Curriculum Spotlight: Researching Discrimination in Marin County

During the month of February, designated as National Black History Month, as well as throughout the year, we are celebrating Black achievements at the school, as well as acknowledging and reminding ourselves that system racism still exists. What can we do to encourage change?

In February, 5th and 8th graders in Talia and Marianne's social studies classes, visited the Mill Valley Public Library Archives and the Lucretia Little Local History Room. The group met with Natalie Snoyman, Supervising Librarian and Archivist, to learn about primary sources and issues of race and racism in Mill Valley. 

Working in small groups, the students analyzed primary text documents related to race and racism in Mill Valley with the goal of learning: 1) how important primary sources are and how there are many kinds (wills, deeds, pictures, newspapers, etc), 2) what an archivist does, and 3) how race and racism have been a part of our own local history since the beginning. 

Each group of students was presented with a historic document alongside a worksheet to help guide their research. For example, one group was given a photograph of people protesting in front of a real estate agency. The students were asked to describe the type of photo (posed, candid, action, landscape, etc), observe its parts (people, objects, activities), try to make sense of it (who may have taken the photo, when was it taken, what evidence can you find to help figure out what’s happening), and use it as historical evidence (what can be learned from the photo that you might not learn somewhere else, what might it tell you about that time period). The students determined that the group of people were from CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and were protesting against Ted Gibson and his real estate company and marching for fair housing, likely during the late 1940’s.




After the students finished their research, the class got back together again to discuss their findings and think about how what they learned about the past might still be relevant in Mill Valley today. The 8th graders are currently studying the civil rights movement, as well as the issue around redlining following World War II, and one group discovered evidence of redlining in legal documents they reviewed from 1952. (Redlining is a term used to describe the circumstances by which the government enabled banks to refuse loans to people because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk.) One deed students examined included text that forbade the owners to rent or sell to people of color. This corresponded to the redlining maps students studied in class where areas were deemed poor financial risks due to minorities living within their boundaries.

As the 8th graders study philosophies of non-violence associated with the civil rights movement, it is heartening for them to see that these movements occurred in Mill Valley as well, while it is sobering to find clear evidence that racism existed and continues to exist in our Marin County structures. The next local civil rights group the students will be studying is The Black Panthers.

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