New to Loyola Blakefield’s curriculum this year is the African American Voices class taught by Dr. Donovan. This class introduces important historical, political, cultural, and artistic issues concerning people of African descent living in the United States. Students examine the historical and cultural experiences of African Americans beginning with the Transatlantic Slave Trade up to the current Black Lives Matters movement. Through reading literature, class discussion, and research of primary source material, students learn the many ways African Americans have resisted oppression and become agents in their own freedom.
Currently, students are researching artifacts—photographs, documents, letters, and books—to gain more of an understanding of the nature and value of the artifacts, but also the cultural narratives surrounding them. This project is being done with the help of Nanny Jack & Co, an African American Heritage consulting firm that has access to a vast archive of thousands of African American Artifacts that date back to slavery yet still influence modern culture. The goal of the company is to preserve, document, and teach about African American history. For the past 6 weeks, students have worked with founder and CEO, Philip J. Merrill whose professional work embodies the goal of the class, which is to unearth and give voice to the stories and truths that are often left out of conversation, the classroom, and the American consciousness.
We are currently reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a powerful story based on the real life, Margaret Garner, a woman who attempted to murder all her kids (and successfully killed one) in an effort to “free” them from bondage. Margaret Garner was enslaved in Boone County, Kentucky in 1834. To many people just hearing what she did, they could argue that Margaret Garner is a murderer and needed psychological help. In our reading of Morrison’s fictional account of Garner, and through our class discussion with Dr. Donovan, we are beginning to dissect Garner’s act within the fuller picture of her story as told in Beloved. We are beginning to see that Margaret Garner did not have rights as a slave mother, and sought to protect her child in the only way she was able and as an act of love. She didn’t want her children to live through the horrors of being enslaved the rest of their lives. Margaret Garner was initially tried for the murder of her daughter, but the offense was changed to the destruction of “property.” In the story of Beloved, Margaret Garner’s character (Sethe) is confronted by the child she killed who appears as a ghost of her past who haunts her present.
In African American Voices, you also get the chance to research information about your ancestors. Earlier in the year, the class was asked to do some digging about their family’s heritage. They went home and asked their mom, dad, aunts, uncles, and grandparents about their past. Some of the students found out that their ancestors were once enslaved, some were related to someone famous, and others had ties to the city of Baltimore. Lots of amazing and impactful information about our family’s history was discovered in this very class, and there are more mysteries in our history that is waiting to be discovered.
Josh Braxton, Ryan Johnson, Jack Carey, Devan Lawal, Jalen Henderson, Macklan O’Brian, Ian Rego, and Corey Daley are the eight seniors who make up this amazing class taught by Dr. Donovan. They came into this class not exactly knowing what to expect when they walked in the first day. They came in eager to learn and they’ve learned a massive amount of information about famous enslaved abolitionist as well as learned more about themselves and their families throughout the year.
This class isn’t just for black students. This class invites students from different cultures, race, and ethnicities to engage in discussion about American history that includes African Americans in the way it hadn’t before. Dr. Donovan will understand if this class is too much to handle for some. Only certain people are ready to take in all the powerful knowledge this class provides. Do you really want to know more about yourself as well as others? Are you willing to sit in the class and research all the undiscovered mysteries of the world? If so, this class is where you need to be.