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Mobilities and Regenerative Memorialization: Examining the Equal Justice Initiative and Strategies for the Future of the American South


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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.
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Mobilities and Regenerative Memorialization: Examining the
Equal Justice Initiative and Strategies for the Future of
the American South
Rebecca Sheehan, Jordan Brasher, Jennifer Speights-Binet
Southeastern Geographer, Volume 61, Number 4, Winter 2021, pp. 322-342
Published by The University of North Carolina Press
For additional information about this article
[ Access provided at 1 Nov 2021 21:26 GMT from Oklahoma State University ]
southeastern geographer, 61(4) 2021: pp. 322–342
Mobilities and Regenerative Memorialization:
Examining the Equal Justice Initiative and
Strategies for the Future of the American South
Oklahoma State University
Columbus State University
Samford University
*Corresponding Author
• This paper develops a regenerative memorialization paradigm for a socio-spatially just US
South future.
• We show myriad ways that memory is made (im)mobile through actor networks.
• We illustrate the regenerative memorialization paradigm by examining the Equal Justice Initia-
tive in Montgomery, Alabama.
• We call scholars to use ongoing participatory mapping to assess memorialization in the US
• We call on diverse social justice organizations to integrate regenerative memorialization to
achieve their aims.
abstract: In this paper, we bring together the hope of regenerative development with mobilities liter-
ature broadly and actor-network theory specifically to explicate a regenerative memorialization para-
digm. 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 ex-
isting cultural spaces for and landscapes of memory, and accordingly, that intersectionality guide these
practices, for a future of regenerative memorialization in the South.
keywords: Actor-network theory, Equal Justice Initiative, Memory-work, Mobilities,
Regenerative memorialization
Mobilities and Regenerative Memorialization 323
As the call for papers in this special issue indicates, an overemphasis on Southern
pasts forecloses future-oriented work concerning how the South and its environments,
communities, and spaces might be reformed and how that past might contribute to re-
storing lost social, cultural, economic, and political plenitude of marginalized commu-
nities. Accordingly, the problem of memorialization in the US South has often been one
of stasis dedicated to white supremacist males, where memorialization is generally not
only set materially in the landscape whether that be in stone or toponym, for example,
but also in terms of the overlapping discourse and practices associated with such memo-
rialization (Dwyer and Alderman 2008a, Inwood and Yarbrough 2010, Inwood 2015,
Southern Poverty Law Center 2019). To be sure, memory-work also challenges this he-
gemony. Implicit in research concerning memory-work broadly and memorialization
specifically are various forms and degrees of movement. Yet scholars have not explic-
itly examined the (im)mobilities associated with geographies of memory. In response,
building on work in cultural geography that foregrounds the importance of memorial
landscapes for building socially just futures (Alderman and Inwood 2013a), mobilities
literature offers a means to more fully interrogate geographies of Southern memory. We
illustrate the utility of this approach by advancing the idea of regenerative memorializa-
tion not only as an analytical tool but also as an aim in memory-work (Sheehan 2019).
Regenerative memorialization emphasizes the inherent (im)mobilities of memory – the
networks associated with people, ideas, materials, capital, and development that con-
stitute memorial landscapes – and the reparative1 and self-healing possibilities of those
landscapes as part of constantly evolving sociocultural systems.
In what follows, we first review literature that addresses the work of memorialization
in the US South, emphasizing the relationship between race, gender, and memorializa-
tion, and illuminating that the politics of (im)mobility has long been part of memorial-
ization. Next, we bring together the hope of regenerative development with mobilities
literature broadly and actor-network theory specifically to explicate a regenerative me-
morialization paradigm. Then, to illustrate our intervention, we apply this paradigm to
the dynamic geographies of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama.
