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Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography of Memory

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Studying civil rights memorials -- where they are located, what they honor, and what they neglect -- offers insights into the evolving condition of power and racism in American society. While the events that constitute the Movement's legacy are manifestly past, the act of identifying those events and interpreting their significance take place in the present.
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... Efforts have also long been underway, though with less success, to marshal sociopolitical and financial resources to memorialize Black women and men in the Southern landscape, at times both reinforcing and challenging hegemonic narratives concerning race and gender (Savage 1997, Alderman 2000, 2006Mitchelson et al. 2007, Leib 2002, 2006Dwyer and Alderman 2008b, Inwood 2009, Caliendo 2011, Tretter 2011, Alderman and Inwood 2013b, Bruyneel 2014, Woodley 2018, Tell 2019. Studies show that naming streets for Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) has often been a difficult process fraught by maneuvering reputational politics (Alderman 2002(Alderman , 2003(Alderman , 2006, conflicting ideas over business address branding (Mitchelson et al. 2007, Alderman 2008, spatializing injustices in the politics of belonging (Alderman and Inwood 2013b), and the stigmatizing and segregating geographies of racial identity associated with places bearing MLK's name (Tiwari and Ambinakudige 2020). ...
... Geographers as well as other scholars have also examined efforts to memorialize various other important Black historical figures in the Southern landscape like Arthur Ashe (Leib 2002(Leib , 2004(Leib , 2006, Medgar Evers (Dwyer and Alderman 2008b), and Emmett Till (Black 2019, Tell 2019, among others, including, importantly, Black women like Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree) (Mandziuk 2003), Carrie A. Tuggle, Rosa Parks, and Fannie Lou Hamer (Dwyer and Alderman 2008b), as well as Clara Luper and Zora Neale Hurston (Brasher et al. 2017) and Mary McCleod Bethune (Woodley 2018), emplacing Black women and decentering white men. Woodley (2018) for example, shows that creating a memorial to Black woman civil rights activist Mary McCleod Bethune in Washington DC was a process fraught with tension, ultimately obscuring her activism by placing -both spatially and ideologically -her monument and legacy within a "universalizing discourse" that appeals to the (white) American Dream even while centralizing the Black past within the American historical consciousness was initially the aim for the memorial (502). ...
... Geographers as well as other scholars have also examined efforts to memorialize various other important Black historical figures in the Southern landscape like Arthur Ashe (Leib 2002(Leib , 2004(Leib , 2006, Medgar Evers (Dwyer and Alderman 2008b), and Emmett Till (Black 2019, Tell 2019, among others, including, importantly, Black women like Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree) (Mandziuk 2003), Carrie A. Tuggle, Rosa Parks, and Fannie Lou Hamer (Dwyer and Alderman 2008b), as well as Clara Luper and Zora Neale Hurston (Brasher et al. 2017) and Mary McCleod Bethune (Woodley 2018), emplacing Black women and decentering white men. Woodley (2018) for example, shows that creating a memorial to Black woman civil rights activist Mary McCleod Bethune in Washington DC was a process fraught with tension, ultimately obscuring her activism by placing -both spatially and ideologically -her monument and legacy within a "universalizing discourse" that appeals to the (white) American Dream even while centralizing the Black past within the American historical consciousness was initially the aim for the memorial (502). ...
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In this paper, we bring together the hope of regenerative development with mobilities literature broadly and actor-network theory specifically to explicate a regenerative memorialization paradigm. Regenerative memorialization emphasizes the inherent (im)mobilities of memory – the flows and networks associated with people, ideas, materials, capital, and development that constitute memorial landscapes – and the reparative and self-healing possibilities of those landscapes as part of constantly evolving sociocultural systems. Applying this paradigm to the dynamic geographies of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, we illustrate the power of memory on the move where the past is connected to the present and the aspirations for the future via complex actor networks, charting paths toward more socially just futures for the American South. Finally, we argue for participatory mapping of actants and actor networks, more diverse social justice organizations creating and connecting to existing cultural spaces for and landscapes of memory, and accordingly, that intersectionality guide these practices, for a future of regenerative memorialization in the South.
