continues into the present. Yet the voting rights that were formally extended to black men were quickly curtailed by interests that opposed black enfranchisement, setting the stage for an ongoing battle to ensure that all Americans can participate in the political process regardless of race, gender, and other dimensions of identity. This 150th anniversary is an occasion to assess the continuing threats to voting rights today, the stakes of those threats, and how we can challenge them.
This February, Facing History and Ourselves is honored to celebrate Black History Month by highlighting resources new and old that capture key moments in black history, contemporary developments that have grown out of this past, and the challenges and opportunities faced by teachers of black history. We know that time is always at a premium this time of year, so we have a wealth of content planned to help you, your colleagues, and students connect past to present, and self to community.
Today we will mark the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz with solemn ceremonies and moments of silence. Let’s also mark the occasion by making an active commitment to disrupting bigotry and hate wherever they are found. Even when we as individuals feel powerless, we can join together in acts of collective democracy as upstanders.
On January 27, we observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. First designated by the United Nations in 2005, this commemoration coincides with the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945. Around the world, people will gather at sites of memory, listen as survivors share their harrowing stories, and honor victims. Like many commemorations, International Holocaust Remembrance Day looks simultaneously backwards and forwards, linking memory of the past with a mandate to educate and a call to conscience in the present.
As we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the midst of our present climate of hate, we are inevitably asked to consider how far we have come in realizing the visions of justice and equality that King articulated a half century ago. Though King has been memorialized in many places around the country and world, how we represent his legacy remains contested and points to divisions in our thinking about what it actually means to promote racial justice. Cultural artifacts like monuments present rich opportunities to examine the narratives we choose to uphold and sideline in the public sphere, and the forthcoming Boston-based memorial to the Kings is no exception.
As historians, we have worked for a long time with Colombian school teachers on peace and citizenship education, both during their graduate degrees and through the implementation of official programs and projects in schools. Accordingly, the national strike is of great importance for us. It all began a few months ago, when a teachers’ protest was planned to take place on November 21st. The main purpose was to demand the fulfillment of several state commitments regarding educational issues (health plans, security, etc). However, other sectors joined in the following weeks and the protest became a national civic strike.
Studies have shown that reading, particularly memoir and fiction, can increase a person’s ability to empathize with the experiences of others. Reading diverse books matters, and can educate and transform us in important and lasting ways. This group of books highlights several different voices and lived experiences. We hope that you are able to find yourself and others in these books.
Topics: Reading List