History is rarely kind to the marginalized.
Nowhere is this more true than in the field of education, where the telling and retelling of certain stories over the years has left others forgotten. The most obvious result of this forgetting is an erasure of knowledge—the forgetting of what things were like. A much more subtle, and arguably more devastating, symptom is the erasure of clarity—forgetting how things came to be as they are.
Drs. Niki Christodoulou, Darla Linville and Molly Quinn of the Augusta University College of Education are working to prevent that same forgetting from happening in Augusta. Their goal is to preserve the history of the Central Savannah River Area’s educational practices in the form of oral history recordings.
In the process, they hope to also help current and future generations of educators understand the struggles of desegregation and integration—two events which have had lasting effects on modern educational systems.
While rooted in the CSRA, the idea originated a world away.
“Dr. Niki Christodoulou had conducted an oral history project in her native country, Cyprus, and found on-the-ground history making of individuals involved in turmoil and change in the country compelling and meaningful,” Quinn said.
After moving to the Augusta area, Christodoulou felt compelled to do the same here. She sought out the aid of Quinn and Linville, who, like her, take a special interest in the stories of marginalized individuals. Together, they’ve worked to collect and share the stories of several Augusta educators.
Their work is important for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is the cultural context it brings to much larger conversations about race and education.
“The history of [the Civil Rights Movement] era commonly told and learned in schools does not often present the specific history of our local area, nor does it represent the figures who acted to create change in our schools,” said Linville. “Knowing this history is important, because it helps us understand local institutions and how they are structured today.”
The stories, shared largely by individuals who worked during the Civil Rights Movement, tackle a number of issues.
“The stories told in this oral history research project highlight the brave acts of teachers who took the first steps to create meaningful educational experiences for their newly desegregated classrooms of students,” Quinn said. “They remind us of the costs of these efforts, as well as the gains achieved.”
The stories also help to bring to light some of the more “insidious” ways racial discrimination asserts itself, including, as Quinn puts it, “the slippery forms of resistance that have sprung up since the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.”
Knowing and, more importantly, telling these stories isn’t only beneficial to educators, though. Students of all races and backgrounds benefit from knowing where the lessons they’re learning are coming from. They’re also learning how to approach an idea that’s central to America’s growth as a nation.
“These stories seem relevant and important for us… as we struggle to engage students in conversations that counter discourses that claim that racism is no longer present,” Linville said.
Visit the Oral History Archive for more information or to listen to stories told by local educators.