Whitman Teaches the Movement (WTTM) collaborated with Walla Walla High School (Wa-Hi) to facilitate conversations about Black history during the final week of Black History Month. On Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m., WTTM held a Zoom event focused on the speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer, an African American civil rights activist in the 1960s.
The event started with a foreword by Kaitlynne Jensen, a sophomore politics major and one of the program leaders of WTTM. She welcomed everyone and shared that the main purpose of WTTM is to initiate conversations about Hard History — difficult-to-talk-about material like slavery and Indigenous issues often skipped over in school curriculums.
Event leaders then played a recording of the testimony Fannie Lou Hamer gave in 1964. Hamer, in this testimony, spoke about the gruesome violence African Americans faced in Mississippi and advocated the importance of Black voting rights. Students tuned in keenly and for some, this was their first time hearing Hamer.
“Learning about the whole testimony was new to me,” Sadie Robinson, a senior at Wa-Hi said in an email to The Wire. “I had heard Fannie Lou Hamer’s name before, but never truly learned about her in school, or on my own.”
Robinson is the leader of Girls’ League, the club that invited WTTM for the discussion. Robinson said that as Hamer spoke about violence and racism in her speech she still remained calm and level-headed. This, Robinson admired.
Students from both schools said WTTM’s first event was a success.
“It was just incredible to see a bunch of high school students who didn’t need to be there, show up on their Wednesday night and talk about these things,” Jensen said.
Jensen, who grew up near Walla Walla, knew that topics such as African-American struggles or slavery often do not make it to discussions in schools in the town. She was struck by the willingness of Wa-Hi high school students to be a part of the conversation.
“Facilitating my small group discussion was amazing,” said Merry Cockroft, a first year at Whitman. “Not only did I get to build on my skills as a discussion mediator, but I learned with the participants, which was a privilege.”
Cockroft has previously taught various classes from 1st to 5th grade and this is her first year teaching at WTTM. Experiencing this event confirmed for her the importance of engagement between Whitman students and the Walla Walla community.
Robinson, on similar lines, said that this event was eye-opening for her.
“Learning about Fannie Lou Hamer and her 1964 testimony with WTTM makes me want to continue learning about prominent Black figures during the civil rights movement at home, in school and hopefully with Whitman Teaches the Movement,” Robinson said.
Next on WTTM’s agenda is the event “Fannie Lou Hamer: The Unsung Hero of the Voting Rights.” WTTM will be teaming up with Whitman Votes and this online event will be open for the Whitman student body.