Mission in Action Teacher Advisory Council

National Teacher Advisory Council Member (Week 4): Mary Soylu

Dr. Mary Soylu

Alabama state university
Higher education


Dr. Mary Soylu is educator and art historian at Alabama State University, one the nation’s oldest HBCUs located in Montgomery, AL. She was recently awarded the 2022 Higher Education Art Educator of the Year Award by the Alabama Art Education Association. Her research has been published in academic journals and her artwork has been featured in exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Rosa Parks Museum, and The Civil Rights Memorial Center at The Southern Poverty Law Center.

She is the 3rd great-granddaughter of a Union veteran and is a member of the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic.

How will this experience benefit you personally? Your fellow educators?

‘On a personal level, I hope to learn more about the museum collection and how to use it in my own teaching and research. I also hope to deepen my knowledge of the Civil War and connect with other researchers, educators, and historians to create fact-based, transformational educational resources for the young citizens of tomorrow.

To my fellow educators, I can contribute my academic training in both education and history-related fields. I hope to contribute my passion for history with a particular focus on African American experiences during the Civil War. Additionally, I can contribute my teaching experience working in both university and K-12 settings. Although I currently teach university art history courses, I have previously worked as a high school teacher. Lastly, I possess a fair-minded, justice-oriented spirit motivated by an earnest belief in the power of a good education and truth-telling to transform individual lives and society at large.’

How familiar are you with the American Civil War? What aspect(s) do you find most fascinating or compelling?

‘I consider myself to have an advanced knowledge of Civil War history developed over many years of study. I teach courses in African American visual and cultural history at an HBCU in the former Confederate capital of Montgomery, Alabama and am regularly surrounded by Civil War history. I continue to expand my knowledge on the subject outside of the classroom through independent and dedicated study.

Some of the aspects of the conflict and that I find most fascinating include: the important contributions of African Americans to the Union’s military victory, Abraham Lincoln’s political brilliance, Frederick Douglass’s insight and moral leadership before, during, and after the war, Ulysses S. Grant’s underrated military prowess, and the stubborn endurance of Lost Cause mythology.’