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Church Tragedy Inspires Many To Learn More About Charleston's History

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The killings in Charleston last week offered many echoes of history. That includes violence targeted at a church. Kidada Williams teaches history at Wayne State University in Detroit.

KIDADA WILLIAMS: African-American churches have always been targeted. They have never been safe spaces when it comes to white supremacists who are looking to express their - or vent their frustrations in life on African-Americans.

MONTAGNE: Kidada and her colleague Chad Williams at Brandeis University wanted to help those outside of the African-American community better understand that history, so they started tweeting, using the hashtag #CharlestonSyllabus.

WILLIAMS: We started tweeting primary and secondary sources about Charleston history, about African-American churches. We asked other historians to chime in, and then it just grew from there.

MONTAGNE: Social media users have offered up documents, including South Carolina's Declaration of Secession from the Union, which ignited the Civil War.

WILLIAMS: That was something that a lot of people retweeted because they weren't familiar with that document.

MONTAGNE: Which is the point. Kidada Williams sees the lessons of history reaching new people, far beyond the academic world.

WILLIAMS: The audience is the larger public, ordinary people who are watching the news and trying to understand - where did a shooting like this come from?

MONTAGNE: The effort has shown people many different ways they can visit the past.

WILLIAMS: You know, a well-written historical (unintelligible) is something that's accessible. A museum exhibit in South Carolina, in Charleston, would be a great place for people to begin. So would documentaries. I think one of the things that we saw on the list was that people were open to embracing all of the resources for understanding this history.

MONTAGNE: But for Kidada Williams, understanding history is not necessarily the ultimate goal.

WILLIAMS: I hope that what happens is that people look at the resources, and they learn, and they turn that knowledge into action.

MONTAGNE: That's Kidada Williams, an associate professor of history at Wayne State University, who helped start the hashtag #CharlestonSyllabus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.