We camped at David Crockett State Park in Tennessee, which happens to have an interesting little trail just off the road. Naturally we had to explore. The trail, it turns out, is a segment of the original route of the Trail of Tears, on which over 15,000 Cherokees were forced to walk or travel by waterway from their homes on the Appalachian Mountains to present-day Oklahoma. Four- to eight-thousand died on the journey. The National Historic Trail, which retraces several routes to commemorate the event that occurred in 1838, is over 5,000 miles long.
Although we know of the Trail of Tears (I've taught some Native American literature in English III), we were not expecting this surprise.
I'd have liked to walk and experience more of the trail but there wasn't time. I am also very afraid of poison ivy and insects. Not that the Cherokee were allowed to think that way, of course. How sad to think of a forced march of over 1,000 miles to a hostile place far removed from anywhere the Cherokee had never been.
I believe that one way to teach tolerance is to teach students about the horrors from history. Without focusing on the gore and causing fear, we can help students to understand how intolerance has lead to inconceivable events. Allowing students to research events and write about their thoughts and findings gives them opportunities to brainstorm ways to prevent such events from reoccurring.
Having experienced and photographed the place gives me a closer connection to the time and place. Students have often told me that my enthusiasm for the subjects I teach makes a difference. How convenient that I am able to find enthusiasm in small state and national parks.