Tag Archives: Teaching and Pedagogy

Member of the Week: Peter Laurence

Peter LaurencePeter L. Laurence
Associate Professor of Architecture
Clemson University School of Architecture
twitter.com/peterlaurence
facebook.com/becomingjanejacobs

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

Much of my research has been concerned with the presence (and absence) of urbanism in architectural theory and in architects’ thinking in general. This led me, more than twenty years ago, to studying Jane Jacobs, and that in turn led me to urban history, urban studies, and the history of urban design. Publishing Becoming Jane Jacobs in early 2016, the US election later that year, and the dramatic changes to the political and cultural landscape that followed caused me to turn to other aspects of Jacobs’s work, resulting in some new essays and chapters focused on her writing on US imperialism, racism and the “plantation mentality,” public space in the face of privatization and gentrification, and her eventual self-exile to Canada. Since then I’ve returned to projects in architectural theory; I’m currently editing a book on the history of architectural education, and just started co-editing a book on contemporary architectural theory. In the meantime, for a number of years I’ve been working on theurbanismproject.org, a research/activist project that has the goal of incorporating fundamental lessons in urbanism and urban design into architectural education, which currently doesn’t, and hasn’t, required professional architecture students (in accredited degree programs in the US) to have any coursework in these areas. After these projects, I plan to return to another book on Jacobs, although I’ve also been thinking about a book on architecture and urbanism.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

Apart from the occasional undergraduate honors seminar on Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities and co-teaching a course on theories and methods for first-year students in our interdisciplinary PhD program in Planning, Design, and the Built Environment, in any given semester I’ll teach one of our four required graduate courses in architectural history and theory. This curriculum, which I helped to establish as Director of Graduate Studies some years ago, can be taught however the instructor sees fit, although we want to make sure that various essential historical periods are covered. Most recently I taught our course focused on the mid- to late-twentieth century (and post-modernism), and I naturally teach this with an emphasis on urban history and urban design (e.g., architecture and urban theory in the urban renewal era). Next spring I’ll teach our course focused on the Modern Movement in architecture, and this will similarly include the professionalization of city planning, functionalist urbanism, city histories, and so on. While my recent course on late twentieth-century architectural theory was certainly on my mind while planning a symposium on Architectural Theory Now at University of Pennsylvania in April, since I’m primarily teaching foundational courses for Masters-level students, I generally keep my research separate from my teaching and focus on what the students need to know. What I learn myself in the teaching process, as always happens, informs my thinking and writing.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

Like everyone working on book projects, I’m most looking forward to completing and seeing the two books mentioned earlier! I’m also looking forward to a book on Jane Jacobs’s early life by Glenna Lang and an English-language version of a Swedish book on Jacobs that I contributed to. I recently had an opportunity to preview Suffragette City: Gender, Politics, and the Built Environment, forthcoming from Routledge, and recommend it. I’m looking forward to Spatial Practices: Modes of Action and Engagement with the City and The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of the City also coming from Routledge. Meanwhile, I have The Municipalists by Seth Fried and New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson cued up for a first and second listen in my audiobooks library.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

My advice is to proceed with caution. I’m very concerned about trends in higher education. I haven’t yet read Herb Childress’s The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission, but, apart from his recent editorial (which doesn’t mention the critical issue of declining state funding for state universities), I’ve been reading similar things as a longtime faculty senator and member of the AAUP, which reported non-tenure-track instructional appointments at 73% as of 2016. Apart from the increasingly frequent political attacks on academia, new scholars need to beware that universities, and faculty, are under pressure to produce more PhDs, along with more research, and that job training and placement are not always their highest priorities.

You sit on the board of The Center for the Living City. For UHA members who have never sat on a board of large nonprofit organization, can you share what it means to serve in that role? How do you use your academic expertise and leadership skills to support the Center’s mission?

