New Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center program educates teachers on Charlottesville history

New Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center program educates teachers on Charlottesville history
The Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center in Charlottesville. (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - More than a dozen teachers in central Virginia are getting a crash course on African-American history in the region, thanks to a new program being offered by the Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center.

The program, a week-long seminar called “Embracing Our Narrative,” was made possible by a grant from Virginia Humanities. Initially designed as a resource guide, the seminar was born out of the hard questions the academic community asked itself in the wake of the “Unite the Right,” rally in August of 2017. Many educators realized they did not have the answers to student questions about why, and how, such violent events could happen in Charlottesville, and lacked the context that would explain it.

“At this point, the students are only receiving African-American history as it relates to the SOL in fourth grade, and in 11th grade," Jefferson School Executive Director Andrea Douglas said. "That’s a really limited amount of opportunity to engage.”

Douglas, and her fellow scholars at the Jefferson School, saw that the answers lay in understanding the complex history of African-Americans in Charlottesville and the surrounding area. The course features lectures from local historians and experts, walking through history beginning with the Revolutionary War and continuing into the 20th Century.

“There were 600 free blacks living in Charlottesville, and living as free black people in a community that is the fourth richest slaveholding community in Virginia," Douglas said. "The question is, ‘How is that possible?’”

As protests have erupted across the country demanding racial justice and policing reform, Douglas says the kind of education a course like this provides is key to answering the hard questions raised by the demonstrations.

“It’s American history," She explained. "We’re not lifting it up, we’re not altering it, it is what it is. Removing the notion that talking about black people is a hard thing is important to us.”

This year’s program concluded on Friday. Now, Douglas and her team will turn towards creating the resource guide that the grant originally intended, which will supplement the seminar and be available on the Jefferson School’s website. Douglas says she sees this first seminar as a pilot year, and plans to continue the program in the future.

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