West Roxbury, Mass.— University of New Hampshire’s Dr. Kabria Baumgartner ended Catholic Memorial School’s celebration of Black History Month with a forum explaining 19th century Massachusetts school integration on Wednesday afternoon in the CM seminar rooms.
Dr. Baumgartner, an Assistant Professor of American Studies, focused her discussion on how the 1850 Roberts v. City of Boston court case launched the desegregation movement in American public schools, only for future laws to stifle and regress the movement. The forum later invited over 65 CM students to share their thoughts on whether-or-not Boston, today, has rested on its progressive laurels since then.
One student, freshman Jack Hood, believed that Boston needed to follow CM’s model of inclusiveness.
“CM makes a real active effort to show people many different cultures,” said Jack.
“In my freshman Global Studies class, we’re focusing on Africa and the Middle East. I’ve never had this kind of exposure to those cultures before. It’s important that we educate ourselves on cultures unlike our own.”
Mr. Vincent Bradley, Chair of CM’s History and Social Studies Department, invited Dr. Baumgartner to host her forum at CM. The two met last year when Mr. Bradley and his AP U.S. History class visited the Massachusetts Historical Society.
During his class’ visit, Mr. Bradley appreciated Dr. Baumgartner’s critical approach to history. He believed it fit into CM’s flexible learning initiative and extended an invitation for her to speak at CM. Without hesitation, Dr. Baumgartner accepted the invitation to share her scholarship with Catholic Memorial students.
“Just because you can reform briefly, doesn’t mean that it will stay the same forever,” said Mr. Bradley.
“[Our students] saw the history of desegregation as a longer, more complex history. Dr. Baumgartner’s talk really painted a broader narrative. Most people think of segregation as a 20th century issue, but it’s been an issue for African Americans for a very long time.”
In preparation for Dr. Baumgartner’s talk, Mr. Bradley decided to collaborate with fellow history department faculty. History faculty, including Mr. Steve Goode and Mrs. Barbara Flynn, designed innovative lessons for their students. Together, they implemented a month-long interdisciplinary unit that integrated topics such as segregation and slavery into their A.P. Government, A.P. U.S. History, English, and theology courses.
In Mrs. Flynn’s History of Boston class, students compared the Massachusetts’ Constitution to the United States Constitution. After analyzing both documents, students identified legal language in the state constitution that forced the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to abolish slavery before any other state in the early 19th century.
According to Mrs. Flynn, students learned that, despite its claim as the first state to abolish slavery, Massachusetts struggled to balance race relations for decades. To lend perspective on this balance, Mrs. Flynn’s class examined how Bostonians reacted to national slavery issues stemming from the Missouri Compromise and the 1850 Compromise.
Mr. Goode challenged his English students to write biographies of two significant African-American figures. The class then needed to break apart the biographies and manufacture poems that illustrated how eight different African American figures contributed to eight different fields of study such as medicine, politics, and law.
By the time Dr. Baumgartner arrived on campus, each CM student knew the place of segregation and slavery in the context of Boston’s own history.
“We’re just farmers who plant the seeds,” said Mr. Goode, referencing he and his fellow teachers’ initiative.
“It’s amazing to see how well the students retain what they learn and apply it outside of the classroom.”