The Center for the Living City isn’t a large or very old organization. It was established in 2005 to carry forward (with her collaboration and blessing) Jane Jacobs’s interests in the ecologies of cities, and more specifically various social, environmental, and economic justice activities in urban contexts. As a small organization, it has to be strategic about what it can take on. One notable project is the Observe! program, an international program to engage girls and young women, including Girl Scouts (who would earn an “Observe!” merit-badge patch), in learning about and developing agency and positive change in their communities. This program has had pilots in US, India, and Bangladesh; in India and Bangladesh, empowering girls has been a special goal of this project. Another project is creating workshops for city journalism and journalists writing about cities; this project naturally echoes Jane’s work as a journalist and writer. Reflective of Jacobs’s diverse interests, CFLC has a diverse group of board members. I’m one of the academics and, knowing Jacobs’s suspicions of Ivory-Tower dwellers, don’t take that for granted! I contribute something as a Jacobs scholar and urban historian of sorts, but I feel I’m more directly contributing to the mission with activities like theurbanismproject and, in a small, local, day-to-day way, teaching architecture students something about urbanism, urban design, and cities.

Member of the Week: Michael Glass

mglassMichael Glass

Ph.D. Candidate, Princeton University

@m_r_glass

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

As a former New York City high school teacher, I’ve long been interested in educational inequality. For my M.A. thesis, I studied the 1950s school desegregation movement in Harlem, portions of which were recently published in the JUH. But two events really shifted my thinking as I was entering graduate school. First, in the wake of the uprising in Ferguson, the DOJ report revealed that Ferguson police officers had become de facto tax collectors, and black residents a prime revenue source. Second, on the sixtieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 2014, reports showed growing segregation in suburban school districts, especially in nearby Long Island. Both flatly contradicted the dominant narrative that all suburbs are uniformly prosperous. My hunch, as an aspiring historian, was that both reflected long-term processes rather than recent developments.

So, I turned my attention from New York City to its suburbs. My dissertation, “Schooling Suburbia: The Politics of School Finance in Postwar Long Island,” examines conflicts over school funding and school segregation in the decades after World War II. Like Detective Lester Freamon in The Wire, I follow the money to explore the interaction of public education, property markets, and state and local politics in seven different Long Island districts. To do so, I have had to teach myself about a number of complex institutions—from zoning ordinances to mortgage finance, municipal bonds to property assessment, budget referenda to teacher salaries. My goal is to show how ordinary folks experienced and shaped these structural processes. I also focus on several key political episodes, including school desegregation movements, policy debates over state aid, and school finance lawsuits. In short, I trace how American suburbs have become so segregated and unequal, as well as recover the political campaigns that have challenged those inequalities.

 

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I am actually not teaching at the moment. I have a fellowship this year, which has allowed me to focus exclusively on research and writing. With the time and space to reflect, I’ve been doing some reading on pedagogy. Thanks to the simple rules from Helen Sword’s The Writer’s Diet, I’m trying to whip my prose into shape, and hopefully I’ll be able to pass those lessons along to students. John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write has helped me brainstorm more authentic writing assignments. And Sam Wineburg’s Why Learn History makes the case for the importance of teaching historical thinking in the Age of Fake News. However, I must say: I really do miss the energy of being in the classroom!

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

My stack of unread books seems to always be growing. I just finished Elizabeth Todd-Breland’s A Political Education and I absolutely loved how she connects the long history of black education politics to the present conjuncture [Editor: you can read Breland’s own Member of the Week interview]. Jeanne Theoharis’s A More Beautiful and Terrible History is a must-read synthesis of new work on the civil rights movement. In their recent article on the HOLC, Todd Michney and LaDale Winling present staggering findings about its early lending practices. Pedro Regalado’s article on the anti-policing activism of Dominican New Yorkers looks fascinating, though I haven’t gotten to it yet. Finally, I have Fault Lines by Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer queued up as my next nightstand book—but I won’t get to it until I finish These Truths by Jill Lepore. (I’ve been reading Lepore before bed for a couple of months and I’m still only in the Progressive Era.)

