Abolitionism exhibit comes to school

March 16, 2007 11:00 pm
A traveling exhibit on abolitionism, now on display at Del Norte County Unified Schools, offers history lessons that touches about a third of the student body, said Don Olson, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. (Photo courtesy of Thea Skinner).
A traveling exhibit on abolitionism, now on display at Del Norte County Unified Schools, offers history lessons that touches about a third of the student body, said Don Olson, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. (Photo courtesy of Thea Skinner).

By Thea Skinner

Special to the Triplicate

Most field trips involve a lengthy journey to a museum, but local residents only need to travel a few minutes to enrich themselves.

Free at Last: A History of the Abolition of Slavery in America, a traveling exhibit stopping at 66 sites in 28 states, will give Del Norte County students and teachers a history lesson without a long journey.

The exhibit is a timeline that traces the history of the movement to abolish slavery from the Constitution through the Civil War.

"It illuminates shades of opinion within the ranks of the famous and ordinary, free and slave, men and women to come to see slavery as incompatible with the ideals upon which the nation was founded," according to a press release from The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a New York-based collection of political and social historical documents.

The exhibit is brought to the public through a grant partnership between The Del Norte County Unified District Curriculum and Instruction Center and The Gilder Lehrman Institute.

The Del Norte Teaching American History Grant Program is a competitive federal grant. Bess Maxwell Elementary School Principal Steve Godla brought the exhibit to students and teachers by writing the grant.

"Most of our teachers and students have not been to the East Coast," Godla said. "We are trying to increase teacher's content knowledge and student performance and knowledge of history."

The grant partnership offers Del Norte County teachers the opportunity to participate in a three-day workshop this summer in New York City. While there, teachers will meet and talk with the authors of text books that the institute provides to teachers. The institute also will give teachers a comprehensive historical text for instructional use.

"The starting point is the collection," said Eric Sharfstein, communications manager at The Gilder Lehrman Institute. "We bring primary source material in front of the students and teachers. At a given point in history things are etched in stone. A letter, photograph or a map gives a sense for that particular moment in time. We put these documents in front of people rather then letting them collect dust."

Godla said, "We partner with 5 museums that are part of the grant. Half of the teachers are from Oregon and half are from California." The museum partnership includes the Del Norte, Siskiyou, Coos, Josephine, and Curry counties' museums.

"The exhibit will provide a rotating block to fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students studying history," said Don Olson, Del Norte County assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. "That is almost a quarter of K through 12 students."

Three more exhibits will grace the center this year along with five exhibits each year after 2007. The Frederick Douglas: from Slavery to Freedom: The Journey to New York City exhibit is the first one to come to Crescent City and is on display at the Instructional Multimedia Center.

The exhibit also is an effort to introduce students to exhibits and museums. The goal of the exhibit is to have students engage in a dialogue about slavery through visuals.

The exhibit correlates most closely to the lessons of fifth- and eighth- grade students, as they learn about the move to abolish slavery. Fifth-grade students study the first Americans through the Revolutionary War and eighth grade students study colonialism through reconstructionism or history past the Civil War, but Godla said, "The exhibit is applicable to everyone."

Crescent City's first reported medical doctor arrived in 1853, after serving as a physician to a wagon train that traveled from Missouri.

Edgar Mason would also hold the title of court judge.

Mason chaired a meeting to set a trial for three Indian men accused of murdering a white man in 1854, according to A.J. Bledsoe's "History of Del Norte County." A jury deliberated for an hour and ordered the three men hanged near Battery Point.

He acquired quite a bit of land in Crescent City, giving parcels for a school house, civic center and a masonic temple, as well as two blocks for a city plaza.

During the Civil War, Mason sent money to the Confederacy and the family lamented President Lincoln's election, according to Marin County Free Library's history project.

Mason presided over a public vote in Crescent City on whether or not to enforce a law that prevented businesses from operating on Sundays, according to Bledsoe's book. Proponents of the measure distributed petitions, as bars and other businesses racked up fines for staying open. The public voted the measure down, letting businesses operate on Sundays.