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UNCW Hosts NEH Summer Institute on 1898 Wilmington Coup

Twenty-five middle and high school teachers from 12 states will gather at UNCW July 8-19 for a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute that focuses on the 1898 Wilmington coup and massacre, the only successful coup d’état in the nation’s history.

The summer institute, funded by a $167,000 NEH grant, brings sixth through 12th-grade educators together to study important topic in humanities and integrate their newfound knowledge into their classrooms. More than 100 educators from across the country submitted applications for the two-week residential program. This is the first time since 1997 that UNCW has hosted an NEH summer institute.

Titled “Wilmington 1898: Geographies of Rage, Resistance and Resilience,” the institute is led by UNCW Watson College of Education Assistant Professor Cara Ward, who serves as the director, and co-directors Tiffany Gilbert, professor and chair of the English department, and Lynn Mollenauer, an associate professor of history, both faculty in the College of Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts.

“This institute focuses on Wilmington as a case study for understanding the exercise of democracy in the United States,” said Mollenauer. “We hope that the curricula and place-based applied learning projects that the teachers develop here will help their students understand both the complexity and the resilience of democracy in the 20th century and learn how historical events connect to present-day issues in the democratic process.”

Participants will visit landmarks related to 1898, such as Love and Charity Hall, where Alexander Manly’s Daily Record was printed and later destroyed, St. Stephen AME Church, and neighborhoods where Black Wilmingtonians built schools, businesses, medical practices, and civic organizations. Educators also will have the opportunity to engage with leading scholars, filmmakers, authors, and descendants of those impacted by the 1898 Wilmington massacre and coup.

“This direct interaction will provide a rich learning experience, enhancing their understanding of the history of the Wilmington massacre and coup and its centrality within the broader national discourse on democratic values,” said Mollenauer. “The institute will also provide the teachers a unique opportunity to develop curricula to help their students understand the complexity of 1898 as a critically important historical event rooted in geographic place.”

The institute's guest speakers include a lineup of distinguished voices: David Zucchino, Pulitzer Prize-winning author; Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at Ohio State University; filmmaker Chris Everett; and historian David Cecelski. Local experts in the institute include Bertha Boykin Todd from the 1898 Memorial Commission, Terry Jackson of the Giblem Lodge, Joel Finsel from the Third Person Project, and Cedric Harrison from WilmingtoNColor and Support the Port. These presentations are a part of professional development sessions and are not open to the public. 

“Community partners are an essential part of this institute; the history of Wilmington couldn't be accurately conveyed without the voices of those who live and work here,” said Mollenauer.

Representatives from statewide organizations bringing their expertise include a team from PBS NC, currently finalizing a documentary on the 1898 events for the “American Experience” series, LeRae Umfleet from the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and Christie Norris from Carolina Public Humanities.

The Summer Institute originated from the collaborative efforts of Gilbert and Mollenauer and was initiated under the guidance of The 1898 Legacies and Futures Research Collective. The collective works with a diverse range of academic disciplines and professional units at UNCW to promote collaborative inquiry, encourage knowledge-sharing, and increase the visibility of the critical work on 1898 and its legacies. The work began in 2020 during the pandemic with the support of the former College of Arts and Sciences and in partnership with The Third Person Project.