As for forthcoming work, I cannot wait for Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s book on the 1970s FHA scandals; Kara Schlichting’s book on coastlines, waterways, and parks in metropolitan New York City; Nick Juravich’s book on paraprofessionals; Paige Glotzer’s book on the transnational origins of segregated suburbs; Natalia Petrezela’s book on the rise of fitness culture; Tim Keogh’s book on work, housing, and segregation in Long Island; Destin Jenkins’s book on municipal bonds; and Dylan Gottlieb’s article on yuppy-fueled arson-for-profit in Hoboken. [Editor: also check out Kara and Dylan‘s Member of the Week posts.]

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies? 

In my opinion, one of the great strengths of urban history is the shared commitment to the depiction of place. New York is not Chicago, Detroit is not Los Angeles—and we, as urban historians, are better than anyone at explaining why. My advice, though, would be to cast a wide net in thinking about how to depict a place. Sure, one must start with the classics of urban history. But I have also learned a lot from other mediums. For instance, certain television shows—like Breaking Bad or Sharp Objectscan render a place with a single camera shot honed in on a telling detail. Or fiction writers, who, let’s be honest, are much better at this than we are. I recently read Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward and after just a couple of pages I felt the texture of her hometown in Mississippi. Television, journalism, fiction: urban historians have a lot to learn from fellow storytellers.

You have taught college courses at the Southwoods State Prison through Princeton’s Prison Teaching Initiative. What about that experience made the biggest impression on you?

Teaching in a prison was incredible and I would recommend it to anyone. The students were curious, diligent, and full of insights. It was also a profoundly humbling experience. For example, the first class was on Reconstruction, as this was the second half of the survey, from 1865 to the present. My co-teachers and I walked in with a copy of the required textbook, Eric Foner’s Give Me Freedom, and slapped it on the desk: “So…freedom?” It was like a scene out of a bad teaching movie, except without any background music or ensuing montage. Despite the initial awkwardness, however, many of the challenges proved similar to teaching elsewhere, particularly with writing. The students were overflowing with ideas, but it took a lot of work to help them organize their ideas into coherent, analytical arguments. Overall, the best part for me was the reciprocal exchange during classroom discussions. Many of the students were twice my age with a lifetime of wisdom and I learned a great deal from them.

Teaching Immigration History after Tree of Life

This morning we are briefly departing from our usual coverage on The Metropole to reflect on the intersection of pedagogy and current events. In this post, co-editor Avigail Oren comments on her experience in the classroom following the attack at Tree of Life.

On Monday, October 22, I began teaching a half-semester course at Carnegie Mellon University on the history of immigration to the United States. Within days, this history became personal. One mile away from campus a man murdered 11 Jews at prayer in their synagogue, in a violent act of protest against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Jewish legacy of support for immigration.

My body showed up to teach on the Monday after the shooting. From notes I printed out in my office beforehand, I read a lecture about Jewish immigrant John Jacob Astor. I have little recollection of what I said. In the final minutes of class time, I told students that they were welcome to leave if they felt unready to discuss the shooting, but that I was holding space for a discussion if anyone wanted to stay. I began by telling them that Tree of Life refers to Torah, to the revelation of God that comes through studying that holy text: “It is a tree of life to all who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17-18). I explained to them that we do the same thing in the history classroom—study texts to achieve revelation about our place in the world. We study so as to make visible the tightrope we walk between the past and the future we are trying to build (or stave off). There I stopped, opening the floor for questions.

The first student to speak was the President of Chabad at CMU. He showed up for class wearing a kippah (yarmulke) as a visible statement of his Jewish identity. He asked, in more words, “how did we get here, to a moment of such hatred and violence?” And I explained that domestic terrorism was not new in this country, not for slaves or descendants of slaves or anyone with dark skin. Not for poor people or queer people or immigrants. And not for Jews either. I cannot recall if I concluded with some thoughtful tying of the bow, circling back to the present. I may simply have run out of energy and ceased speaking. I know other students asked questions but they are lost to memory. On Wednesday I canceled class and told my students to read a chapter from their textbook about the nativist Know Nothing Party.

