Yale Civil Rights history course is a "call to action" and a chance "to be woke”Historians in the News
tags: Yale, civil rights, Crystal Feimster
With unfortunate frequency, Crystal Feimster has found herself having to rethink her first day of class lecture for her course “The Long Civil Rights Movement” to respond to incidents of civil unrest in the United States. The first year she taught the course came after the Ferguson riots, the second, after the Charlestown massacre, and then this year Charlottesville and the controversy over the confederate monuments.
“I realized I couldn’t just jump into my lecture without acknowledging what had brought many of them to the course. I had to think about how I was going to address these issues as a historian in a classroom filled with young people looking for answers about what was happening today,” says Feimster, associate professor of African American studies.
Feimster says that the first year she taught the class it was held in in a room that seated about 75 students. She did not expect a large turnout. “When you teach a lecture course at Yale it may take a while for it to gain momentum. ‘Maybe I will get 30 kids,’ I thought.” In reality, the students spilled out of the room, says Feimster. “I knew that they were there because they were thinking about civil rights and about Ferguson. I was very clear with the students that I would give them tools to help them understand, research, and write about the past and I reassured them that those same tools would help them begin to make sense of the current moment.”
On the first day of class Feimster tells her students that “The Long Civil Rights Movement” is a call to action, which makes them a bit anxious at first, she says. “What I mean when I say that it is a call to action is that I want my students to stretch themselves. I tell my students that this course is an intellectual exercise in which I’m asking you to suspend everything you think you know about the Civil Rights Movement. I am going to present them with new knowledge, and I’m asking them to be open. That in itself is an act.” ...
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