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Multicultural Arts High School Cross Content Exploration of 1919-Red Summer

Feb. 1, 2022 | By: DSVE Staff

Tags: Black History Month

CPS in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves created the Red Summer 1919 unit, which sheds light on a defining moment in Chicago’s history: a week-long episode of racial violence in 1919 that claimed the lives of thirty-eight people. It will be released on Skyline during Summer 2022. Read more about it here.

Below you will find an interview with two high school educators, Anna Deem and Ryan Williams, from Multicultural Arts High School. Together they explored Red Summer with their US History and English II classes.

Can you briefly describe the components of this lesson?

The unit began with a field trip to the Eugene Williams Memorial Marker at the 31st St. Beach with a reading from Eve Ewing’s book 1919. We studied the Red Summer using 1919 as an anchor text as well as the SHEG materials in which students answer the historical question “What caused the Red Summer?”

In the preface to 1919, Ewing describes the Red Summer as a buried story that is relatively obscure and yet massive in its implications. We wanted students to investigate their own “buried stories,” respond to them through visual art, prose, and poetry, and explain why these stories needed to be told.

Students created slideshows combining their research, art, and writing, and a select group of students presented theirs to Ewing, who visited with our students virtually. Students used the visit to ask Dr. Ewing questions based on their readings of her work. For the final component, students will present their buried stories to our freshmen students.

The Field Trip to Eugene Williams Memorial Marker

We decided to visit the Eugene Williams Memorial Marker at 31st St. Beach. The memorial itself is a small plaque on a rock that has been defaced by graffiti, and students have since reflected on the significance of such an inauspicious memorial. The story of Eugene Williams’s murder is tragic, and it is part of a larger history of segregation, division, and racist violence within our city.

One of the students' takeaways was how small and unnoticeable the Memorial Marker was. We asked students what they thought it meant that the memorial was so small and partially defaced by graffiti and they discussed how it showed that the race riot had become a buried story–such that even the memorial marker was almost a “buried” landmark.

We wanted to celebrate the fact that Multicultural Arts High School and the broader Little Village Lawndale High School community have sought to bring different communities together across dividing lines, and so we ordered a bunch of pizza and soda from Beggar’s Pizza and had lunch together at the Caracol Gathering Space, which is about 100 yards up the beach from the Eugene Williams Memorial Marker.

A lot of our colleagues thought we were a little crazy for going on a field trip to the beach in late November, but students brought soccer balls, bluetooth speakers, and phone cameras, and they had a great time (except for the student who lost his soccer ball in the lake). We even brought a camping stove and everyone had hot chocolate to keep warm.

Virtual Visit with Eve Ewing

Since the early planning stages of the unit, we had been in contact with Eve Ewing’s assistant to organize a virtual visit with her because we thought it would be beneficial for students to have the opportunity to hear about the events of 1919 directly from Ewing.

The visit occurred on the final day of the semester with a small group of students who had done exceptionally well with their summative projects. Two students (Angela and Darimar, see projects linked below) presented their projects to Ewing and seemed to take a great deal of pride in the work they had created. The visit culminated in a Q & A session with students asking Ewing questions about the 1919 book and her career.

What did the lessons look like?

For the summative project, we provided students with a list of buried stories that we came up with, and we also gave students the option of choosing their own.

  1. Students began by doing research, and we provided each student with a list of resources (articles, books, and videos) that would be useful and reliable for their topic.
  2. Once students completed research, they responded to their research by creating two art pieces in the medium of their choice (for example, pencil and paper, digital collage, playlists).
  3. Students then had a choice of responding to their research by writing a poem or a narrative response.
  4. Finally, students summarized their research on their buried story and wrote an explanation of why it is important for others to be aware of this history.

We created a timetable for each step of the project and provided feedback to each student along the way.

Example Summative Projects

Reflections from Anna and Ryan

Explain what you liked about doing this unit with your class?

I enjoyed teaching a book of poems from one author and discussing the poems in conversation with one another, rather than teaching a variety of poets writing about different topics (as I typically do in my sophomore poetry unit). I also liked how learning about 1919 gave us a chance to explore other relevant topics and texts in the classroom, including screening the Netflix documentary “The 13th” for all sophomores and having emotionally arresting conversations about race and language in my classroom.

What advice would you give teachers who teach red summer?

Pay attention to how your students are reacting to the content. There were points throughout the unit where it became clear that discussing a violent event in two of their classes out of a school day could be a lot for some students to handle. We were both in regular communication with one another, checking in to see how the unit was going in the other person’s class, so that we could make any necessary adjustments.

What advice would you give teachers who teach red summer?

Make history empowering to students. If the beginning and end of the story is one of unabashed, unrepentant white supremacy, then students are understandably left with a sense of hopelessness. After spending several days examining the racism and hatred that fueled the summer of 1919, that sense of hopelessness was strong among our students, so I decided to follow up with a DBQ I created about the Civil Rights movement in which students answered the historical question “What strategies did Civil Rights activists use to make change?” The documents dealt with luminaries like MLK and Rosa Parks, but they also examined everyday people like Fanny Lou Hamer, the Greensboro Four, Claudette Colvin, and the Freedom Riders. If students can see that change is made by everyday people just like them, they will know that they too are capable of making big changes.