Before I left the National Trust last October, I was the director of the Interpreting African American Historic Places Project, an experimental initiative funded by the Ford Foundation. One of the elements was a grant program for collaborative projects between universities and historic sites to improve interpretation of African American history and culture through historic places and for a few years, the National Trust supported some amazing projects that are now just beginning to bear fruit.
One of the most interesting projects was the interpretation of the infamous Scottsboro Boys Trials of the 1930s by the New College at the University of Alabama and the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center. Ellen Griffith Spears and Shelia Washington initially sought to mark a few sites related to the trial in Scottsboro, but after some discussions with them, broadened their scope to look at all the places that were associated with this major civil rights event, providing a geographic context that’s often overlooked. They’ve just shared with me the beautifully designed “Guide to the Scottsboro Boys Trials Historic Route” that connects historic sites in six cities in Tennessee and Alabama. I’m so impressed.
The brochure traces the route in chronological order, providing well written descriptions of historic events as well as local sites where they occurred and museums where visitors can learn more; a clear and attractive map; and a provocative timeline from 1931 when the nine boys are arrested to 2011 (noting the dismal prison statistics regarding African-American men in their twenties). Dr. Spears provided me with some additional details on its production, noting that the brochure was prepared by three American Studies, History, and Library Science graduate students and two undergraduates in Museum Studies; a student at Auburn University created the logo; and scholar Dan Carter vetted the timeline and historical notes. Wow. Collaboration of this extent would typically scare off most people.
I’m so glad I was a part of this project, even though it was short and distant. 2011 was the 80th anniversary of the arrests and it was the first time the anniversary was acknowledged in Scottsboro. They’ve got some enthusiastic and dedicated people working on this project in Alabama, so you’ll want keep an eye on them.