Students Research Local Roots of NAACP


Library of Congress

Members at a NAACP conference in Amenia, NY, in 1916.

In an effort to diversify students’ history experiences, Dr. Lisanne Norman ’94, instructor in social sciences, is teaching a class this spring in which local historical landmarks are used as teaching pillars over textbooks.

Eight students are enrolled in the inaugural course — HI486S Honors Early Years of the NAACP & its Local Historical Roots — which studies the longest-running civil rights organization in American history. Students discuss different historical events and the context surrounding the organization’s inception.

Dr. Norman chose to teach the class to expose students to relevant Black history in Northwestern Connecticut. She said, “There is history that connects to the larger African-American experience. [I was getting] students to think beyond our little bubble here at Hotchkiss [since] there is a larger community that we are a part of.”

Each student works on a culminating project of their choice about local history. Dr. Norman invited experts, including a professor from Amherst College and a documentarian to introduce students to potential research topics and methods. All students will present their work at the Troutbeck Symposium on Friday, a student-led collaboration in which local history is expressed through student exhibitions, art displays and documentaries.

The Troutbeck Inn, located in Amenia, New York, is a historical landmark that hosted two critical NAACP meetings in the early twentieth century. In hosting this event, Troutbeck seeks to sustain a legacy of supporting creative thinkers and next-generation advocates. The event will include Q&A sessions with Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. David Blight, Artist Nona Faustin, and Author Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries. Olivia Taylor ’22 said, “I am excited to talk to other people that are also passionate about African-American history.”

Interested in delving further into a topic from Lower Mid U.S. History, each student pursued a different topic to deepen their perspective. Olivia Taylor ’22 chose to research Marcus Garvey and his relationship to the NAACP and W.E.B Du Bois. She said, “I ended up picking a research-based class over a traditional history class because I was more into the independent curriculum.” Billy Meneses ’22 is examining the role of art in the NAACP through a particular exhibition, “An Art Commentary on Lynching”.

He said, “ I am interested in the topic because art can have intentional, political motives, and simultaneously have a transformational impact on the viewer.”

Other student projects include “Lesser-known artists of the Harlem Renaissance,” and “Investigating Mahogany face carvings on Troutbeck Manor House exterior.” The objective of the event — which school community members are encouraged to attend — is for attendees to leave with a deeper understanding of slavery and racism in America.

Anika Balwada ’23 said, “While we have a lot of amazing courses at Hotchkiss, students should be better informed of these opportunities that focus on non-eurocentric history. It’s important to learn more about the history of our surrounding area.”