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Website Offers Insights Into The History Of African American Perspectives On The Fourth of July

Leslie King | 7/5/2019, 6 a.m.
A website, African American Fourth of July, summarizes the findings and analysis of Virginia Tech students who researched seven historical ...
Virginia Tech history majors Nick Anthony and Jillian Doerr presented their research findings at the website launch in December 2018. Courtesy Photo

“The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me,” Douglass had said in his 1852 talk to a group of New York abolitionists. “This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

At the same time Shadle was reading this, his colleagues in the history department were launching Mapping the Fourth of July, a crowdsourced history website aimed at understanding how Americans celebrated July 4 during the Civil War. This caused Shadle to wonder what African American newspapers might reveal about what the day meant to African Americans throughout history.

He thought it would be a perfect project for his first-year student experience course, a class designed to introduce students to their major. It would provide the students with experiential learning opportunities as they navigated primary-source materials and processed information through group discussions. And Shadle discovered, at the launch of the website, that his students not only excelled in their research, but took great pride in it.

“The students hope this project doesn’t fade away,” Shadle said. “They want others to look at it and use it. They want people to have discussions about what patriotism means, what the Fourth of July means.”