Research shows that individuals learn history best at places where it happened, so this year’s Kentucky History Education Conference (KHEC) had an added feature for the first time: The following day, July 13, KHS offered a field study bus trip to sites in Kentucky associated with African American emancipation.
The theme for the bus trip was chosen for several reasons. First, the effort to end slavery in Kentucky fit well with this year’s KHEC theme: “Turning Points in History.” Second, emancipation is an area of our state’s history that has received little attention -- yet emancipation and race are subjects that are still relevant in our society and schools today, and the more historical knowledge an educator brings to these issues, the better prepared he or she is to discuss them intelligently and confidently with students. Students also seem to make a better connection to history when given local examples in the classroom. Finally, these intriguing and significant sites, all with historical connections, were within close geographical distance to one another, allowing the tour to be completed in a day.
33 teachers, some from as far away as Ballard County in the west, Pike County in the east, Boone County in the north and Wayne County in the south, signed up for this additional learning experience that included stops at White Hall State Historic Site, (home of emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay, near Richmond); Berea, site of the abolitionist community founded by native Kentuckian John G. Fee; and Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in Jessamine County, site of a Union quartermaster center that turned into an African American soldier recruiting and training center once they were finally allowed to enlist in Kentucky in the spring of 1864.
After a short briefing at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History that included a provided folder of primary sources for each site, the bus was loaded up and heading to White Hall. The heavy rain we encountered did not dampen the spirits of the teachers as they absorbed the interesting life of Cassius Marcellus Clay and his family. Next, it was off to Berea for a brief view of the John G. Fee monument, then to Boone Tavern for an engaging historical performance of Fee by Kentucky Humanities Council’s Chautauqua performer Obadiah Ewing-Roush and, of course, a delicious lunch. The day’s final stop, Camp Nelson, included a short video and a visit to the museum gallery in the interpretive center, to learn more about the lives of Kentucky African American soldiers and their refugee families. To end the visit, Hasan Davis, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, performed an inspiring first-person account of Angus Augustus Burleigh, a runaway slave, United States Colored Troops soldier at Camp Nelson and Berea College graduate.
The day of historic site visits and learning proved to be a big hit with the participants. On the return trip to Frankfort, they filled out response cards that encouraged them to reflect on what they learned during the day by answering a few thinking prompts: “Today I was surprised to learn....” and “I can make a connection about the content I learned to my grade level by telling my students about....” Estill County High School teacher Danny Wood even commented, “The trip was great. It was the best ‘in-service’ I've been to in 25 years of teaching. I loved it and will look forward to future trips. The primary sources folder is interesting and useful. The living history actors were really great! Overall, I don't believe it could have been better! Please keep doing these.” It was evident by their answers that the day was successful in providing educators with their own learning experience about an important aspect of Kentucky’s rich history!