Guest Blog: Remember Dr. Shirley Turpin-Parham

20120213_dn_0lzb0uslAfter February’s exciting free e-download of Free! Great Escapes from Slavery on the Underground Railroad I was delighted to see how many educators downloaded not just the book, but also the curriculum guide, written by educator and historian Jacqueline Wiggins, who describes herself as a “somewhat’ retired person with more than forty years experience as a teacher/educator, non-profit administrator, and resource development consultant who is now thinking more and more about becoming a writer.” When I asked her to reflect on her own inspiration for writing curricula, she went right to her experience with—and love for—Dr. Shirley Turpin-Parham. –LC


Dr. Shirley Turpin-Parham (1938-2012) was my mentor and friend. For the 97th Annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History I fashioned a paper title that I thought appropriate to honor her: “Uncompromising Woman Warrior Educator: Sharer of the History, Serious Activist Educator, Sincere Mentor and Friend.” Though retired from the School District of Philadelphia after 33 years, Dr. Shirley Turpin-Parham was relentless in her teaching everyone—teachers, young, old, tour guides, historians—to respect the history of Black people in general, and Black Philadelphia in particular. How perfect that I was invited to participate by Dr. Diane Turner, Curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, and author of scholarly works—and a children’s history picture book, My Name is Oney Judge.

One of Dr. Parham’s requests before her death was that her dissertation be published. “A History of Black Public Education in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1864-1914” is a careful and prescient study that documents racism, underfunding of public schools, lack of access and equity, and, the indifference of individuals and groups to the history of Black people in the Americas. She also chronicles the work of brilliant educators, activists, and organizations whose work with Black children might otherwise go unnoted. A few names of note include: Sarah Mapps Douglass, Octavius Catto, Prince Saunders, Charlotte Forten, Cordelia Jennings, the Pennsylvania Augustine Society (1818), the Reading Room Society (1828), the Rush Literary and Debating Society (1836), and others.

The task of preparing the dissertation for a general audience now rests with Dana King, former curriculum supervisor in African and African American Studies for the School District of Philadelphia, and currently a law student at the Charlotte School of Law, and myself. We will review this scholarly document, revise and condense it for possible publication by 2014. Meanwhile, as our fierce teacher Dr. Parham, or if your comfort level was such, Shirley, or Dr. Shirley, would encourage, please read, read, and read some more about the history of Africa and African Americans! And, if you’re here in Philadelphia, do join one of two local branches of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The PhilaMontco Branch meets the last Sunday of the month on the campus of Arcadia University in the Castle Building at 3:00p.m. The Philadelphia Heritage Branch meets the second Saturday of the month at 12 Noon at historic Berean Presbyterian Church in North Philadelphia.

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