‘Finding truth in history’ (WITH GALLERY)

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Burlington Elementary students look over the flavors at Austin’s at The Market in Huntington on Saturday. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

MU professor, civil rights activist honors Burlington students

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Since 2017, second grade students at Burlington Elementary School have taken part in the Living Wax Museum, in which they portray notables from history, whether it is past presidents, athletes, artists, scientists, explorers or others.

But this year marked the first time where one of the subjects came to thank the students in person.

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In the last school year’s museum, Jaden Young decided to portray Phil Carter, the Marshall University social work professor who led efforts to desegregate Huntington businesses when he was a student athlete in the 1960s.

Angela Linthicum, Young’s mother, said she and her son wanted to focus on a local figure.

“Someone who really made an impact on the area,” she said.

As part of the projects, students research the lives of their subject. In the case of Young, he contacted Carter and interviewed him about his life.

While Carter was out of town at the time of the Living Wax Museum back in February, he saw photos of Young’s completed costume and had reached out to thank him for the honor.

From left, Hugh Scott, Ann Simms, John Hennen, Fred Fox and Phil Carter address Burlington Elementary students at an ice cream social on Saturday. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

The wax museum came for Carter on the heels of another recognition. A few months earlier, the city of Huntington had renamed a portion of Ninth Street in his honor.

This week, as the new academic

year was about to begin, Carter decided to do something to show, not just his appreciation for Young’s projects, but to honor all of the students who took part in last year’s museum.

He invited everyone from the second grade classes, along with faculty, to Austin’s at the Market in Huntington on Saturday, where they were treated to an ice cream social, courtesy of Carter and his wife, Beverly.

Principal David Ashworth introduced Carter to the students, pointing out “the great work he’s done for people of our area.”

For Young, it was the first time he had seen the professor in person. Linthicum said it had come as a surprise to him, with her son exclaiming, “It’s him,” when he first spotted Carter at The Market.

Ashworth had each student introduce themself and tell the crowd who they chose to portray for the wax museum.

Carter began by explaining to students that he was there “to congratulate Burlington elementary students, teachers, their librarian and principal for helping you start down this road of going about the job of trying to find truth in history.”

He then introduced the students to a group of speakers he had invited, who he said were “people here interested in doing history and making history.”

One was John Hennen, a Marshall University graduate who has taught history at both Morehead State University and Virginia Tech.

Hennen, who took part in social actions with Carter during his time as a college student, said he first encountered him when he was a boy, about the students’ age, and Carter was a basketball player at Marshall.

“He’s never backed down when he ran against hard times,” Hennen said. “He’s always stayed at it.”

He said Carter was “an inspiration” and that the students were, too, for their interest in learning about history.

“You guys have a bright future,” he said.

Fred Fox, of Ironton, is the uncle of Carter’s wife.

Carter describes him as a “guy who knows everyone” and a “giving and philanthropic” individual, whether it is by giving away food he raises in his garden, or doing things for the Ironton community, such as driving around those in need of transportation.

Fox pointed out that Carter had arrived for the event from Pittsburgh.

“This man drove 275 miles to meet you today,” he said.

Fox said he had seen photos of the wax museum in the paper and was “impressed” with the subjects the students had chosen to portray, for their commitment to bringing about positive change.

Jaden Young portrayed Marshall University professor Phil Carter in last school year’s Living Wax Museum event at Burlington Elementary School in February. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

On the value of history, he said “it is important to understand where you come from,” and, to illustrate his point, he read a poem he had written, “Who are you?” which he presented to the students’ teacher, Courtney Ray.

“I know you: Where you are, I once was, too,” Fox read. “Do what’s right along the way. It will get better, day by day. Stay strong. It won’t take long. These words I say are true, and where I am now, you will be, too.”

As an addendum, Fox told the students, “Anybody can be a nobody. You are going to be somebody.”

Ray said the piece perfectly captured the lessons she tries to instill in the students each year for the project.

“I had chills,” she said.

Ray began the wax museum event with her fellow second grade teachers, Mary Matney and Amanda Clay.

While Clay and Matney have moved on from teaching second grade at the school, Ray continues the project with the current second grade classes and their teachers and it has become a tradition at the school that students look forward to taking part in.

Also a part of the speaker lineup was Hugh Scott, a former Ironton city council member and businessman and current mayoral candidate.

“I want you to know you have purpose in life,” Scott told the students. “Always reach for your goal and never forget you have purpose on this earth.”

After the presentations, Carter proclaimed, “and now, ice cream for everybody!”

As the students enjoyed the treat, the diverse group was representative of what Ann Simms, a civil rights attorney, had told them in her presentation, in which she spoke of Carter’s efforts to “bring justice and equality to Huntington” in those civil rights demonstrations at segregated eateries, which had existed only blocks away.

“Now, no matter what color, or what you look like, we are able to sit together,” she said.

Sims imparted one more lesson on the students.

“Know as children, you have the power to make change,” she said.

Carter said Saturday’s event was made possible with help from Taylor Strickland, the owner of the Austin’s location. 

Students at Burlington return to school for a new academic year today.