New class at Tuscaloosa’s Central High School explores history of the city’s black community

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – When former Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson retired from the force last month, one aspect that different news outlets brought up was how he was the first black chief in the city’s history.

At Central High School, there is a new elective course at Central High School that will explore the history of different black Tuscaloosans throughout the city’s history, going as far back as Shandy Jones, the city’s first black lawmaker, to civil rights organizer T.Y. Rogers, Anderson and beyond. The class is called “History of Us: Researching African American History in Tuscaloosa” and is a collaboration between the school and researchers at the University of Alabama.

“It would track African American history in Tuscaloosa from slavery to Obama,” said John Giggie, director of the Summersell Center for the Study of the South at UA.

Part of the course involves reading from different resources provided through the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit firm in Montgomery that was responsible for the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in the city. It also involves class discussion and projects.

“‘History of Us’ aims to create collaborative models for high school students to learn about and engage with local histories of African American history,” the syllabus for the course stated. “Students will study the long struggle for democracy in their own community, tracking black citizens steady efforts to expand basic rights to include all Americans.”

Jessi Chadwick is a 10th grade history teacher at Central and leads the class with Giggie and Margaret Lawson, a graduate student at UA. Chadwick said she wanted to be part of a class that encouraged students to not only learn about the city’s history, but how they themselves can change the future.

“I saw them (students) as leaders in the school and eventually, they are going to be the producers of this history and those behind them will take their place as leaders,” Chadwick said.

For the last year, the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights and Reconciliation Foundation, has tried to create a class to be taught throughout Tuscaloosa City Schools to go tell the stories of notable black residents and how they impacted history. Giggie is a member of the group.

Scott Bridges, the chairman of the foundation, said Central’s class is a step in the right direction.

“This is going to be one of the way that we approach getting the topic into the school and also developing scholars,” Bridges said.

The fact that Central’s student population is mostly black was a factor in having the course first taught in the school.

“Central’s history itself is a beacon,” Giggie said. “We thought it would be vital here.”

So far, there are only 18 students enrolled in the class, but Chadwick hopes it will reach more people and catch on as time goes on. So far, she is seeing the students buy into the class.

“I hope that the students become leaders in the school, that they have a deeper understanding of this history that is unspoken,” she said.

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