News & Events  |  Contact Us  |  Visit MCLA  |  People Finder  |  Search   

Partners in the Project

The central partners in this project are the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) and the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail (UHVAAHT). They are joined by a network of local history organizations and participating schools, public and private, elementary and secondary.

MCLA is a small, residential, public liberal arts college, founded in 1894 and originally known as North Adams Normal School. Since then, it has redefined its mission to focus on providing a high quality liberal arts education at an affordable cost. It continues its long tradition of educating teachers for the schools of Berkshire County, grounding their preparation in a strong liberal arts foundation. As the only teacher-training institution in Berkshire County, MCLA has a long history of collaboration with area schools. This relationship has been formalized in the creation of The Berkshire Institute for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, which currently conducts a 3-year series of seminars for middle school teachers in science, and has submitted a proposal for the same program for mathematics teachers, both under the Massachusetts Mathematics and Science Partnerships Program, Title II-B.

Elizabeth Freeman

The curriculum project itself originated in the parallel efforts, extending back many years, of teachers, scholars, local historians and community leaders to identify, preserve, share and celebrate the area's African American heritage. Representing the four institutions of higher education in Berkshire County, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, local history organizations, restoration sites, African American churches, and other concerned organizations, these individuals formally came together for the first time in January 2004 as the UHVAAHT Advisory Board.

The UHVAAHT is itself an early initiative of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, Inc., a private nonprofit organization established in 2000 to create a national heritage area in western Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut. Its overall goals are to heighten appreciation and preservation of the region's natural and historic resources, improve the local economy and quality of life, and promote cleanup of the Housatonic River.

As priority tasks, a subcommittee of the UHVAAHT Board undertook an inventory of relevant sites, compiled existing information, launched new archival research, and began exploring potential ways to disseminate this information. This has led to an ambitious program of publication to make information available in various formats for different audiences: general public, scholars, and teachers. A draft version of an UHVAAHT guide is currently being compiled. Funding from an NEH curriculum development grant, along with local funding, will support publication of a limited-edition curriculum resource guide based on contents of the Trail guide. This will serve as a primary text for the Summer 2005 African American studies colloquium and subsequently be made available in hard copy to schools and teachers throughout the region and by electronic dissemination to teachers across the country.

Another UHVAAHT subcommittee began a series of informational meetings in area schools in April. They were well-attended (between eighteen and forty participants) and included substantive presentations on topics such as: "African American Heritage Sites in Berkshire County," "Using Oral History Research to Document the African American Heritage," "WE.B. Du Bois of Great Barrington: A Walking Tour" and "Berkshire County and the Harlem Renaissance".

The principal of Stockbridge Plain School invited members of this subcommittee, three of them on the proposed project staff, to work with third grade teachers to develop African American curriculum materials that would address the new state framework in history and social sciences: "Using local historic sites, historical societies, and museums, third graders learn about the history of Massachusetts . . . They also learn the history of their own cities and towns and about famous people and events in Massachusetts' history. In addition, they read biographies of prominent Massachusetts people in science, technology, the arts, business, education, or political leadership . . . ."

We began creating a unit on Du Bois, whose achievements span the fields of arts, education, and political leadership. Working with new research about his early years by project participant Bernard Drew, with the first volume of the authoritative biography by David Levering Lewis, and with the first volume of Du Bois' Selected Correspondence, we developed two sub-units and plans for a third incorporating brief biographical narratives, a series of classroom activities, a field trip and a framework for assessment. From this demonstration project, we learned much about ways to adapt locally significant African American content to classroom needs. We also glimpsed the enormity of the undertaking and of the need for funding to empower, excite and free the time of classroom teachers to work with curriculum mentors and content experts to create African American studies curriculum across grades and subjects.

