Aaron Drake

This class was a roller coaster ride of emotions, stress, and wavering optimism. But I couldn’t have asked for a better history course to increase my appreciation and understanding of History as a field of study, while engraining a critical understanding of lynchings and their place in American history. I also couldn’t have asked for a better professor than Dr. John Giggie. This class truly offered us the chance to explore a relevant and controversial topic: the lynchings of more than 4000 African Americans between 1880 and 1940 in the American south. I can say with utmost certainty that I wouldn’t have connected with prominent community figures, such as our friends at the Equal Justice Initiative, had I not taken this course. I also now have experience with extended research and developing ways to communicate this research to the public, such as word clouds and a digital humanities website. Dr. Giggie, and all the professionals who helped us during the semester, succeeded in guiding us during this poignant and multi-faceted class. All one-hundred of the emails were necessary as we navigated this pilot-course and got a glimpse of what it’s like to be a part of “changing the narrative,” as Bryan Stevenson would say. I was never taught about the history of lynching, and there isn’t anywhere in this country we can go to learn about it. That is a major disappointment because the national impact of lynchings in America is extremely relevant today. That’s why I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to study the historical and contemporary relevance of lynching. And being able to research lynchings in Tuscaloosa, especially the story of John Durrett, was an honor. It was very difficult, and sometimes I didn’t think I would make it through. But the research process proved rewarding as it forced me and my partner to take some creative routes. Ultimately my appreciation for the field of History, and the power of public memory, has grown tenfold. This class was especially rewarding for me because it allowed me to go toe-to-toe with our nation’s past and take a step forward towards diminishing the presumption of danger and criminality that has followed black and brown people since slavery. Somehow, this roller coaster ride was where I believe my passion and purpose have collided. My optimism shall persevere, and I will use it as motivation to fuel my future career of serving the under-served and underrepresented.