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Hundreds Participate in Local Inland History Day Activities

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Inland Empire

By Cheryl Brown

History Day was exciting in the Inland Empire. The rain didn’t quell the spirits of the students in Riverside or San Bernardino. Each year students from the various districts compete for the prize of going to the state and then on to the national finals.

This year students portrayed significant figures and researched historical topics including Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Children of the Civil Rights Era, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, and the Black Press of America during World War II.

San Bernardino and Riverside joined over 600,000 students who participated in National History Day which is celebrated in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Students in the history department of the Case Western Reserve University held the first History Day competition in May of 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio.

In order to engage young people in the study of history the historians felt the understanding of history is essential in understanding the dynamics of change. It also gives students the necessary skills to learn research techniques and to help them in their future studies. The two counties saw nearly 1000 students participate in historical papers, exhibits, documentaries, performances, website designs, and posters.

Taking on the theme, "Rights and Responsibilities in History” the winners at the county level will now move on to the state finals (May 8-11, 2003) and the state winners will proceed to the June 12-15 National History Day competition at the University of Maryland.

Students took on some very provocative subjects during this year’s competition.
As I read the exhibit by a group of students on the Syphilis Experiment, tears came to my eyes. Just as saddened as I was by that display, I was overjoyed at the impeccable first place presentation of Carl Cato-Gillespie a freshman at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside. Gillespie told the story of how the Black Press of America was involved in breaking down the barriers of segregation during World War II. He won a special Black Voice News Award for use of the historic Black Press.

Riverside had 19 entries dealing with topics concerning African Americans. San Bernardino had seven winners. In San Bernardino County at Apple Valley Middle School, student Brian Brown developed a website on Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court (1896) case that found separate but equal accommodations constituted a reasonable use of state police power. Homer Adolph Plessy, an African American, refused to ride on a "colored" railway coach. He was challenging the Louisiana law that maintained Blacks and Whites have equal but separate accommodations. Brown will additionally press on to the state finals.

Several students in both counties explored Civil Rights themes. Students of Dr. Leon Wafer at Rialto Middle School: Jennifer Tran, Kathleen Lopez, and Rebecca Hernandez won for a performance entitled "Escape to Freedom with Harriet Tubman." Wafer, was a participant in last year’s Footsteps to Freedom Underground Railroad educator’s field study. The students researched, wrote and performed the original work.

Poly High, Riverside, first place winners of the moving Syphilis study entry, was judged by Mindy Miles of Crestline, Tammy Baer of Corona and Cathy Yurkovich of Moreno Valley. All three said they had never heard of the experiment – not in history and not when former President Clinton apologized in May of 1997 and gave retribution to the eight families left.

The horrible 399 men study was conducted by the United States Health Service naming it the Tuskegee Study, tarnishing the university’s name and destroying families. The physicians deliberately denied treatment to the men who were infected with Syphilis and went to extreme lengths to ensure that they would not get therapy from any other sources in the poor, rural Macon, AL community. The study went on for 40 years from 1932-1972, even after 1947 when the standard cure, penicillin was used, it was purposely withheld and they were still given a placebo for their "bad blood". The government gave them free medical care, food and burial for their participation.

Part of the evaluation is the interview of the Poly High School students who were Ben Coulter, Ashleigh Coulter, Alex Diemer, Krishna Ram, and Stacia Stolzenberg. "The kids said it really bothered them that 400 men were misled. It was a blatant lie that played on the uneducated status of the people," said Yurovich.

"We take so much for granted. The students were passionate and had strong feelings (to find out) our country was involved," said Miles.

Other winners were: Children of the Civil Rights Era, from Orange Elementary School in Corona-Norco. Jackson L. Carr and Shane Londagin won in the group poster category. An alternate winner was Melody Besharati, with her depiction of Sojouner Truth in Her Fight for Freedom. She is from Centennial High School in Corona- Norco.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Man of Peace, Man of Justice and Equality, Washington Middle School, Colton USD, by Leonard Pinto. Abraham: The Great Emancipator, Oleander Elementary School Fontana, Betrice Rivera, Ashley Lim, Jackeline Robles, and Nancy Gudino. Harriet Tubman: Right to Freedom, Responsibility to Her People, Pepper Tree Elementary, Caitlyn Hynes. Marching to Freedom: Rights and Responsibilities of the Civil Rights Movement, Jehue Middle School, Nancy Le, Danielle Alchtarkhavari, Sophia Ortiz, Samantha Lara.

Rights and Responsibilities of White Americans and African Americans During the Civil Rights Movement, Raman Sridharan.
In Riverside, mixing and mingling to make the activities more interesting were visits by historical interpreters Abraham Lincoln, (William Peck) and Buffalo Soldier (Bob Harper).

The winners will now compete with hundreds of others in the State competition.

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