Civil rights lessons: Harvesting from Philly’s “Deep Roots”

Every year the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service gets bigger and offers new features, and 2015 is no different. While much of the day and many of its related activities in Philadelphia will center on commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, History Making Productions will offer volunteers and students citywide another gift.

The "Deep Roots" poster transcends some 240 years of African-American history documenting the ongoing effort to fully achieve civil rights for all.

The “Deep Roots” poster transcends some 240 years of African-American history documenting the ongoing effort to fully achieve civil rights for all.

The team there, led by educational director Amy Cohen, will debut an educational poster that puts Philadelphia’s rich civil rights history into context. Deep Roots, Continuing Legacy: Philadelphia in the Struggle for Civil Rights charts some of the earliest moments of individuals fighting for their full rights through to continuing actions in the 21st century.

Download the poster here and the poster’s corresponding teaching materials here.

Funded primarily through a grant by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, a host of partners aided in its creation. PCHR is one such partner, an effort spearheaded by Commissioner Sarah Ricks, herself an Underground Railroad buff.

From the founding of the abolition society through to the citywide mandate to teach African-American history in public schools – an initiative now in its 10th year – the poster provides links to the ongoing commitment to securing freedom and dignity, despite the odds.  The lessons are timely.

The slayings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown Jr. and Eric Garner triggering acts of outrage nationwide through to films such as Selma are making real for students what once had been seen as dusty moments in books, said Cohen, an educator and history scholar.

“Right now, unfortunately, there are a lot of teachable moments,” she said. “Young people are fired up about getting into the streets and protesting the racial violence they’re seeing.

“But when they realize it fits into a historical pattern, the more powerful it becomes. There’s such resonance for what’s going on today with what happened even in Octavius Catto’s day. Similar things, years and years earlier.”

The hope, Cohen added, is to kindle strong thoughts among students and other — solidifying actions today are tied into those of the past, and that they can play an active role in the continuum of fighting to preserve and advance civil rights.

The poster will be distributed at Girard College on Monday and made available to every branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia and throughout the School District of Philadelphia.  For details, visit History Making Productions.

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