Bringing History to Light
KSU tells the story of the Atlanta Student Movement
KENNESAW, Ga. (Mar 5, 2019) — A story from her grandmother gave Jeanne Bohannon a piece of history worth further exploration, and that snapshot of the civil rights movement has grown into a detailed research project for undergraduate and graduate students at Kennesaw State University.
Bohannon, interim director of the first-year composition program, told students in her 2016 Digital Rhetoric class about her grandmother’s story of witnessing and participating in a civil rights sit-in during the 1960s at the Rich’s department store in downtown Atlanta.
Since Bohannon presented some basic archival information to that first class, hundreds of students in her courses and across the KSU campus have discovered details that were nearly lost to history. They learned about the Rich’s sit-in itself and gained a deep knowledge about a group of Atlanta University Center students who started the Atlanta Student Movement, which formed early in 1960 as a local part of the larger civil rights movement that used a three-pronged approach to non-violent protests that desegregated lunch-counters throughout the City.
Shiloh Gill, a student in Bohannon’s original class that started the project, said the class was immediately excited about researching the sit-in and telling the stories of the students who had put their bodies into gaining equality for African Americans in the Jim Crow South.
“We all jumped in with both feet,” Gill said.
Gill, who is currently pursuing a Master of Professional Writing degree (MAPW) at KSU, took on a role as an editor for the webtext that resulted from the research the class uncovered. Soon, Gill was researching this project even during her free time and after the class ended.
“I became enthralled by it,” she said. “I wanted to be able to talk to these people who were there.”
As they shined a light onto this nearly forgotten piece of history, Gill made a surprising discovery: She had a connection through a high school teacher with Lonnie King, the leader of the Atlanta Student Movement.
King came to campus eager to talk to Kennesaw State students about his experiences with leading the sit-in movement in Atlanta, and he presented the group with a challenge.
“He asked us to bring the Atlanta Student Movement to the light,” Bohannon said. “And the students rose to that call.”
Since that time, King has remained involved and serves as the senior community partner for what has become the #ATLStudentmovement Project. Working together, Bohannon and King have secured a $100,000 grant from the Rich Foundation to continue the project’s goals of digital historical and educational outreach.
“Our community-engaged initiative has organically grown across KSU because of our students and colleagues” said Bohannon. “We have the Archives, Museums, and Rare Books team, Master of Arts in Teaching students, English majors, communications majors, and more are all helping with the multiple pieces that inform the oral histories and educational guides that bring all of this important work together. The students bring their diverse expertise in digital production, curriculum development, and digital storytelling skills to this project and help cultivate its growth. It’s become not just a campuswide project but a community project.”
The project is now housed online in KSU’s SOAR digital archive, where interviews and oral histories with the students there on that day in 1960 are preserved for future generations. With help from the grant from The Rich Foundation, a curriculum guide for high school English students is being created for implementation in high school classrooms next year.
For Gill, the project encouraged her love of research as she pursues her Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Kennesaw State. While her commitments as a graduate student have meant she’s had to step back from the project, she knows that the work she’s helped discover will guide future generations.
“When pieces of history are lost, pieces of ourselves are lost as well. It shapes history and we have missing pieces there. We’re helping to make sure that we get a complete picture of our past,” she said.
For Bohannon, this project has generated a sustained, signature research experience for her undergraduate students and helped bring an underrepresented history to light.
“History is made up of the people you don’t see. People like Lonnie King. People like my grandmother. People like students who sat down at lunch-counters in the face of institutional racism at great personal risk to themselves,” said Bohannon. “We’re giving those voices the recognition they deserve for the work they did that not only changed the South, but the world.”
– Andrea Judy