Memory was a struggle for weeks afterwards. I walked into rooms unsure why I was there. I no longer knew the names of people I spoke to regularly. I was constantly searching for words. My students noticed this. When we returned the next Monday—and for many lectures after that—they had to fill in the holes in my memory. If a word or name or date was not written in my notes, it was a gamble whether I’d be able to recall it.

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Photo by author. 11/30/18, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA.

Yet, it ended up being the best semester of teaching that I have ever had. There is nothing like a local hate crime motivated by nativism to prove that immigration history has enduring relevance. My students felt personally invested in the subject and began following the news more closely. They brought this perspective with them into our discussions.

It also changed me as a teacher. First and foremost, I stopped sweating the small shit. Stochastic violence has a way of putting things into perspective. I gave extensions and was flexible about attendance and allowed revisions and provided extra credit opportunities. I focused more on each individual student’s growth and less on grades.

More notably, however, I became a more fervent defender of the rights of immigrants. I absolutely hammered the point that immigrants are human beings with bodies that are viscerally affected by the experience of migration, resettlement, assimilation, and how immigration restrictions denied them a chance at safety and were used to uphold the power of the powerful. If my students found me biased, they did not express it, but I do not care regardless. The dominant political narrative assumes that immigration restriction is a public good and sound policy, and so they have heard and will continue to hear that perspective. They may choose to disregard the polemics of their radical professor. But I made sure they heard it.

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Photo by author. 11/8/18, East Liberty, Pittsburgh, PA.

At the end of the final lecture of the semester, I thanked my students for their patience and commitment. I told them that after the shooting I was unsure that I would be able to finish the semester, but that teaching them this history (and thereby reinforcing my own knowledge and understanding of U.S. immigration) had been healing. Part of that was watching them become aware of the continuities between the nativist rhetoric and policies of the past and those of the present moment. But it was also realizing that they cared and empathized with immigrants. There was one Robert Bowers, but in front of me sat 23 empaths. That gave me hope to persevere, in the classroom and beyond.

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Avigail Oren is co-editor of The Metropole. She moved to Pittsburgh in 2011 to attend graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University, where she still sometimes adjuncts.

Member of the Week: Erika Kitzmiller

1501610745836Erika M. Kitzmiller

Teachers College

Columbia University

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My scholarship examines the historical processes and current reform efforts that have contributed to and challenged inequalities in present-day urban spaces. My work leverages quantitative and qualitative data to understand the intersections of educational policy and the lives of teachers, students, and families.

My current book project, The Roots of Educational Inequality, traces the transformation of public secondary education in urban America over the course of the twentieth century. By arguing that the roots of educational inequality were embedded in the founding of American high schools in the 1910s and 1920s, this work directly challenges conventional declension narratives that hinge the challenges of urban schools on postwar white flight and failed desegregation policies.

I became interested in this work when I began teaching middle school at Wayland Middle School and became an activist in Philadelphia. I was fortunate to be able to meld my interests as an activist, scholar, and educator into this research agenda.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

 I am currently teaching an educational foundations course and an elective, Education in the Age of Trump, based on the Trump 2.0 syllabus. I feel very fortunate to be at a school of education that values historical context and teaching, and thus, I have been able to infuse my research interests into my teaching. My next project is about youth inequality, mobility, and opportunity in rural and urban America and stems from my Trump course.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars? 

I’m very excited about two forthcoming publications that are coming out in 2018. First, Rachel Devlin’s work on gender and school segregation, Girls on the Front Line: Gender and the Battle to Desegregate Public Schools in the United States1945-1968. Second, I’m eager to read Keisha Blain’s upcoming book, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and Global Struggles for Freedom, with Penn Press. I’m also eager to follow and continue reading Jack Dougherty’s On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs, which is an open access book in-progress with collaborators, including MAGIC (the Map and Geographic Information Center at University of Connecticut Libraries), with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

Remember what brought you to graduate school, stick to your passions, and find mentors to push and cultivate you. I left my middle school classroom reluctantly. I loved teaching, but also knew that I wanted to give myself time to really understand the history of education and the challenges that urban schools face today with experts who had studied this for decades. I was fortunate to have a wonderful mentor and dissertation advisor, Michael Katz, and a terrific committee with Tom Sugrue, Kathleen Brown, and Stanton E.F. Wortham. I am the scholar I am today because of what my middle school students taught me, because I stuck to what I was passionate about, and because I had a great team of advisors who pushed me as a scholar and teacher.

