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Island's gonna sink Marguerite Rivas sipoet sipoet1@aol.com Hey RS and all youse guys,
It is a challenge for teachers to link the present and the past. It is important to inject some local history into the curriculum. I have school age children, and the only local history they seem to learn is from me.When they do social studies projects, I try to steer them to StatNisland history. When I taught seventh grade years ago, I made sure that I covered local history. I supplemented my text with material from the Staten Island Historical Society. There are some museum based programs that do outreach to the schools, but this is only enrichment, not part of the curriculum. By all accounts, however, they are wonderful programs. I worked for a parks department program as a nature educator and we did some programs on the Lenape. The kids enjoyed them. There is a history professor at CSI who weaves some StatNisland history into her courses, as do I. I always conclude my American literature courses with a Staten Island literary history section. I have the students read selections from Markham, Florence Morse Kingsley, Thoreau, and George Curtis. I include Langston Hughes because he lived here for a summer and worked on a truck farm. I include part of his autobiography in which he describes the menacing mosquitoes and the fast girls in Paw Richmun. My students love it. This semester we studied the autobiography of Sojourner Truth, a freed slave and one of the great orators of the 19th century by many accounts. We came across an interesting fact -- she was "owned" or employed, I'm not sure which, for a time in New York City by a man named LaTourette. Still looking into that one. There are Staten Island connections all around if you look for them.
Anyway, it would seem that slavery ended in NY State in 1827, so I'm not sure how it came to be abolished on Staten Island two years earlier. In 1800 a law was passed here declaring all blacks born after its passage free. Nicholas DeHart was the last black born into slavery here. The last slave to die here was a man named Benjamin Perine. He was "owned" by the pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church and was freed when he was about 29. He lived to the ripe old age of 104. There is an exhibit at the Alice Austen House now which includes his picture.

Staten Island history has always been a life-long love. It has sparked my imagination. The more that I read now, the more astounded that I am. RS when you said that WWI happened here it really struck a chord. I had a family member who was never quite right and it seemed that he had been gassed. I read a book recently called Flu that was about the 1918 influenza outbreak and they mentioned a military camp in New York as having a widespread epidemic. So many of the young soldiers died there. I went back to check my list of WWI dead from the island, and sure enough, some of our own boys had died there, too. It really made me realize that, although we are somewhat isolated, we are part of the larger picture.
It's a shame. My step-kids who go to Curtis don't even know who George William Curtis was. Wouldn't you think they would teach that in an orientation session?
My daughter told her science teacher that Antonio Meucci -- a StatNislander --invented the telephone but that Bell beat him to the patent. I don't know that she bought it, but my daughter brought in her StatNisland history book just the same. Now why weren't we taught this stuff? There needs to be a local history curriculum. Sounds like a good project for me once I get this damn schooling of my own over with.
Marguerite



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