The students had two stops this Wednesday morning. First up was to Atlanta’s History Center. The center has black history and other parts of the “ATL’s” past. The students and chaperones were in for special treat. A special exhibit featuring hundreds of personal papers by Dr. King were on display. Speeches and letters — some typed but most written by King — were on display. Other papers include Dr. King’s invitation to President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, and his hand-written letter from a Birmingham jail cell in 1963.
Some of the speeches dating back to the 1950s were actual sermons he delivered when he was a young preacher and before anyone knew of or heard the name of Martin Luther King Jr. Some of his early speeches showed examples of themes and ideas he would espouse in his later civil rights battles. He was talking about non-violence protests as early as 1957 in one speech. Each document was accompanied by a brief description of its origins. One description explained that as King became more sought after by fellow civil rights leaders for his activism, it became increasingly more difficult to write original speeches and sermons. So King would revisit themes and ideas in later works.
Many of the students know much of their history, including that involving Dr. King, but some still learned things they never knew before.
Mia Oliver, 14, never knew that Dr. King had been stabbed and nearly died. The incident took place in 1958 during a book signing in Harlem, N.Y. A disoriented young woman plunged a six-inch blade into King’s chest. The incident was mentioned at both the King Center and personal papers exhibit. Doctors attending to Dr King at the time said that if he would have simply sneezed, he would have died from a rupture artery.
“I didn’t know that he was stabbed before he got shot,” said Mia, who also learned how much Dr. King was influenced by Ghandi, who also preached the use of non-violence to settle disputes.
“They had a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King and a picture Ghandi right next to him and showing their differences and similarities.”
The students spent a good deal of time in the center’s 1996 Olympic games exhibit, displaying memorabilia from the ’96 event which Atlanta hosted.
After the center, we drove to KIPP Ways in Atlanta to meet with fellow KIPP students there. KIPP Ways 8th grade teacher Annie Italiano and Principal David Jernigan, along with other staff 8th grade students, met their Chicago peers. The students were given an activity to meet, greet and find similar interests with one another. Afterwards, everyone ate pizza and pop for lunch. The KIPP Ascend students got a tour of the school. The Atlanta school has about 300 students in grades five through eight.