Your website is beautiful and makes excellent use of photographs to illustrate your work in the classroom and as a researcher. Does photography play a significant role in your research methodology? And do you have any advice for UHA members who want to incorporate photography into their work?

 My commitment to visual work stems from conversations I had with individuals who did not always believe the challenges and inequities that I had witnessed in urban schools. I began taking photographs to show people what I had seen. To show them the inequities in our urban schools. Second, it was about access. I wanted people who do not enjoy reading or who have a hard time accessing academic prose to be able to learn from and contribute to my research agenda.

In Philadelphia, I took several photography classes and worked with a documentary film maker, Amit Das, as a graduate student at Penn. What Amit taught me is simple: pick up a camera and just try. You will make mistakes and you will learn from them. In the past, photography has not played a significant role in my work, but in my dissertation I filmed my oral history interviews because I wanted people to be able to experience what I was experiencing—to see and hear from individuals who either experienced or challenged racism in their schools and communities. And now, today, I am beginning to incorporate photography and film more in my work to expand access and open people to the humanity that history offers.

Cleveland, Carl Stokes, and Commemorating a Historic Election

By Avigail Oren

On November 7, 1967, the citizens of Cleveland elected Carl B. Stokes mayor. Stokes became the first black mayor of a major American city, a considerable feat in a majority-white metropolis. During his two terms as mayor, from 1968-1972, Stokes represented all Clevelanders and sought to universally improve the city’s neighborhoods, while simultaneously attending to issues of civil rights, economic justice, and police brutality.

This year, the 50th anniversary of Stokes’ election, Cuyahoga Community College’s Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Humanities Center has organized a yearlong community initiative to commemorate the contribution of Mayor Carl Stokes and his brother, Congressman Louis Stokes, to the city. As one part of the multifaceted programming being offered during the Stokes: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future commemoration, Urban History Association member Todd Michney, Assistant Professor in the School of History and Sociology at Georgia Tech, led a one-week seminar sponsored by Case Western Reserve University’s Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities and the Cleveland Humanities Collaborative. During the second week of July, twelve faculty, instructors, and graduate students from Case Western Reserve (CWRU) and Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) joined Michney for “Carl B. Stokes and Black Political Power in Cleveland: A 50-Year Retrospective.”

On July 12, I drove up from Pittsburgh to observe the seminar and interview participants. After seeing the call for applications circulating through the UHA network a few months earlier I had become intrigued by the topic and the concept: to teach instructors about this history so they could convey it to their students. Having lived only a two-hour drive from Cleveland for the past six years, and, even more embarrassingly, having written a bit in my dissertation about the city’s Jewish community during the urban crisis, I knew nothing of Carl Stokes and his mayoral administration.

The goal of the seminar, in fact, was to promote more teaching of the Stokes brothers’ legacy within CWRU and Tri-C classrooms and, consequently, to encourage conversations amongst undergraduates about the connections between Cleveland’s present issues and past struggles. “Coincidentally, or maybe not,” Michney noted, “Stokes’ legacy seems relevant today.” Civil Rights and police reform are still major issues in Cleveland in 2017 despite that Stokes “strongly attempted to reform the Cleveland police department, which was engaged in all kinds of intimidation, brutality, and deaths of people in custody.” Thus the aim of the seminar in particular and the Stokes commemoration more generally has been to revive Clevelanders’ memory of Carl Stokes’ struggle for racial and social justice and to trace how his contributions continue to influence the present fight for a better Cleveland.

Several participants in the seminar were motivated to apply when they realized that they knew so little about such an influential political figure and period in Cleveland’s history. The seminar appealed to Cara Byrne, a lecturer in the Department of English at CWRU, “because I saw a deficit in my knowledge of Cleveland and of African American political figures who shaped the city.” Brian Clites, who teaches in the department of Religious Studies at CWRU and is a recent transplant to Cleveland, applied for the seminar to better familiarize himself with the city’s history. He recalled that when he received the announcement of the seminar, he realized “I never read about Cleveland when preparing for my exams,” and that “so much of [urban religious history] is told through the lens of big cities.”

