Mount Vernon Students Get Civil Rights History Lesson

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Students from Pelham Middle School and Amani Public Charter School in Mount Vernon discuss the lessons learned from the two speakers.
Students from Pelham Middle School and Amani Public Charter School in Mount Vernon discuss the lessons learned from the two speakers. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pelham School District
Two speakers, Nancy Scheffler and Dr. John R. Howard, respond to student questions.
Two speakers, Nancy Scheffler and Dr. John R. Howard, respond to student questions. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pelham School District

PELHAM, N.Y. -- The Picture House played host to more than 300 seventh-graders and eighth-graders from Amani Public Charter School in Mount Vernon and Pelham Middle School for a discussion about the documentary "Freedom Riders."

As part of their studies of the civil rights movement, students from both schools recently watched the film in their classrooms and participated in an online interschool dialogue.

Led by Debra Stern, executive director of the Amani Public Charter School, and Robert Roelle, principal of Pelham Middle School, the students listened to the firsthand experiences of Nancy Scheffler, who participated in the civil rights movement as a Freedom School teacher in rural Mississippi, and Dr. John R. Howard, who has studied, written and taught extensively about the civil rights movement.

“It was a time of courage and danger: None of us were heroes … or potentially all of us were heroes,” Howard told the students as he discussed the dangerous and courageous acts of the Freedom Riders during the violent summer of 1964. “This came at a cost — and some, like Chaney, Goodwin and Schwerner [the three civil rights workers who were murdered in June 1964] paid with their lives — but Freedom Summer helped change the country.”

Michael Schwerner, who was killed during the freedom rides, grew up in Pelham.

“The Picture House was proud to host such a meaningful event for these students as they learned about the civil rights movement,” Laura deBuys, executive director of The Picture House, said in a statement. “Hearing history recounted firsthand and being able to engage with history as a community is powerful -- it reinforces our mission of creating a shared community experience for diverse audiences through film, education programming and unique cultural offerings."

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