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Freedom Center helping teach tough history

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 18, 2021
MEDIA CONTACT: Cody Hefner (513) 608-5777,

Conversation with author Carole Boston Weatherford advocates for picture books as educational tools

CINCINNATI – America’s roughly 400-year history is complex. Its heroes rise and fall. Its morals exist in shades of gray. Its most prominent characters are often relegated to the shadows, sidelines and footnotes. As educators work to carve through the storybook veneer of American history, they’re often confronted with tough topics they may not be prepared to teach to students who may or may not be ready to hear it.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is hoping its latest educator resource, Teaching Tough History: An Interview with Carole Boston Weatherford, may give educators the tools and confidence to help their students unpack America’s messy history.

Weatherford is the author of the picture book Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre. Her book is a beautiful and moving work that depicts the vibrancy of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, the racially-motivated violence that destroyed it in 1921 and the Black community’s resilience in the face of that terrorism. On teaching young people about the trauma of racism in American history, Weatherford said, “We adults cannot let our own discomfort about discussing these issues deny children the truth…. Children deserve and demand the truth.”

One successful format for introducing sensitive and difficult topics is picture books. Don’t let the format fool you. Picture books can be wonderfully complex while presenting difficult concepts in approachable formats. The comforting format, use of illustrations and segmented prose allow children to process information and generate questions. The shorter length can be an asset for teachers with time constraints and students with limited attention spans while still promoting critical thinking and inquiry.

“My books tend to largely be introductions and to make kids want to find out more on their own,” adds Weatherford. “They are designed to provoke questions and sometimes those questions are tough questions, but that’s to be expected. We want our children to think.”

Educators and anyone interested in learning more about how to address tough topics in American history with children can view the full 20-minute interview with Weatherford here.

Additional resources about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre can be found at, including:

- Inquiry: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, part of the Freedom Center’s social justice curriculum (still in development), designed for grades 8-12.
- A dramatic reading of Weatherford’s Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, read by Tamar Greene, who portrays George Washington in Hamilton on Broadway. Provided by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
- The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Tribute to Black Wall Street, two compositions honoring the vibrant Greenwood neighborhood destroyed during the Tulsa Race Massacre. One video is a tribute to jazz saxophonist and band leader Hal Singer who was born in Greenwood, OK in 1919 and survived the massacre. The other is titled Jubilee, a composition celebrating Black Wall Street and its inspiration for a brighter future.

The Freedom Center’s program on Teaching Tough History was made possible through the generous support of PNC Bank.

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