Millennium Charter Academy’s inaugural participation in a National History Day competition went well with the team winning the competition in the Middle School and High School division. History Day Coach Matt Elder said the effort was made possible by Surry Community College history teacher Richard Shelton.
“History Day competitions have been held statewide except in the Northwest Region,” said Elder. “Some redistricting gave our area a shot. It’s a good learning experience. Judges tend to like creative, not cookie-cutter projects. Seeing a whole presentation on something that gets one line in a history book is just cool.”
He said the group had a rough start because it was the first time they had competed and said extremely in-depth research was required to prepare the team. Elder said his experience in similar competitions when he was in school helped him prepare the threesome.
“I was able to give them some advice from the experience I’d had,” added elder. “As a teacher and coach I got to point them in a direction and from then on everything else was all them.”
Elder explained each year more than half a million students nationally choose a historical topic related to the annual theme, and then conduct primary and secondary research. They may look through libraries, archives and museums, conduct oral history interviews, and visit historic sites. After analyzing and interpreting their sources, teams must draw a conclusion about the significance of their topic. They are able to present their work in one of five ways: as a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary, or a website.
The Millennium team chose the Sacco-Vansetti trial. The team members wrote a short play to dramatize the trial with each team member playing multiple parts. They also made all of the costumes they used in the original production. The play included six scenes from the trial and had a time limit of 10 minutes. The three team members participating in the play were Laura Browne, Andrew Burciu and Lindley Williams. All three said they had drama experience.
The murders Sacco and Vansetti were accused of occurred in the 1920s. A paymaster and a security guard are killed during a mid-afternoon armed robbery of a shoe company in South Braintree, Mass. This crime grew to be one of the most famous trials in American history and a landmark case in forensic crime detection. The two armed thieves, who were identified by witnesses as “Italian-looking,” fled in a Buick. The car was found abandoned in the woods several days later. Police suspected a man named Mike Boda was involved, but he had fled to Italy.
Police caught Boda’s colleagues, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were each carrying loaded weapons at the time of their arrest. Sacco had a .32 caliber handgun, the same type as was used to kill the security guards, and bullets from the same manufacturer as those recovered from the shooting. Vanzetti was identified as a participant in a previous robbery attempt of a different shoe company.
Browne pointed out Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists, believing social justice would come only through the destruction of governments. She said in the early 1920s, mainstream America had developed a fear of communism and radical politics that resulted in a anti-communist, anti-immigrant hysteria. She said the team’s research indicated bias and stereotypes had an effect on justice being served in the trial.
Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in August 1927, but even the new evidence didn’t completely stop the controversy. In October 1961, and again in March 1983, new investigations were conducted. Both investigations revealed Sacco’s revolver was indeed the one that fired the bullet and killed the security guards. On Aug. 23, 1977, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation that Sacco and Vanzetti had not received a fair trial.
“We picked this because it needed to be told,” said Browne. “We found out it’s scary about feelings and emotions against people from stereotypes. We thought they were harmless, but it’s not. Prejudice and bias certainly had an effect.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.