Teaching inspired other participants to apply for the seminar. “Because Tri-C has spearheaded [Stokes: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future],” Trista Powers, Assistant Professor of English at Cuyahoga Community College explained, “colleagues approached me last year and said, why don’t we as faculty collaborate and introduce this content within our classes in our respective disciplines?” The seminar thus presented a timely opportunity to read, learn, and discuss Stokes and his mayoral administration. “I am actually going to be creating a classroom curriculum completely predicated on teaching about the Stokes brothers, particularly Carl Stokes,” Powers told me, “because I teach college composition at Tri-C and part of my pedagogy is I try to incorporate really specific topics as part of the underpinning of the course, and this is an area that has been an interest of mine for such a long time.” For Powers, the seminar “was a perfect fit for me, perfect timing.”

Elise Hagisfeld, a doctoral candidate in history at CWRU and a graduate instructor, likewise saw the seminar as an opportunity to develop new course material. As a historian of philanthropy and foundations and a Cleveland native, Hagisfeld found Stokes’ Cleveland: NOW! Project—a public-private partnership to fund community-based efforts to revitalize the city—particularly fascinating. “I’m looking at ways to take this information and use it in a course that I’m teaching in the fall on Introduction to Nonprofit Organizations,” Hagisfeld explained, in order to “help students who are studying in Cleveland learn about where they are and how philanthropy and nonprofit organizations and civic leadership and business interests in the city have worked together—sometimes not so successfully—in the past.”

Cleveland: NOW! initially met its fundraising goals, but faltered after the 1968 Glenville shootout revealed enduring antagonism between the city’s black communities and its white police force and consequently punctured white Clevelanders’ belief in the possibility of racial reconciliation. For Hagisfeld, this makes it an especially valuable case study. “I think it’s … important to recognize [that] there’s a lot of celebration around those kind of public-private partnership successes,” she noted, “and there is a lot of silence around public-private partnership failures. And I think it’s just a fabulous point to study.”

On the day I attended the seminar, I entered the Baker-Nord Center’s conference room in the midst of the discussion and quietly found a seat alongside a wall of windows. The twelve participants sat around a large table in the middle of the room, the tabletop covered with books and laptops and coffee cups, framed by the immense and ornately carved light wood mantle of the fireplace behind them. Despite the group having met for the first time only days before, the conversation flowed easily as participants passed ideas amongst themselves.

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The topic of discussion that afternoon was “Black Political Power in Action: Carl Stokes’ Mayoral Administration.” Stokes gained the support of Cleveland’s white elite after the Hough Riots of 1966, when confrontations between black Clevelanders, white vigilantes, the police force, and 2,200 national guardsman over six nights in July left four dead, 30 injured, and 300 arrested. The city’s businessmen, in particular, hoped that Stokes could heal the city’s racial divisions and prevent future outbreaks of violence, which were costly to Cleveland’s economy. Bolstered by white votes, Stokes was elected to administer an institutionally racist government structure; he entered office with a mandate from his black voters to reform a municipality and a police department that were resistant to change. With little time and few resources, Stokes set about trying to change the people in power. In addition to hiring more black community members into government positions, Stokes also sought to change the perceptions of people in power. Particularly with career policemen, Stokes emphasized the sociological context of the neighborhoods and communities that gave rise to the Hough riots (and later, to the ’68 Glenville Riot). “The more I read about him,” one participant shared, “the more appreciation I have for what he was able to accomplish with so little.”

These efforts always required striking a delicate political balance, to maintain the support of both white elites and the black community. Stokes faced criticism from both sides, from white elites who were disappointed that he could not easily solve race relations and prevent more rioting and from Black Power activists who did not believe the mayor was doing enough to serve black interests. Conversation amongst the seminar participants centered on how Stokes’ experience was emblematic of black people who try to lead and have to fight for legitimacy, requiring them to project a non-threating confidence.