... Over the past several decades, scholarship on the geographies of place, memory, and power has documented how commemorative landscapes and spaces of monumentality have been reshaped during significant moments of major social and political transformation (for an overview, see Sumartojo 2020). Much of the existing literature has focused on commemorative changes to the landscape that have occurred as part of the rise and fall of political regimes such as Nazism (Azaryahu 2012) and Soviet Communism Johnson 2002, 2011;Light and Young 2014); the selfcongratulatory spatial honorifics of colonial rule and the decolonization of commemorative landscapes (Larsen 2012;Wanjiru and Matsubara 2017), white supremacist monumentality (Autry 2019), and the struggles over commemorating leaders of the Civil Rights Movement (Dwyer and Alderman 2008b). A sizable body of work, therefore, now exists on the spatial politics of commemoration in relation to various different elements of memoryscapes, including statues, monuments, memorials, historical plaques, museums, street art, and place names. ...
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Public debates and controversies over monuments, memorials, and place names have become contentious focal points for struggles over historical memory and social identity. This special issue critically examines the spatial politics involved in the making, unmaking, and remaking of memoryscapes conceived as assemblages of memory-objects, practices, and imaginaries that relationally constitute memory/spaces. The contributions consider how particular conceptions of the past are interwoven into the memoryscapes of the present in an attempt to legitimize a given social and political order. At the same time, they demonstrate how places of memory are often highly contested spaces in which the authority of the ruling power, and its hegemonic narratives of history, may be called into question. In this introductory article, we highlight key themes at the intersections of memory, place, and power, and consider several areas of emerging interest that have potential to advance critical geographical approaches to memory studies. Reflecting on the case studies discussed in this special issue, we also explore how the spatial, temporal, and political intertwine in the production of memoryscapes that may appear fixed and frozen for all time-especially when literally cast in stone-but often experience change in both subtle and profound ways.
... In 1875, a march of Confederate veterans through Richmond, Virginia, culminated in the unveiling of a statue of Stonewall Jackson (Blight 2001). As chronicled by Winberry (1983), Hoelscher (2006, and others (Savage 1997;Leib 2002;Dwyer and Alderman 2008), whites continued to create commemorative landscapes across the southeastern USA in order to make permanent the myth of the Lost Cause -a white supremacist re-imagining of the Civil War as well as the colonial and antebellum periods of US history that purposely covered over the cavities that slavery left in Black lives and memories. As Owen Dwyer (2003, 31) noted, the weighty materiality of monuments to Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson was intended to place this revisionist history 'beyond the reach of time by etching it in the land itself.' ...
... Black monuments would challenge the amnesia and distracting glossiness of the current landscape of commemoration. A landscape in which, in the U.S. for example, confederate statuary and the confederate flag are sanitized of terroristic violence and framed as symbols of southern heritage and pride (Dwyer & Alderman, 2008a;Eaves, 2016;Inwood & Alderman, 2016;Pelak, 2015;Wills, 2005;Wynn, 2020). ...
Article
Discrete monuments remain in the domain of the symbolic, land as mnemonic shifts to a more materialist commemorative praxis. This paper proposes a turn toward land as mnemonic of Black freedom struggle and place-making. Reviewing the scholarship on memoryscapes, I show that the critical insights of Black ecologies and geographies scholarship has moved further than traditional scholarship and offers multiple openings for new monuments and commemorative practices in honor of Black life. Black socio-ecologies scholarship centralizes the place-based epistemologies, spatial histories, and experiences of Black communities and clarifies the form and function of land or plots as mnemonics of the Black freedom struggle, place-making practices, and spatial epistemologies. Black plots are, therefore, ideal for orienting a new mode of Black commemoration. While much of the paper centers monuments to Black people, if Black commemoration is foregrounded in abolitionists thinking and practices, such memorialization must grapple with the histories of Indigenous dispossession and settler-colonialism. The paper concludes with a consideration of what the argument for land as mnemonic of Black freedom struggle and place-making might mean for future avenues of research
... Viewing streets as a cultural arena will assist us in understanding the ongoing socio-political processes and the conflicts that underlie toponym production and consumption in an urban setting. This approach will also help us reveal the people with (or without) power to determine toponyms, the people who have the right or authority over the city, and the people who can offer a vision or has certain claims related to the city's past, present, and future (Dwyer and Alderman 2008). Therefore, street naming is not only a product of social power, but also an effective channel to accumulate power, which is the same as creating political authority through media in order to offer certain ideologies to the general public and make them look like a "natural order". ...
