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King Digital History Project

The King Digital History Project is made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

A federal grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) allowed the Liberation Curriculum to develop the King Digital History Project (KDHP), which will focus on teaching about King and the African American Freedom Struggle using primary source documents. A collaborative effort among The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, the Stanford University School of Education (SUSE) and a group of experienced high school history teachers in the Bay Area, KDHP became a model for a document-based curriculum on King and the African American Freedom Struggle. Over the course of three years, King Institute staff provided professional development workshops resources and tools to assist with document-based teaching and learning. With the support of the NEH, teachers were able to transform the way students think and learn, not only about King and the movement, but about the process of engaging with history through primary documents.

Workshop I (17 March 2007)

The first teacher workshop was led by Dr. Andrea McEvoy Spero at the King Institute on Saturday 17 March  2007. Teachers participated in a lecture-discussion by Dr. Carson, Director of the King Institute, on the purpose of teaching history and the breadth of teaching topics within the modern African American Freedom Struggle. Teachers then participated in two activities. The first required teachers to work in groups to identify on three posters, the ‘themes,’ ‘people,’ and ‘events/timeline’ of the African American Freedom Struggle, adding a question mark against themes, events and people for which they didn’t have sufficient knowledge.  Collectively, the group was able to identify their current knowledge and recognize the direction of their future learning. The second activity involved comparison and analysis of the content of a traditional American history textbook and Dr. Carson’s textbook, African American Lives: The struggle for Freedom (2005). Through this activity, teachers were able to question the traditional master narrative of the African American freedom struggle as a starting point for building more in-depth curricula on this period through the KDHP.

Workshop II (19 May 2007)

While the first workshop focused on content, the second workshop, held at the King Institute on Saturday 19 May 2007, focused on pedagogy for historical thinking in the classroom. Teachers enthusiastically participated in a session led by Dr. Sam Wineburg of the Stanford School of Education and Dr. Daisy Martin, both of the Historical Thinking Matters project. Wineburg and Martin introduced and modeled strategies for historical thinking such as sourcing (where and when is the document from), contextualizing (imagining the setting) and corroborating (cross-checking sources) when reading a primary source document. They also shared examples of student work and the differences between a historian and a lay person’s reading of a primary source document. Using documents from Rosa Parks’ arrest as an example, they discussed how their strategies could be used with students of all literacy and reading levels. 

Dr. Andrea McEvoy Spero discussed the process of creating document-based questions (DBQs) and viewed examples of DBQs written by a group of teachers. This session provided the KDHP teachers with concrete document based lesson plans to use as a model for creating their own lesson plans using King Institute documents. 

Summer Institute (23–24 July 2007)

The teachers regrouped on 23–24 July 2007, for a two-day KDHP summer institute. Teachers participated in another session with Dr. Carson who lectured on the use of a primary document—in this case a 1957 letter by C. L. R. James about his meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr.—to understand major historical themes. Carson also discussed the historical significance of California’s civil rights activism and tied his personal participation into the larger context. The second day of the institute began with a morning workshop by Awele Makeba, an award winning and internationally known actor, emerging playwright, storyteller and educator who researches aspects of African American history and shares them with diverse audiences through performance. Makeba performed the story of Claudette Colvin, whose little-known arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus predated the more famous protest of Rosa Parks. The day ended with teachers sharing with the group their chosen research topic (many of which had been refined or changed after choosing documents) and soliciting feedback on their documents and preliminary activities. Curriculum topics chosen by the teachers include: Selma to Montgomery March; Cold War influence on the movement, Freedom and Human Rights documents; Popular Music and the African American struggle; School Integration; Labor Movements and the struggle; King and Vietnam; Memphis Sanitation Strike; Youth and the movement.