The seminar participants who identify as people of color related very personally to this aspect of Stokes’ legacy and the city’s history. As the conversation concluded, one participant confessed of the day’s material, “as a person of color, it’s traumatic.” This comment prompted the discussion to turn towards the pedagogical implications of discussing history that feels so personal to both instructor and students. “That’s what we have to remember when we take this back to our classrooms,” a participant noted, “that black proverb, ‘You have to work twice as hard [to succeed],’ it’s not just academic.” For her, Carl Stokes’ struggle to rise in politics and to improve the lives of black Clevelanders revealed how, for Stokes as well as for her students of color, the work is “also emotional and psychological.” Reflecting on this conversation afterwards, Powers added, “as a woman of color, it was hard to read about [Carl Stoke’s] challenges because some of those challenges were race-related challenges. So from that standpoint, it really struck a chord… reminding us of the level of grit and resiliency he had.”

Indeed, this is one of Michney’s take-aways for UHA members seeking to do similar seminars. “A lot of the value in this has been a meeting of the minds,” he noted, “and understanding people’s experiences.” Michney’s role as the seminar instructor provided an opportunity to review the history he knows so well from a number of new perspectives. After the day’s session, he reflected that:

It’s been a real reminder for me that, yes, I study living history and I may have grown up in this area, but I’m working with people in the seminar who have a more direct connection to the neighborhoods we’re studying. I grew up in the suburbs, they grew up in Hough, or their parents were activists with CORE. So I’m in a position to learn from them. It’s really helped to adjust and inform my own perspectives. It’s just so important to be a listener instead of a talker, and to bounce around these interpretations until they seem to be as good and useful and reflective as they can be. If they can’t be perfect they can at least resonate.

Participant Neeta Chandra, Assistant Professor of English at Tri-C, echoed this sentiment in her own reflection on the experience, agreeing that, “the personal insights, the lingering pain and agony that Blacks, and some participants were able to share by their and their family[’s] experiences were very special, disturbing and eye opening!”

Shemariah Arki—a native Clevelander and a dynamic educator, activist, organizer, and facilitator of the Women of Color series at CWRU’s Flora Stone Mater Center for Women—was one of the participants who shared personal and family stories with the group. For Arki, the seminar readings and discussions provided important context for her own family history. In the 1960s and ‘70s, her father was involved in the Black Nationalist party and her aunt helped to found the Cleveland chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE). Learning about the Stokes brothers’ political careers and the history of Cleveland politics more broadly contextualized the liberation work of her family members for Arki, which made the seminar experience doubly meaningful.

Elise Hagisfeld likewise found the historical context she learned in the seminar to be emotionally fulfilling. “The ability to really study [Stokes’] election and tenure as mayor,” she reflected, “is helping me make sense out of the contemporary geography of the city, and when I say contemporary geography I mean that both physically and emotionally, the tenor of politics in the city and what’s informing debates we’re having now, and how far back those debates really go. … It’s very moving and personal to me, as a Clevelander.”

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Pedagogically, the seminar inspired participants to consider how to incorporate the Stokes legacy into their courses this fall. Erin Phelps, a doctoral student in sociology at CWRU, sees immense value for students who learn about Carl Stokes. “[H]is legacy,” she thinks, “can help youth nationally understand 1) the power of their voices, 2) the necessity of involvement in government, 3) that failures are within the recipe for success, 4) change can happen, 5) and the power of community action.” Insights like these demonstrate how the seminar will yield dividends for the commemoration. “I think increasingly people want to continue this further as they’ve become personally close,” Michney reported, and participants have discussed collaborating on classes, conferences, and the writing of a white paper. Most importantly, it has ensured that the story of the Stokes brothers will continue to be taught and remembered, and that their legacy will inform another generation of politics and reform in Cleveland.

The Cleveland Humanities Collaborative is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Avigail Oren is co-editor of The Metropole. She recently completed her Ph.D. in History at Carnegie Mellon University. More of her writing can be found here.