Bay Ridge

Doctoral student conducts civil rights research at Adelphi

January 20, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Doctoral candidate Katherine Perrotta guides students through a lesson. Photo courtesy of Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn
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Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn hosted Katherine Perrotta, a doctoral candidate from Georgia State University, who recently spent time at the Bay Ridge private school teaching a series of lessons to the academy’s middle and upper school classes on a little-known 19th century civil rights pioneer.

Perrotta’s lessons centered on Elizabeth Jennings Graham, an African-American resident of New York City in the 19th century who was removed from a whites-only trolley car owned by the Third Avenue Railroad Company.

The lessons were conducted to see if students were able to demonstrate empathy with a historical figure such as Jennings, according to Perrotta.

“Adelphi was in existence during Jennings’ lifetime, which to me was significant because she was a school teacher. Jennings set an important precedent for African-Americans to use the legal system to challenge segregation ordinances prior to the Civil War, but she remains a relatively obscure civil rights activist. I wanted to gauge students’ knowledge of historical empathy using Jennings’ case as part of my study,” Perrotta said.

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Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn, located at 8515 Ridge Boulevard, was founded in 1863 and was originally located in Downtown Brooklyn.

Perrotta said Adelphi Academy was the “perfect place” to teach her lessons, due to its small class sizes and diverse student population.

Students first learned background information about Jennings’ case through the analysis of primary and secondary source documents. Using the information from these materials, the students then participated in a series of discussions and debates about how her case is tied to future civil rights cases.  

“The students showed a great deal of historical empathy during this portion of the lessons, most likely because they were able to express how they both comprehended the reading and writing materials and they shared their feelings on the subject,” Perrotta said.

During the course of her research at Adelphi Academy, Perrotta said she felt like a full member of the academy’s staff. She expressed her gratitude to the faculty and administration, particularly Head of School Iphigenia Romanos, whom she said was “very welcoming to me and very receptive to me conducting my study here.”  

Perrotta is eager to complete the analysis of her findings and said she is looking forward to sharing them with Adelphi’s staff.

“I was so impressed with the school that I hope further research I conduct could include building a comprehensive history of Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn in the context of historical education and the socio-economic development of Brooklyn and New York City since the 19th century. Who knows — there could be a connection between Elizabeth Jennings and Adelphi!” she said.


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