Daisy Bates was arrested for trying to help nine black children enroll at an all-white school in 1957.
Medgar Evers, who also championed school desegregation, was assassinated in 1963 by a member of the White Citizens’ Council.
Diane Nash served time in jail and was fined for sitting at a “whites-only” lunch counter in 1961.
Bowling Green High School sophomores Tyler Duron, 15, and Jessica Kramp, 16, who were attending a school assembly on Friday, shook their heads in disbelief as they listened to stories about the civil rights movement.
“It’s hard to imagine these things happening," young Duron said after the assembly.
The two sophomores were among more than 1,600 predominantly white Bowling Green middle and high school students who received a crash course in black history. The assembly was part of the school district’s recognition of Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the United States every February.
The presenters during the assembly were 17 of their black classmates, who used skits, songs, dance, and inspirational speeches to get their message across. The students belong to the school’s Black Cultural Club, a student organization that promotes diversity.
“The goal today was to make people aware, to give them a little more insight into black culture,” said 17-year-old Vitto Brown, a senior at Bowling Green High School. He’s also a member of the Black Cultural Club, which any student is invited to join.
Staff from Bowling Green State University’s Multicultural Affairs Office helped the students put their presentation together.
The students’ presentation included a modernized re-enactment of a historical civil rights moment when nine black students attempted to enroll in Arkansas Little Rock Central High School, which was still segregated in 1957.
The skit on the “Little Rock Nine” was unflinching in its portrayal of the angry confrontations between blacks and whites during the civil rights era.
High school Principal Jeff Dever said the event was important because all students should learn about the struggles and accomplishments of blacks. That’s especially true at Bowling Green, where about 85 percent of the district’s population is Caucasian, he said.
“It would be a disservice to our kids if we didn’t introduce them to this,” Mr. Dever said. “Our kids need to understand our world is diverse. In fact, our diverse world recently elected an African-American president.”
In recent years the district has gone to great lengths to promote diversity, Mr. Dever said. At the high school, there are clubs for black, Hispanic, and gay and lesbian students.
Those efforts suffered a setback in October after racial graffiti was left on the property of the BGSU men’s basketball coach Louis Orr, who is black.
Two white teens at the school have been charged with ethnic intimidation and criminal mischief in the incident, accused of drawing a swastika and writing “white power” on Mr. Orr’s driveway. The suspects were ordered by the Wood County Prosecutor's Office to meet with the coach and are due back in court Thursday.
“I don’t think what happened is indicative of our student body,” Mr. Dever said. But the incident prompted school and community leaders to begin discussing ways to address racism and prejudice in the community.”
A cultural event that will highlight Hispanic, Asian-American, and African American culture is tentatively planned at the school in April, he said. The district also plans to launch an anti-bullying campaign in the fall.
“I’m not sure we’ll ever eradicate racism,” Mr. Dever said. “Unfortunately, those attitudes usually come from the home.
“We can’t do much about that. But, we can teach them about the importance of diversity at school.”
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.