Chuck Yarborough in conversation with James Fallows
Chuck Yarborough, instructor, Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. Dairian Bowles and Erin Williams, MSMS students. James Fallows
For the past two decades, Chuck Yarborough has directed history-based research and performance projects at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, Mississippi. His projects – Tales from the Crypt and The Eighth of May Emancipation Celebration – challenge students to be historians, sleuths, social scientists, and storytellers, while simultaneously developing an ethic of community service and collaboration. Additionally, the projects challenge the broader community to reflect on lessons of the past with an eye toward constructing a collaborative future.
Under Yarborough’s leadership, Tales and MSMS students have earned statewide and national acclaim, and each spring the program draws hundreds of visitors to Columbus’ Friendship Cemetery as Yarborough’s students explore intersections of class, race, gender, and religion while recounting the lives and legends of some of those buried there. A year’s worth of research, writing, contextual interpretation, storytelling, and performance brings the past to life for the student performers, their classmates, the local community, and other guests. Additionally, the student-driven project has contributed more than $56,000 to local and regional charitable causes throughout the past decade, and Tales has inspired similar projects across the country.
Roughly a month after Tales from the Crypt wraps, Yarborough’s students present his “newest” local history research/performance project, the Eighth of May Emancipation Celebration. Since 2006 Yarborough’s students participating in this project have gathered in Sandfield Cemetery, an African American burial ground, to commemorate the day Federal troops reached Columbus, effectively freeing enslaved African Americans who made up the majority of the local population. Yarborough’s students also explore the conditions African Americans faced in the ensuing years, and cast an exposing light on the often-painful truth of our past while illuminating the contributions and courage of many. The Eighth of May program has increased appreciation for a more complete local history, and the project has resulted in the dedication of a state historic marker highlighting both the local and larger significance of Sandfield Cemetery and the lives of those buried there.
A graduate of Vanderbilt University and the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Yarborough serves or has served on multiple advisory or leadership boards in Mississippi. Yarborough also regularly contributes to programs and workshops supporting primary document use in classroom research: focusing on African-American History, the South, and Civil Rights in Mississippi; and illustrating the impact of student-centered research/performance projects such as Tales and the Eighth of May. Having won multiple awards for his work, Yarborough and his students have been featured in The Atlantic’s “On Teaching” series and on National Public Radio’s “50 Great Teachers.” In April 2019, he was named the Organization of American Historians Tachau Teacher of the Year.
Chuck will be accompanied in his presentation by two of his students, Dairian Bowles and Erin Williams.
A national correspondent for The Atlantic, James Fallows is co-creator, with his wife Deborah, of the publication’s American Futures project. For the last six years, James and Deborah Fallows have been traveling across America in a single-engine prop airplane and reporting on the people, organizations, and ideas re-shaping the country.
As part of their City Makers: American Futures project in partnership with The Atlantic and Marketplace, the Fallowses visited smaller and medium-sized cities, meeting civic leaders, factory workers, recent immigrants, and young entrepreneurs to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign. The Fallowses’ book, Our Towns, is the story of their journey — and an account of a country busy remaking itself, despite the challenges and paralysis of national politics.
London-based national correspondent James Fallows has written for The Atlantic since the late 1970s, living and reporting in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter and two years as the editor of US News & World Report.
James Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series “Doing Business in China.” He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. He is the author of numerous books, including Breaking the News: How the Media Undermines American Democracy and China Airborne; as well as Blind Into Baghdad and Postcards From Tomorrow Square, which are based on his writings for The Atlantic.
(Note: This biography was up-to-date as of the date of the lecture. Biographies are not updated over time.)