Articles, Blog

Research The Miracle – The 1944 Polio Epidemic

December 9, 2019


Ten years ago, hands-on history
envisioned a different way to study history. Through
contact with historical artifacts, events, and places. Connecting Catawba Valley Community
College students to the past we believe it could help them interpret the present and change the future. Following a recent
trip to Selma Alabama CVCC students share their transformative
experiences. Their accounts far exceeded expectations,
here some of what they have to say. It’s very powerful
because now we bear witness, we’ve met these people,
we heard their stories firsthand, and now we carry those with us.
It’s history that involves every sense that you have
your emotions get involved. You get to put your hands in the water
where Rosa Parks had her hands. So it involves so much more than just what you’re going to read. Living history, what we took
part in, is unbelievable and I have so much respect and I learned so
much in five days it’s unbelievable, this class
is unimaginable. Colin turns to me and says they did this
so that me you could walk down the street together, and that’s when it hit me that the Civil
Rights Movement if wouldn’t have come about, I wouldn’t have been able to walk down the street with my best friend. Going to Selma you literally get to put yourself
in the things that you’re learning and to me that makes history come alive.
A lot of people my age and younger are not aware all the brutality that
happened in South. The hate groups that are still in
existence today, we got home the trip actually looked at the actual map and realized there’s an
established hate group 20 minutes from my house. It put a more personal level on it with
me that there was a lot of stuff I couldn’t identify with. I’ve lived a pretty privileged life in
comparison, that was something that I could hold on to that I can understand because it’s real to me.
I actually returned here with a different outlook it was
like a strength, it was a healing, empowerment, and I really felt
the hurt. I felt their dedication to wanting their freedom to vote or just freedom in
general. It was like wow, the experience is just overwhelming, it’s inspiring.
In the 21st century, you don’t actually know what they’ve been
through, you don’t actually know the beatings that they had to take,
you don’t actually know about drinking from a different water fountain, or not using the same bathroom, or being dehumanized, we don’t know about that
because we weren’t there. So just actually having them there to tell us, it just opens
my mind to how good I have it now. When I usually
talk about it to somebody else, it will bring a tear to my eye. I felt like I was walking with them when they were walking in 1965, that’s what touched me, that march. While surprised we were heartened to see
the full impact of students getting their own hands-on history. We gave them a solid
background in class, but the real transformative learning took place once the diverse group of
students arrived in the real classroom, Selma. In this environment where active
learning took place they amazed us with the depth of their
education. Hands-On-History has taken students from Arizona to Europe, but now there is a
historical event close to home that demands research.
During world war 2 a battle raged not only the Pacific and
Europe but in the Catawba Valley. the opponent was Polio. In the summer of 1944 the deforming,
mysterious, and sometimes deadly disease devastated the region. Parents fear for the lives and their
children. Doctor’s scramble to treat the afflicted. The community debated over how best to
meet the challenge. Assistance from all over the nation,
gathered around them and confronted the catastrophe with the unique miracle. Hands-On-History
and community partners are taking a fresh look at the miracle of Hickory. CVCC academics
from diverse disciplines are joining talents to examine the
phenomenon to provide new perspectives on all facets of the miracle. Engaging
students in transformational learning, immersing them in a comprehensive study of a
devastating situation that the community refused to accept
passively. How did they build a hospital in 54 hours?
How did this war homefront overwhelmingly and continually supply
support wherever it was needed? How did they keep
the death toll so low that the nation cheered the efforts of the Catawba Valley? Our last chance to hear from those who
experience the miracle first hand has come. It’s been 70 years since Hickory was
gripped by fear only a few those who survived the ravages this
hidden killer remain. As we gather their experiences for preservation students and faculty will hear the
anguish, pose the questions, and reap the benefits. Like previous
Hands-On-History efforts, we are seeking to help students
understand the threat and feel the immediacy of fear, by traveling to where polio research is
being conducted as well as where the need for vaccination remains a vital and necessary experience. The 1944 polio
epidemic has been called the Catawba Valley’s worst and finest hour. Catawba Valley Community College engages
faculty, students, and the community to unite as
we once did long ago, this time to research the miracle. Your opportunity to participate exists at
a number of levels. Help us prepare our next generation. Knowing our past readies for our future. Inspiration and leadership comes to
prepared students.

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