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Parks kept her seat, but not alone

Students will compete nationally with a project that recalls forgotten heroes.

Published May 20, 2007


It was supposed to be a history fair project on Rosa Parks, the iconic civil rights leader best known for her refusal in 1955 to give up her bus seat to a white man.

But the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that helped change the nation's segregationist course and launched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the forefront of the civil rights movement took on a life of its own for four Gibbs High students this year.

Through extensive research, the teens identified other women who also made a profound impact on the bus boycott but never received the same recognition as Parks.

"We decided, 'Let's bring out more about someone who hasn't been shown the same kind of glory, ' " said Actavia Cardona, 17.

The result is an emotional one-act play called We Shall Overcome about three women who took a stand against segregation during a tumultuous time in American history. The Gibbs students - Cardona, Angelique Allen, 17, Siobhan Roland, 17, and Ashley Donald, 16 - will go to the National History Day competition in June after winning first place in the state for their group performance.

In researching the bus boycott, the young women learned about JoAnn Robinson, who helped propel the bus boycott after she was verbally humiliated by a bus driver in 1949. But it was the story of Claudette Colvin that fascinated them.

Colvin was just a teenager in March 1955, when she also refused to move for a white passenger - nine months before the incident that vaulted Parks to prominence.

Using genealogy resources, the students found out Colvin was still alive. With their teacher, Michelle Hoffman, they flew to New York to talk to Colvin in person.

"I think she was actually waiting for someone to tell her story, " said Allen.

Once back in St. Petersburg, their project began a metamorphosis. Instead of focusing solely on Parks, the teens decided to broaden their historical performance to include Colvin and Robinson.

Donald said she learned that some of the most influential people are overlooked in history books. "It is possible for people to be involved and be completely forgotten."

The Gibbs quartet will see some familiar faces at the national competition. Students from East Lake High in Tarpon Springs and Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg also will compete.

"We had more winners than any other county other than Escambia, (which) has every student and teacher participate in the entire county, " said Alan Kay, Pinellas fair coordinator. Kay, a history teacher at East Lake High, will send juniors Stephanie Reisberg and Alexa Wood, who came in second place in the senior group exhibit category at the state history fair for their project on Agent Orange, the herbicide used by U.S. military forces for nearly a decade during the Vietnam War. The chemical was used to clear foliage that provided cover for enemy forces.

"I think this project has opened up history for me, " said Reisberg, 17.

Reisberg and Wood, 17, said they picked the topic because it was something that neither they nor many of their classmates had heard about.

Shorecrest students Gabe Neustadt, 16, and Brett Davidson, 13, qualified for the nationals with individual projects.

Neustadt placed second in the state for his historical paper on the Gracchi brothers, a plebeian family of ancient Rome credited as martyrs for social reform.

Davidson won first place in the state competition in the junior individual exhibit category for his project on the infamous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in 1804. Davidson interviewed Thomas Fleming, a historian and the author of Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America.

All of the students applied this year's theme of "Triumph and Tragedy" to their projects.

For the Gibbs students, they found tragedy in the discrimination the women faced, as well as the fact that Colvin and Robinson aren't properly recognized alongside Parks. But the students found triumph in each of the women's lives and the way they helped shape the future of the civil rights movement.

This will be the first year that Gibbs students compete at nationals, Hoffman said. "It's been an inspiring year ... which is, for me, better than a year's paycheck, " she said.

Fast Facts:

National History Day

The 2006-2007 National History Day competition will be June 10-14 at the University of Maryland in College Park. For information, visit the Web site at

[Last modified May 19, 2007, 20:29:34]

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