Exploring The FOG MACHINE: Academic Pilot

Mississippi’s McComb High and Washington’s The Overlake School Adopt
The FOG MACHINE in Innovative Pilot Program for Civil Rights Education


“Immensely enjoyable, with characters you want to know what happens to after the book ends. Covers the high points of the movement from both sides of the color line. Offers young adult readers a way to understand the world and history through relationships—the way they learn best.”

Vickie Malone, McComb High social studies teacher, whose Local Culture class informed Mississippi’s K-12 public school mandated civil rights education curriculum; collaborator with San Francisco’s The Urban School on Telling Their Stories Oral History Archives Project


As author Barbara Kingsolver said in a 2012 NPR interview for her novel Flight Behavior, fiction has the power to create “empathy for the theoretical stranger.”


Students at Mississippi’s McComb High and Washington’s The Overlake School put this theory to the test by reading The FOG MACHINE.

Their teachers, Vickie Malone and David Bennett, set out to explore the value of historical fiction in teaching history to young people. More essentially, they sought a shared language to allow the students to talk about civil rights history and race when Overlake visited McComb in April 2014.

Indeed, the two schools are worlds apart.

Bob Moses came to McComb in 1961 to begin the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in helping secure voting rights for Mississippi’s black citizens. Herbert Lee, a black farmer, was murdered for his role in the campaign, as was witness Lewis Allen. In 1964, SNCC arrived in force as part of Freedom Summer. Violence escalated, earning McComb the name “the bombing capital of the world.” Today, the McComb school district is predominantly black, and the median household income (2011) is $28,000.

In contrast, The Overlake School is a private college prep day school with an enviably low student-teacher ratio in the affluent suburb of Redmond, Washington. Overlake’s Service Learning Program, part of Project Week, emphasizes experiential learning. The 2014 group of twelve students and two teachers was the second to visit McComb and other sites of significance in the civil rights movement.

With its report “Teaching the Movement: The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States 2011,” the Southern Poverty Law Center hoped to “spark a national conversation about the importance of teaching America’s students about the modern civil rights movement.” Mississippi, one of only 12 states to receive a grade of C or higher and the first to mandate civil rights education in public schools K-12, rolled out its curriculum in 2011. McComb High and Vickie Malone’s Local Culture class served as a model for the Mississippi curriculum.

As Henry Louis Gates Jr. said in The Root, August 12, 2013: “Want a meaningful ‘conversation about race’? That conversation, to be effective and to last, to become part of the fabric of the national American narrative, must start in elementary school, and continue all the way through graduation from high school.”

As Bob Moses said to SNCC workers gathered in McComb in 1964, singing “I’m on My Way to the Freedom Land” shortly after the Freedom House was bombed: “If you can’t go, let your children go.”

Let the national conversation begin.


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