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From 2017 to 2019, a number of street names were changed in Yogyakarta, Bandung and Surabaya City by each Provincial Government for the purpose of celebrating the reconciliation between the Sundanese (West Java) and the Javanese (Central Java, East Java, and Yogyakarta) after years of dispute due to the infamous Bubat Tragedy which occurred in the 14th century. Some existing street names in Yogyakarta and Surabaya were changed to those associated with Sundanese history, such as Jalan Padjadjaran and Jalan Siliwangi, while some existing street names in Bandung were changed to those associated with Javanese history, such as Jalan Majapahit and Jalan Hayam Wuruk. The author explores this phenomenon using the concept of critical toponymies and examines the connections between naming, place-making, and power underlying such policy. This study found that, although the changes were made with good intentions, in some cases this was actually opposed by several factions within the local community because those changes could obliterate the historical significance and collective memory represented by the previous names. From theoretical perspective, this paper also discussed the successful and unsuccessful changes of street names, as well as their relevance to the current context. In other words, our findings can be taken into consideration in future policy-making process. [Dari 2017 hingga 2019, telah dilakukan penggantian sejumlah nama jalan di Kota Yogyakarta, Bandung, dan Surabaya oleh pemerintah provinsi dengan tujuan untuk merayakan tuntasnya konflik yang timbul antara orang Sunda dan orang Jawa setelah peristiwa Perang Bubat pada abad ke-14. Sejumlah nama jalan di Yogyakarta dan Surabaya diubah menjadi Jalan Padjadjaran dan Jalan Siliwangi yang berciri Sunda, sedangkan nama sejumlah nama jalan di Bandung diubah menjadi Jalan Majapahit dan Jalan Hayam Wuruk yang berciri Jawa. Selanjutnya, penulis menganalisis fenomena itu menggunakan konsep critical toponymies (toponimi kritis) dan mengkaji hubungan antara ikhtiar penamaan (naming), penciptaan tempat (place making), dan unsur kuasa (power) yang melatarinya. Penelitian ini menunjukkan bahwa, meskipun penggantian nama itu dilakukan dengan itikad baik, pada sebagian kasus, kebijakan ini justru ditentang oleh sebagian masyarakat karena pengubahan dapat menghilangkan nilai sejarah dan memori kolektif yang terkandung di dalamnya. Dari segi teoretis, makalah ini juga mendiskusikan keberhasilan dan ketidakberhasilan pengubahan nama jalan serta kaitannya dengan konteks aktual sehingga dapat menjadi bahan pertimbangan di dalam proses pembuatan kebijakan di masa depan.]
... Research has played an important role in recent public reckoning with the legacy of Confederate monuments across the United States. Scholars have shown how monuments, with their unique claims to a sort of permanency in the public sphere, are "inherently instrumental" (Tyner et al., 2014: 905) and carry with them a moral and social authority (Dwyer & Alderman, 2008). In the case of Confederate monuments, scholars have traced the shift from what were largely private memorials for the dead to instruments of public memory, which Winberry (1983) describes as "the movement of the Confederate memorial out of the cemetery and into the town center" in his work categorizing different types of monuments and their geographic arrangement (1983: 22). ...