Hasian and Paliewicz (2020a, 2020b) examine EJI’s National Memorial for Peace and
Justice and the Legacy Museum’s affective materialities that connect past racial-terror
hauntings (Figure 1) to present racialized injustices to move visitors to awareness and
possible action. However, we argue that to understand the regenerative potential of EJI
as well as the future of memory-work in the South, examining how these memorializa-
tions are connected to other networks inside and outside EJI is crucial. Thus, we chart a
means to build a regenerative memorialization paradigm for the South that assembles
diverse social justice non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local and state gov-
ernments, with public participation, to incorporate spaces for intersectional memory-
work, including memorialization in the landscape, into their missions.
We contend that by (ad)dressing entrenched wounds, regenerative memorialization
can help chart paths toward a more socio-spatially just future for the American South.
324 sheehan et al.
Such a move would contribute to dismantling white (male) supremacy in the US South
as memorialization is not only about particular remembering(s) of the past but is also
the projective asserting of power onto the present and future, reaffirming and often si-
multaneously disavowing particular beliefs, experiences, groups, ideologies, and values
(see, for example, DeLyser 1999, Alderman and Inwood 2013a, Lovelace 2021).
rethinking memorialization in the american south as mobile
Theorizations of memorialization in the American South by geographers have often
focused on the fixity of memory in place through the struggle to claim a sense of belong-
ing to particular places. Scholars have emphasized the racialized and gendered nature
of memorialization practices. Tours of plantation museum sites, for example, reify white
supremacist ways of remembering the past by emphasizing and glorifying the lives of
the white planter class and largely ignoring the experiences, contributions, labor, and
struggles of the enslaved (Small 2013, West 2013, Carter et al. 2014).2 Monuments and
memorials dotting the landscape across the region, too, favor white settler men and
Figure 1. Steel monuments representing the victims of racial terrorism by county at the National
Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, USA. Photography by Rebecca Sheehan.
Mobilities and Regenerative Memorialization 325
Confederate soldiers (Barbee 2014, Dubriwny and Poirot 2017, Southern Poverty Law
Center 2019). The embodiment of American and Southern identities in commemora-
tive sites is “more often than not, a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, reaffirming the
‘great man’ perspective that [has] dominated American historiography for too long”
(Dubriwny and Poirot 2017, 199).
Accordingly, scholars explore and critique memorials commemorating enslavers, Ku
Klux Klansmen, Confederate generals, and other racists as texts communicating whose
histories matter and belong (moreau and Alderman 2012, Bohland 2013, Cook 2016),
arenas for battling over reputational politics (Alderman 2002, Leib 2002, 2004, 2006;
Dwyer and Alderman 2008a, McFarland et al. 2019), places for performing and resisting
Antebellum racialized and gendered scripts (Hoelscher 2003, Cook 2016, Potter 2016,
Benjamin and Alderman 2018, Walcott-Wilson 2019), appending elements of symbolic
meaning into place (Dwyer 2004, Dwyer and Alderman 2008a), assembling memory
through objects, artifacts, and narratives (Hanna et al. 2019), and place-based wounds
re-entrenching structural harm (Inwood and Alderman 2016, Brasher et al. 2017, Shee-
han and Speights-Binet 2019).
Efforts have also long been underway, though with less success, to marshal sociopo-
litical 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, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2010; Mitch-
elson et al. 2007, Leib 2002, 2004, 2006; Dwyer 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, 2003, 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 as-
sociated with places bearing MLK’s name (Tiwari and Ambinakudige 2020).
Geographers as well as other scholars have also examined efforts to memorialize var-
ious other important Black historical figures in the Southern landscape like Arthur Ashe
(Leib 2002, 2004, 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), em-
placing 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 “univer-
salizing 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).
These studies recognize the fundamental role that the memorial landscape plays
in the racializing and gendering of places which are important to the (re)formulating
of Southern regional identities. These contestations of who belongs and who does not
326 sheehan et al.
reflect and contribute to campaigns and struggles for justice. Furthermore, they point to
dynamic cultural, social, and political networks of commemoration, implicitly acknowl-
edging the wide array of (im)mobilities (e.g., performing, re-entrenching, segregating,
(de)centralizing) of memory-work.
