Eastern Michigan University professor receives $169K grant to launch institute for exploring unsung civil rights narratives

A close-up view of the definition of "civil rights" in a dictionary.

YPSILANTI- The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded Matthew Kautz, assistant professor for leadership and counseling at Eastern Michigan University, a $169,600  grant to pursue an educational institute for K-12 educators called Democracy and Education: A view from Detroit. The funding will help implement a two-week residential institute for 25 middle and high school educators to learn the impact of Northern civil rights activism and civic participation in Detroit. 

Matthew Kautz

The institute will include a combination of scholarly presentations, conversations with Civil Rights Movement veterans, collaboration with local artists, students, and parents, walking tours, and exploration of the unique archival collections at Wayne State’s Walter P. Reuther Library.

“By examining the interweaving threads of law and social movements in Detroit during the twentieth century through the institute, participants will be able to use Detroit’s educational history as a launch pad for considering the full breadth of what civic engagement can mean and how public policy and law shape their everyday lives alongside their students,” said Kautz. 

Educators in middle and high schools are familiar with the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954) due to the significance of the case’s decision, in which the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.

The foundation for this institute stems from another Supreme Court decision, Milliken v. Bradley (1974), which overturned the lower courts in a five to four decision, holding that school districts were not obligated to desegregate unless it had been proven that the lines were drawn with racist intent. By teaching teachers to incorporate the historic case decision, its history, and its impact on their students, the educators will have the opportunity to study Black Detroiters’ struggle for access to equity in education from the 1860s into the present.

Northern High School was the site of a sustained student rebellion in the 1960s. This is an image of Northern High School in Detroit in 2007. (Photo by Mikerussell/Wikimedia Commons).

“The institute is structured around eight carefully selected themes that promote primary source- and inquiry-based approaches to learning,” said Professor Kautz. “These themes have been purposefully chosen by institute staff to enable the study of Detroit’s educational history chronologically and thematically. 

Kautz is co-directing this project alongside professors Terah Venzant Chambers and Sheneka Williams from Michigan State University and American Federation of Teachers Archivist Dan Golodner from Wayne State University. Additionally, two graduate students in EMU's College of Education will work on this project. The NEH grant provides funding for the institute to pay leading scholars, activists, and artists from across the country to share their insights and wisdom and offer new ways to think about teaching and learning. 

“We hope teachers will leave the institute with new ways to think and teach about democracy. To develop new lessons and units that allow students in their classrooms to query what civic engagement and what kind of democracy they hope to build for future generations,” said Kautz.

For more information about Democracy and Education: A View from Detroit and to learn more, contact Matthew Kautz at mkautz@emich.edu


About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 14,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and its graduate school. National publications regularly recognize EMU for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. Visit the University’s rankings and points of pride websites to learn more. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website. To stay up to date on University news, activities and announcements, visit EMU Today.

September 13, 2023

Written by:
Nina Scarpelli

Media Contact:
Melissa Thrasher