Living in Charleston, South Carolina my students are no stranger to housing discrimination. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, housing uncertainty is increasing in the community. The lesson “Stealing Home: Eminent Domain, Urban Renewal, and the Loss of Community,” taught over several days, served as a great opportunity to help my students make connections between historical housing discrimination and current issues in the community.
I began the lesson with a comparison of photos and stories. First, Aurora Vargas being carried out of her home and then a recent CNN story about people being evicted during the pandemic. Students were asked to compare and contrast what they were seeing and reasons people could be removed from their homes.
We then talked through the Dodger Stadium story and talked about all the ways the people fought back and what “eminent domain” means. Eminent Domain is personal to my students because there is a current push in Charleston to replace a section of low-income neighborhoods with a freeway. Students were able to make a lot of connections between Dodger Stadium and what they are seeing in Charleston.
We finished by talking about Thomas’ Albina Poem. Students read it and shared their reactions to it. I then showed them photos of how the neighborhood around our school has changed in the last decade. We talked about gentrification and several students were able to share how their families have been affected by all the changes in Charleston. After looking at photos I again asked them to reflect on the poem and what they think the future of Charleston holds.
In reflection, students expressed that they liked being able to talk about these issues that our community faces and use words like “gentrification” to describe what they have experienced. They also expressed a desire to dig deeper into the historical aspects of how racism shapes Charleston.