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This study examines whether the presence of Confederate monuments corresponds to experiences of historical anti-Black violence in the surrounding areas. At stake is not only the current debate around the removal of these monuments, but also broader links between such monuments and latent processes of White supremacy. We utilize three data sets for our analyses: data on Confederate monument locations (O’Connell in Ethn Racial Stud 43(3):1–19, 2019); and two complementary data sets on lynchings (Seguin and Rigby in Socius 5:2378023119841780, 2019; Beck and Tolnay in Confirmed Inventory of Southern Lynch Victims, University of Georgia, 2004). Correlation analyses indicate a positive statistical relationship between the relative presence of Confederate monuments and historical lynchings at the county level—a relationship that increases with adjustments for spatial clustering. These results contribute to ongoing discussions around the removal of Confederate monuments as well as to the use of monuments as forms of oppression. By connecting lynching to Confederate monuments, whose ties to violence have been abstracted away, we understand racial violence not as disorder, but instead as part of a larger order.
... According to Ella Baker, perhaps the key advisor to SNCC, spadework involves the complex, often unseen, and politically fraught work of cultivating everyday grassroots empowerment and resistance and fostering locally based and grassroots-led initiatives to take on white supremacy (Ransby, 2003). Regrettably, the spadework Baker preached does not have a central place within the public memory of the civil rights movement dominated by charismatic leaders, highly visible campaigns, and federal legislation (Dwyer & Alderman, 2008). Our goal is to draw greater attention to the hidden geographies that underlie the moments and places of civil rights spadework by excavating and theorizing these neglected moments and places. ...
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The Free Southern Theater was a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) initiative that wanted to bring theatrical performance to rural communities in the deep Southeastern United States. To interpret the critical praxis and broader analytical importance of the Free Southern Theater, we develop and apply two conceptual frameworks: radical placemaking and epistemic violence/justice. As we assert in this paper, the theater program was demonstrative of the fundamental but radical ways SNCC sought to remake places and institutions and create new ones that would respond to the struggles of poor Black southerners, build community capacity for social change, reaffirm visions of Black belonging, and provide respite and self-care for racism-weary communities. The Free Southern Theater also reflected the value that SNCC placed on mobilizing information, communication, and the politics of representation to combat white supremacy, while also articulating and legitimizing an explicitly Black vision of society and space.
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Monuments—and the function and import of monumentality and practices of monumentalization—are currently under incredible scrutiny. Should historical statues of racist figures and pasts be left as they are or removed and destroyed? Should they be rehomed in statue parks intended as final resting places for disgraced statues? Or should they be left but with additional monuments and memorials added to their surroundings to provide further context? At the root of these debates is a fundamental inquiry about not just what monuments are but, more importantly, what monuments are intended to do for and within a body politic. In scholarly dialogue with Doss, Santino, Savage, Young, and others, I assert that we need to reorient and expand our thinking about monuments. I argue that monuments function as speech acts, and although they rarely speak for an entire body politic, monuments play a critical role in shaping historical narratives and cultural reckoning with racist, brutally violent pasts and their lived afterlives. Moreover, while in many respects backward-facing, monuments are also profoundly future-facing in the values and narratives they symbolize and articulate and the kinds of spaces and community practices they have the potential to cultivate. I analyze two different monument projects: Aida Šehović’s transnational nomadic monument to the Srebrenica genocide, ŠTO TE NEMA, and Landmarked, Ada Pinkston’s embodied replacement and reimagining of spaces where Confederate and slavery monuments used to be in the Eastern United States. These monument projects, I argue, challenge us to revisit the politics and practices of monumentality and monumentalization in relation to unworked-through racist pasts and, in this incredible moment of reckoning and crisis, suggest new possibilities for how we understand—and cultivate—monuments moving forward.
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The past remains a passionately contested terrain in the American South. On the one hand, the memory of the Civil War is of vital importance in the region. Many white Southerners identify with romanticized images of the Confederacy (Hoelscher 2003). Alternately, a new historical vision of the region’s past has emerged, one that challenges the centrality of the Confederacy. Propelled largely by African Americans, this challenge is embodied in the public commemoration of the Civil Rights Movement (Alderman 2000; Dwyer 2000). The intersection of these two competing memorial narratives has made collective memory a highly charged issue in the South, one whose emotional gravity comes from the interweaving of place and history (Figure 10.1) (Lowenthal 1975; Hayden 1995; Leib 2002). There is a need to make sense of the problematic nature of southern commemoration, particularly since these debates affect the prospects of building an inclusive culture in the region (Brundage 2000).