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History is in the Making

The Lakeville Journal Co. Editorial

You might think of Troutbeck, the hotel and wellness center in Amenia, New York, as just a lovely destination spot for weddings and other fancy family gatherings. But in fact it has a distinguished history as a meeting spot for intellectuals and political activists who were trying to revive a stalled civil rights movement. Its original owner, Joel Spingarn, was an early member and leader of the NAACP and he hosted what came to be known as the Amenia Conferences there in the early 20th century, attended by the likes of Great Barrington’s W.E.B. Du Bois, diplomat Ralph Bunche, and author Zora Neale Hurston.

So it was the perfect venue to host the second annual Troutbeck Symposium, a three-day, student-led conference at which many students from 14 public and independent middle and high schools in our area presented the results of their year-long projects. These centered on the untold stories of Black, Hispanic and Indigenous peoples from around the region and across the U.S. There were presentations from academics and professional historians, but it was the student work that really shone. It took many forms: short documentaries, a podcast, artwork, posters, a model of 19th century Cornwall Village and a digital story map.

Among the documentaries produced by the budding scholars was “Cotton,” created by Sharon Center School students to tell the story of local artist Katro Storm’s guest-teaching about cotton as a plant, an economic force, and a potent driver of slavery.

Another, produced by students at Housatonic Valley Regional High School, explored local connections to 1958 events in Little Rock, Arkansas, when state officials decided to close schools rather than integrate them. Indian Mountain School produced a video about eugenicist George Knight and the Lakeville School for Imbeciles. Cornwall Consolidated School made a “Crankie Theater” to tell the story of Cornwall’s Evangelical Christian Foreign Mission School, which brought black and indigenous people to Cornwall in an effort to convert them to Christianity and train them as ministers and missionaries.

The symposium was very successful in creating a network of young scholars, helping students from different school settings collaborate to create works of enduring value. It also made it clear that our histories, far from being set in stone, are always unfolding and changing, as new generations look with fresh eyes at historical records that have been forgotten or deliberately overlooked.

Congratulations to all the participants in the Troutbeck Symposium for their ingenuity and hard work. We look forward to seeing what the third annual symposium uncovers next year!

You can learn more about this year’s event in Leila Hawken’s report in this week’s paper, and by going to the symposium website at www.troutbeck.com/troutbeck-symposium.

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