Educators Gather at Piedmont’s LES Center for New Civil Rights Program
Piedmont University’s Lillian E. Smith Center hosted “The Civil Rights Movement in Northeast Georgia,” a first-of-its-kind program for educators, June 13-17.
Lillian E. Smith attended Piedmont for one year, 1915-16. She was a social justice activist and acclaimed author of Strange Fruit and Killers of the Dream. The Lillian E. Smith (LES) Center is located at the site of the former Laurel Falls Camp for Girls in Clayton, Georgia, where Smith lived and worked.
“With this program, we are carrying on the legacy of Lillian E. Smith through a multidisciplinary program that focuses on pedagogy and the weaving together of history, literature, science, and the arts,” Teutsch said. “Facilitators Dr. Jacqueline Jones Royster, Dr. Dywanna Smith, Marie Cochran, Audrey Davenport, Ife Williams, and Piedmont faculty Dr. Rebecca Godwin, Dr. Julia Schmitz, and Rebecca Brantley provided participants with a wide-ranging experience connecting the region to the nation and the world.”
One educator who took part in the new program was Amanda Myrick, an eighth-grade teacher at Sutton Middle School in Atlanta. She said she has homework to do after the LES experience.
“I’ve been able to find artwork that I didn’t even know existed, and now I have a ton of authors to research because I got their names while here,” Myrick said. “Any information I can get about artwork, songs, music, or writers that were in Northeast Georgia during that time supporting the Civil Rights Movement or fighting the good fight – I want to bring that to my students.”
Myrick also connected with a presenter, visual artist Marie Cochran, the founding curator of the Affrilachian Artist Project. Myrick was familiar with Cochran’s work and was excited to speak with her.
“I use one of her videos in my class. Now I have her contact information, and she said she would be more than happy to do a Zoom with my class,” Myrick said.
Twyla Bryant will begin teaching eighth-grade Georgia Studies and English Language Arts at C.W. Davis Middle School in Flowery Branch this fall. She said the LES educators program exposed her to history she hadn’t learned about before.
“It is interesting to go to different counties and hear different stories,” she said. “We’ve been learning about seeking out different narratives. Learning through other lenses is important. I want to share this with my students through innovative and creative lesson planning because art is how we all communicate.”
James From, a teacher at Kindezi Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta, had never heard of Lillian Smith until his wife was doing research a few months ago and came across her story.
From sees “white fragility” as a potential key to reaching students. Smith’s prolific work included acknowledgments of the damaging impact of segregation and racism on white Southerners.
“We need to ease people into it, start teaching the real history – what really happened – from different perspectives, not just the perspective we got when we were kids,” From said.
Sally Stanhope, who teaches students in grades 9-12 at Chamblee High School in Atlanta, already knew of Lillian E. Smith. She wrote her senior thesis on girls’ summer camps in the South and was impressed with Smith’s work at Laurel Falls. Smith was director of the camp from 1925-1949. In addition to challenging traditional ideas about femininity like other camps, Laurel Falls also challenged ideas about white supremacy.
Stanhope said the program had her reflecting on, “What is the sacrifice that you make as a teacher/activist in Georgia in 2022?”
“We’re a small group, and I think we represent this very precarious moment in the history of education where there are many people in Georgia who don’t want to have this full reckoning with our past, and so figures like Lillian Smith and the work of the LES Center – I think we need more of that, and we don’t need to have it just in our private institutions. We need to have it in our public schools,” Stanhope said.
“It’s uncomfortable for students in the beginning, but that’s how they learn,” said Lisa Diehl, who teaches English composition with a social justice theme at the University of North Georgia. “At the end of every course, I have students write about what they learned, specifically. Time and time again, they mention white privilege, that no one has let them talk about these issues before. For me, participating in the program is what I can do as an ally and an advocate.”
Teutsch said the program will become an annual event with past participants returning to connect with future ones.
“The goal is to create a network of educators sharing and discussing the ways that we engage students, the community, and the world,” Teutsch said. “We also, in the future, plan to have a program for students modeled after Laurel Falls Camp.”
For more information about Lillian E. Smith and the LES Center, visit piedmont.edu/lillian-e-smith-center. If you would like to support upcoming professional development programs, you can donate to the LES Center at https://www.piedmont.edu/lillian-e-smith-center/giving/.