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Read Evansville Seeks to Teach Love of Reading, History in Third Year of Books and Programs

July 22 activity shared local African American 'history walk' as tie in to teens book choice 'Clean Getaway'

Educator Charles Sutton is standing with dozens of local middle and high schoolers near the site of a former black-owned newspaper ‘The Argus’ on Lincoln Avenue in Evansville. He’s delivering a history lesson.

“We had different organizations that existed, churches, have been businesses that existed on this street right here,” Sutton said. “If you think about the book, ‘Clean Getaway’ we learn about this history, not just to celebrate the history of what we accomplished. But to understand that's how we got here today.”

July 22 was the applied part of the Read Evansville program, with the intent of inspiring reading in the gaps between school years.

It’s a collaboration with the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library and various local educators and partners which distributes books throughout the year.

“So we've just been handing out books, but one of the things that we tried to do for the older youth, so middle grades and up so young adults and middle grades was select a couple books, read those books, and then provide some activities for them to do,” Sutton said.

Read Evansville Co-Chair Patricia Weinzapfel said July is the perfect time to offer these programs to students.

“There's an opportunity to do some activities with kids that will get them interested in reading,” she said. “Each summer we choose a certain book. Our book for middle and high school students this year is called ‘Clean Getaway.’”

This 2020 novel by Nic Stone is about an 11-year-old African American child exploring the racial history of the south with his G’ma.

Today, teens from various local summer programs are learning about the local history of a vibrant mid-century black community along the Lincoln Avenue Corridor.

“So this is a historical trail,” Sutton said. “And they have different markers that celebrate or talk about the different events like Lincoln school, Argus newspaper, The Lincoln Gardens is, which was the museum.”

After exploring this historical trail, participants walked back to the Evansville African American Museum.

Here, Read Evansville co-founder and longtime community leader and educator Lana Burton asks the teens about what they've learned so far. She taught them that the area was called “Baptist Town” because of the bevy of Baptist churches back then.

Program participants look over the Lincoln Avenue Corridor neighborhood sketches July 22.
Tim Jagielo
Program participants look over the Lincoln Avenue Corridor neighborhood sketches July 22.

Then, they were able to explore the museum and check out a visual representation of the Lincoln Avenue Corridor as it might have appeared in the mid century, drawn on a long scroll of paper from memory.

Students crowd the laminated mural as Weinzapfel points out some businesses that existed, such as a butcher or grocer.

Local resident Robert Johnson rendered 41 structures along the corridor. This is what struck student Kiari Thomas, 14.

“How somebody would like remembered about the black owned businesses and like, just remembered and do it by detail. It fascinated me. I like it.”

Weinzapfel said she’s always curious to see what stays with the students long after such activities.

“I think what's interesting about activities like this is that you never know what part of that they'll take,” she said. “You never know what little bit it's going to spark a love of history or music or a commitment to education or a commitment to journalism. You just never know. So that's what I think is exciting.”

Sutton said one of the main themes in the book “Clean Getaway” is that everyone can learn about their history through their own experiences.

“So hopefully, we create an experience,” Sutton said of the activity. “ I know it was kind of hot and sort of made up, but we created an experience that allowed them to sort of walk around their local area to understand what used to be here. So I hope that they take that away, but I personally hope that they understand how other forms of what we might call 'education,' or 'knowledge' can be sort of spread through music.”

Sutton says much can be learned through studying the history of former music educator Alfred Porter.

“So some of the important things that we celebrate is Alfred Porter's house right here," he said. "The museum has several musical exhibits exhibits. So if you could think about how music can also spread and be and was created to share knowledge and past knowledge.”

If you’d like to donate or partner with the Read Evansville program, you can find them on Facebook.