Henry County Local, Eminence, Dec. 14, 2016
English class plots a new story for Henry County
BY CHRIS BROOKE
While Henry County might seem like a place where nothing much happens, research by Henry County Middle School eighth grade English students unearthed enough stories to write a book on it.
Inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s praised TED talk, “The danger of a single story,” Henry County Middle School English teacher Jessica Crenshaw challenged her students to look beyond the negative perceptions about the place where they live and find out more. Beyond learning the kinds of skills it would take to tell local history — researching, writing, editing, organization and laying out pages — the teacher wanted her students to take away something else from the lesson: pride.
“There seemed to be a lot of incomplete stories about Henry County, and not even some of my students took pride in that,” Crenshaw said. “The kids should be proud of where they come from.” So, she crafted a project where the students would find out more local history, assigning students to study people, events and places, present and past. The students went to the Henry County Public
Library to read up on local information and check out their genealogical records, much of which isn’t available online.
The students found a lot of material to write about: the original Henry County Courthouse was a log cabin, and community members worked hard to get the clock from the current courthouse restored; the murder of Verna Garr Taylor and the involvement of Lt. Gov. Henry Denhardt; how the Ku Klux Klan brought racial terror here; that the Eminence Depot serves as a relic from when trains provided
the main means of long distance transportation.
Maggie Banta learned the settlers weren’t actually the first people to arrive in what would later become Henry County.
“They acquired a bunch of land — they were trying to break away from the English,” she said. “My article is about how the Native Americans were really angry when [the settlers] came here, so they kidnapped some of their kids and killed them.”
Abbi Wood wrote her piece from her grandmother’s perspective about riding the train when she was just 4 years old all the way to Morehead.
Students talked about events that are happening today or things that affect the people today, Jagger Rice said. He wrote about the day in the life of a farmer.
Other students taking on current topics wrote about the Bethlehem nativity scene, the courthouse clock, the settling of the Amish here and their store and the Smithfield mills.
There was so much to choose from, Rice said he changed his mind about his topic several times.
The courthouse clock is 130 years old, originally cost $500 and still operates today thanks to a recent restoration, Ella White learned.
Looking back helped Bridgette Keeling realize how much has changed in Henry County.
“When the KKK was in our county, there was a lot of racial violence going on,” she said. “For me to reflect on [the difference] from what it is now to how our community has been like, it’s come together. We’re pretty much a family, I guess you could say.”
Rice could have written about any number of topics, but in the end he selected agrarian, author and activist Wendell Berry for his piece. His work resulted in a happy surprise for him. His article discusses how a documentary crew showed examples of Berry’s farming philosophy through local farmers’ practices.
“One of the produces [of the documentary] was Nick Offerman, he’s from ‘Parks and Recreation’ — that’s like my favorite show ever,” Rice said. “I ended up telling her that, and she asked for my mailing address and they sent me a signed book. That was just cool.”
The entire class efforts will result in a book entitled, “Beyond the Backroads.”
“It’s going to be in the library, so the kids of our kids could read this book, they can learn about when we grew up,” Jarrett Smith said.
The book will show that this place isn’t boring when so much has happened here, the students said. And the students enjoyed the project more because it could reach more county residents and give them a greater understanding about Henry County.
“It’s cool that we’re going to have a book and publish it about the county that we live in,” Mia Hall said.
Henry County Public Library’s Suzanne Banta was glad to make the library’s resources available and looks forward to adding the finished product to its stacks. She has sought opportunities to collaborate with the schools, and she agrees with the goals.
“Our goals are the same — to have these kids become successful adults,” Banta said. “I was just excited about being involved in the project. I’m from here so I know that the ‘single story’ was hard to listen to and hard to change.”
The library will also give the students a chance to publicly promote their project with a reception Dec. 14 from 6 to 7 p.m., Banta said. The students will give presentations about what they learned about Henry County during their research.