Dr. King and American History

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Today, America celebrates the legacy of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose eloquence and courage mobilized this nation during the Civil Rights era. Over the last several years, Pioneer Institute has promoted U.S. History instruction in K-12 schools, to ensure that our children will learn about their national heritage, including the story of African Americans’ long struggle to gain the rights and freedoms that were promised at our country’s founding.

In 2014, Pioneer held an event, “America in the Age of MLK: Teaching the Civil Rights Movement,” with Robert P. Moses, who directed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s Mississippi Project from 1961-64 and was a key voter registration leader. He is currently a visiting lecturer at the New York University School of Law as well as founder and president of the Algebra Project, Inc. The other keynote speaker was Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch, who is best known for his landmark trilogy on the Civil Rights era, America in the King Years. His latest book, released last year, is The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Diane McWhorter, who wrote Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama – The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, was a panelist, as well as  Bill Carpenter, co-founder of Capital Entertainment and author of Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia; Robert Pondiscio, executive director of CitizenshipFirst; and Dr. Peniel Joseph, a history professor at Tufts University and author of Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama. The panel was moderated by Gerard Robinson, a former Florida and Virginia education official.

Pioneer’s 2015 event, “Civil Rights: Charter Schools and Teacher Unions,” featured Stanford University history professor Dr. Clayborne Carson, who directs the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Under his direction, the King Papers Project has produced seven volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., the definitive collection of King’s speeches, sermons, correspondence, publications and unpublished writings. He has also authored numerous books on the Civil Rights era. Another keynote, Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth, is the widow of the late Civil Rights leader the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who persuaded Dr. King to join the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Shuttlesworth currently directs the Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy in Lansing, which is a member of the SABIS® Network. The keynotes were followed by a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Raymond Arsenault, John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History and History Department Chair at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. Professor Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice was the basis for the 2010 PBS American Experience documentary Freedom Riders, which won three Emmys and a George Peabody Award. Other panelists included the presidents of both the commonwealth’s teachers’ unions – Barbara Madeloni of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Thomas Gosnell of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers; Kevin Andrews, senior advisor to the Boston Alliance of Charter Schools; and Gerard Robinson, chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options Action Fund.

Pioneer held an event in 2013, on “The Founders and Slavery.” View the video clip below of Dr. Howard Dodson, Jr., a national leader in the preservation of African-American history, and Director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and Howard University Libraries; the event also featured Pulitzer-winning Stanford historian and political science professor, Jack Rakove.

Pioneer has held many forums and published numerous op-eds urging a renewed commitment to teaching history and civics in our schools, and calling for the addition of U.S. History as an MCAS-tested subject and graduation requirement, in accordance with state law. A renewed commitment to preparing our future citizens helps ensure that we can continue creating opportunity and promoting social mobility for all.

Next Monday, January 25th, Pioneer hosts a free education forum exploring another important aspect of our nation’s history, “Big Business & Big Labor: Teaching U.S. Economic History in Schools featuring award-winning historians, biographers, and teachers. Register here

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