Middle School
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Faculty Share Civil Rights Era Experiences with 8th Grade

John Robinson, a 10th Grade English teacher, came to the 8th Grade to talk about the civil rights movement, and to tell his personal stories from the time period. Through these stories, Mr. Robinson showed us how people can change the world, and how important and influential music can be in aiding them. He told us about his experience at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, where he saw Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and many other musicians changing the world with their music. He spoke about his time in Selma, Alabama, for the final march, and the groups of children he met, who would sing songs to entertain themselves and keep busy. He also told us that during the march, 25,000 people sang together, and it created something bigger than himself, something for which he was honored to participate. He was marching with his friends, his community, his favorite celebrities, and Martin Luther King Jr., for something that each one of those thousands of people believed.
Not only were his stories inspiring, but the manner in which he told them showed how life-changing this experience was, and after he spoke, much of the eighth grade class was inspired to make a change in the world. Claire Dignazio said, “Mr. Robinson has helped me, as well as my peers, to truly understand that one’s actions can change something much more important than ourselves. In a nation which was previously full of hate and ignorance, Mr. Robinson took a stand against it all and fought for what was right, not caring whether he would be hindered in the process. Other people rose with him to inform the country of how terribly they were treating others for no real reason at all, and in time, his words and actions brought true liberty for millions. Mr. Robinson living through this time, which we now find unbelievable, also gives me hope, for no matter what terrors may come in the future, if we keep fighting for what is right, things will change in a positive way.”
Arturo Bagley, an upper school History teacher, spoke to the eighth grade class a few days later. He gave a background to Mr. Robinson’s stories, and taught us the history of the time. We learned about the 13th-15th amendments, Jim Crow Laws, and other things that helped or hurt African-Americans’ right to vote. He explained that in the past, and even today, some states have restrictions on voting. These restrictions may not necessarily have to do with race, but some do, in fact, hinder African-Americans especially. We watched real footage of one of the marches, when the Alabama police force used tear gas and attacked marchers to turn them around. Many of the eighth-grade students were astounded that a state-issued police department could be so violent to a group of peaceful protesters. Mr. Bagley described Mr. Robinson, as well as everyone else who marched, as a hero for standing up for what was right.

—Reece Ratliff ‘21