Teachers from Tennessee and Alabama to study Polk Clark history
By Steve Short
Carol Van West, the Tennessee state historian and professor at Middle Tenn. State University, toured Milan’s Polk Clark Enrichment Center last week, admiring renovations done in recent years.
“That is such an improvement; that’s really impressive what you have done at this end of the school,” Dr. Van West told Joyce Vonner, Director for the Polk Clark center, as they looked into classrooms in the oldest part of the building that dates back to the 1920s.
Also touring the school were staff members from Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation: Kira Duke and Dr. Stacy Graham.
MILITARY HERITAGE – Kira Duke (left) and Dr. Stacey Graham examined displays in the Military Heritage Room at the Milan Polk Clark Enrichment Center last week. The two women are staff members at the Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation. In June, they will be leading a contingent of teachers from Tennessee and Alabama who will visit the Milan center.
The group was scouting West Tennessee locations that will be used in June by teachers from Tennessee and Alabama who will be studying “Building Community in the Age of Jim Crow.”
The June 14 visit to the Milan school building will be a professional development session for teachers, part of the Teaching with Primary Sources program funded by the Library of Congress.
“We will have a group of approximately 20 to 25, including staff with our teachers representing different schools from across the state and Alabama,” said Ms. Duke. “We will have about 45 minutes for our tour of Polk Clark. I would like to focus our time with a tour of the Heritage Rooms and the original portions of the Rosenwald School.”
“Jim Crow,” or segregation laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, effectively divided the American South into black and white in almost every aspect of public life, according to information from MTSU. The laws codified practices that had developed over many decades during and after slavery, and the laws made the custom of racial separation much more rigid. Jim Crow laws extended to restaurants, hotels, theaters, bus stations, parks, public restrooms and drinking fountains, public schools, and the United States military. The term Jim Crow grew out of 19th century minstrelsy and was first applied to segregated facilities in the North before 1861.
The Teaching with Primary Sources program offers K-12 teachers free professional development, with funding from the Library of Congress. Teaching with Primary Sources at MTSU serves educators statewide by improving the way primary sources are used to promote critical thinking in the classroom and across the curriculum.
MILAN MEMORABILIA – Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carol Van West (center) looked at a display of memorabilia at the Milan Polk Clark Enrichment Center, along with his colleagues, Dr. Stacey Graham (left) and Kira Duke from the Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation.
Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which existed at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience.
The MTSU staff members have backgrounds in historical research. Kira Duke received her B.A. in history at Rhodes College, Memphis. She participated in the European Studies program and studied Renaissance Art and History throughout western European. Duke completed her M.A. in history at the Univ. of Tenn., Knoxville. Her thesis explored how school desegregation unfolded in the Memphis City School system.
Dr. Stacey Graham is the research professor for the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation. She graduated from Univ. of Michigan and Univ. of California and studied in France as a Fulbright Scholar. Ms. Graham provides research and writing support to exhibits, projects, and National Register nominations, and teaches courses in the MTSU Dept. of History.
During the June 13-15 program, the educators will visit other historic schools in West Tennessee – the Dunbar-Carver Museum in Brownsville, the Allen-White School in Whiteville, and the West Bemis Elementary School, founded in 1916 and believed to be the oldest Rosenwald School in Tennessee, according to Dr. Van West.
The Polk Clark Enrichment Center Board of Directors is conducting a fundraising campaign to renovate the gymnasium. Dr. Van West said he believed the state would provide grant funding, if the city of Milan provided financial support.
The Polk Clark school, formerly the Gibson Co. Training School, was one of approximately 5,000 schools in fifteen states built with financial aid from the Rosenwald Fund during the years 1912-1932. About $1,500, or 8 per cent of the Milan school’s original construction cost, came from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. It is one of the largest Rosenwald school buildings in the South that is still maintained.
VISITING HISTORIANS – A group of college educators and historians from Middle Tennessee State Univ, visited the Milan Polk Clark Enrichment Center last week, in anticipation of a conference of teachers who will convene at the school in June to study “Building Community in the Age of Jim Crow,” part of the Teaching with Primary Sources program funded by the Library of Congress. Pictured are (from left) Dr. Carol Van West, the official Tennessee state historian, Kira Duke, Dr. Stacey Graham and Joyce Vonner, Director of the Milan Polk Clark center. The group examined a photograph of Doris Anderson Coleman, 102 year-old resident of Milan, believed to be the oldest living student from the former school, who started fifth grade in 1926.