The State Archives of Florida has a whopping collection comprised of about 50,000 cubic feet of records documenting Florida's history and culture from the 16th century to the present.
Recently, more than 50 elementary and secondary educators got an in-depth tour through some of the collections’ historically significant documents, private manuscripts, photographs and other materials when they attended the “Examining African American History in Florida” seminar.
Hosted by Leon County Schools and the State Archives, the all-day seminar focused on several different topics including the activism of Mary McLeod Bethune, Zora Neale Hurston’s documentation of Florida railroad workers, African Americans in antebellum Florida, and the integration of Florida’s schools.
Talia Cotton attended the seminar and said “I am an African American woman and my mother actually integrated schools. I’m one generation from that. My great-great grandmother was a slave. I talked to my great-grandmother about what her mother went through. My students are so disconnected, and I want them to see a more holistic view.”
Cotton teaches 10th grade English at Rickards High School and is a GED Prep Instructor at TCC. Her high schoolers are currently studying rhetoric and she said “seeing these documents and some of the arguments that the slave owners had for slavery, they weren’t sensible but it made sense if you were in their shoes. I thought that was interesting. I can definitely see myself using these specific documents in my class.”
By examining the resources available through the archives, Cotton believes researchers can construct a more complete narrative of those who have been historically marginalized. “African Americans have been so silent because we didn’t write the laws and we did not have our voices heard,” she said. “If you leave us out, you’re neglecting an experience. All cultures matter and if you don’t see them in your history books, you’re missing something.”
Jenna Martin echoed that sentiment and said “this is our story; the many different strands of us as Tallahasseeans, as Floridians, as Americans. Black history is American history.” Martin teaches fourth and fifth grade at The School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) on Thomasville Road. She recognizes the cross-curricular potential for the content she gained in the seminar. “I foresee using it not only in a thematic social studies context but in a writing context as we are working on details and elaborations.”
This gets to the heart of what State Archives Historian Dr. Josh Goodman and Education Officer Katrina Harkness hoped teachers would gain when they designed this seminar in partnership with Leon County Schools.
Goodman explained “When you read the letters and cookbooks, reports and speeches, and all the various kinds of documents that are in our collection, you are, in a sense, having a conversation with that person from the past. You’re hearing directly from their perspective what their world was like and what they were feeling, what their hopes were and what their fears were.”
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