Berkshire County's rich heritage is preserved in part by more than thirty local history organizations, offering resources to county residents, students, and researchers. Some are historical societies, others commissions, public libraries or historic restorations. Several of these have been active in the work of the UHVAAHT and will provide support to this project by offering meeting facilities and access to archives, artifact collections, and historic sites. Visits to these local history organizations will be incorporated into the July 2005 colloquium and follow-up workshops, providing participants an opportunity for hands-on learning of their own and ideas for student field trips and research activities. These organizations will also provide project staff and consultants with documents which will be incorporated into a compilation of primary source materials for the July 2005 colloquium.

Chief among these organizations is the Berkshire Historical Society, housed in Arrowhead, once the home of Herman Melville. Its extensive library and archives contain over 200 cubic feet of manuscripts, 170 linear feet of books, 150 maps and atlases, and 14,000 photographic images. Letters, journals, government records, newspapers, and directories dating from the early 18th century to the present can be found. Its artifact collection represents over 200 years of Berkshire history. BHS is also the repository for some 300 tapes and transcripts collected as part of "The Invisible Community" project which sought to document the history of African American families in Berkshire County for many generations, some since before the Revolutionary War. Project co-director served as project humanist for the "Invisible Community."

Founded in 1891, the Trustees of Reservations is a conservation organization which preserves properties of exceptional scenic, historic and ecological value in Massachusetts. One of its 95 properties is the Ashley House in Sheffield. Built in 1735 for Col. John Ashley, it is one of the oldest homes in the county. The Sheffield Declaration of grievances against British rule was drafted in Ashley's study in 1773. He owned several slaves, including Elizabeth "Mum bet" Freeman, and the Ashley House has become the center for historical interpretation and educational programs on the story of Mum bet, her bondage and her freedom.

The Sheffield Historical Society seeks to preserve the story of the oldest town in the county. It collects and preserves records and relevant materials including a wealth of primary sources not available anywhere else: over 700 family files on Sheffield and South Berkshire County, town documents dating from 1733, an extensive collection of photographs, historic maps, regional cemetery records, and veterans lists from the French and Indian War, War of Independence, War of 1812 and Civil War.

The Rev. Samuel Harrison Foundation is committed to preserving and restoring his homestead in Pittsfield as "a place to teach the values embodied by his noble life, his enduring beliefs, and extraordinary writings." It will support the project through providing an interpretive site visit to the Harrison house. The beginning of the Foundation's work coincides with new research, some of which is being incorporated into a PBS documentary film, scheduled to debut in February 2005 as part of the American Experience series.

Although not an historical society, North Star Rare Books is supporting this project by making its specialized stock of African American books, documents and artifacts available for study by the participants. Although the business' collection continually changes, current holdings include signed first editions by many Harlem Renaissance authors and correspondence from Du Bois and Harrison.

A network of twelve participating schools has begun publicizing the UHVAAHT activities, hosting related events, and supporting the modest beginnings of our curriculum development project. They have made formal written commitments to participate in and support the project. Three public school districts, with a total of ten participating schools, are included. Two private schools are also participating. The schools range from kindergarten to twelfth grade. This network extends approximately thirty-two miles from the northern part of the county to the south.

From Pittsfield School District, participating schools are Pittsfield High School, Reid Middle School, and Conte Community School. PHS recently reintroduced an African American studies course. This district is home to sites related to Samuel Harrison.

From Berkshire Hills Regional School District, participating schools are Monument Mountain Regional High School and Stockbridge Plain School. This district is home to sites related to W.E.B. Du Bois, Agrippa Hull, and Elizabeth Freeman.

From the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, participating schools are Mount Everett High School, Undermountain, New Marlborough, South Egremont, and Monterey Schools. This district is home to the Ashley House.

Miss Hall's is a private, secondary girls school established in 1898 as one of the first girls' boarding schools in New England. Two faculty members are active in this project.

Berkshire Country Day School is a private K-12 school which has done pioneering work in this area, developing curriculum materials and hosting public meetings to celebrate the centenary of Du Bois' publication of Souls of Black Folk and, more recently, developing curricula on the Harlem Renaissance.