In recent years, calls from activists, politicians, and academics to (re)move racist
memorials have emphasized the need to (re)move them from centrally located public
spaces like courthouse lawns or town squares that communicate socio-spatial ideologi-
cal importance (Inwood and Alderman 2016, Mindock 2019, Lebron 2020). Assumed in
these calls are the ways in which movement – both geographic and affective/embodied
– shape the contours of Southern memory politics. Thus, memorialization in the land-
scape, like memory, is not static, but dynamic, and may be understood as ontogenetic,
where fixity is an illusion (Adey 2006, Rose-Redwood 2008, Till and Kuusisto-Arponen
2015). Indeed, antiracism advocates have suggested that (re)moving memorials from
one place to another can transform their power and meaning (Mindock 2019, Lebron
2020). Limitations imposed on the movement/fixity of memory into and through places
are part of a broader politics of (im)mobility in which different social actors exert une-
ven levels of power over the right to both (re)move memorials and to fix them into place.
For example, antiracism activists seeking to (re)move or rename racist memorials have
been stymied with heritage preservation laws – common especially in Southern states
– which fix white supremacist memorials into place by preventing their movement, relo-
cation, or renaming (Wahlers 2016, Brasher et al. 2017, Allen and Brasher 2019, Phelps
and Owley 2019, Sheehan and Speights-Binet 2019).
Even efforts at contextualizing monuments with plaques and additional historical
information requires the mobilization of people, ideas, and resources to tabulate histor-
ical data and carefully craft counter-narratives that undermine the memorials’ power
but still need authorization for installation. Further, the act of taking down a memorial
by force, an increasingly common strategy of memory-work given the legal obstacles
advocates for memorial landscape change face, is also a form of movement carried out in
defiance of the state-sanctioned immobilization of monuments. And while the tensions
among Southern communities over commemorative politics remain unresolved, public
interest and activism around creating Southern memorial landscapes that more compre-
hensively include and uplift the histories, contributions, and struggles of Black South-
erners has increased especially since 2013 with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter
(BLM) movement. We note, however, that memorialization practices that are regener-
ative do not stop at the (re)moval of problematic memorials; rather, those memorials
are connected via alliances and relations to wider networks of symbolic and material
resources, such as BLM.
Thus, while constructing and (re)moving memorials in the landscape highlights the
centrality of movement, we have also suggested that (im)mobilities associated with the
fixity of memorials, the politics of memorialization, and the work that memorials do are
also essential to understanding the evolving contours of power, identity, and meaning
in and of the American South. By examining the (im)mobilities in memorialization, an
avenue for regenerative memorialization emerges that recognizes the power of memory
Mobilities and Regenerative Memorialization 327
on the move, where ideas about the past are connected to the present and future via
complex networks.
a regenerative memorialization paradigm
Emerging from sustainable development work, regenerative development posits that
it is not enough to “simply” maintain sustainability, where development of resources
maintains the health of those resources for future generations. Instead, in a regenera-
tive model, the geography should also be left better than before development (Birkeland
2008, xv) and restore lost plenitude (van der Ryn and Cowan 2007, 37; Schor 2010,
Clegg 2012). In this scholarship, lost plenitude means replenishing the health and har-
mony of and between natural and cultural systems. Building upon regenerative develop-
ment scholarship (Reed 2007, Girardet 2010, du Plessis 2012), Sheehan (2019) argues
that regenerative memorialization geographies would not only be part of embodied so-
ciocultural systems that serve a positive function, they would also evolve sociocultural
systems to enable self-healing. Accordingly, for memorial landscapes to be regenerative
they must be 1) rooted in the aspirations of the context and 2) include dynamic partic-
ipatory and reflective processes from “above” and “below,” creating feedback loops of
growth and connection that make space for movement and (landscape) change. Draw-
ing from impact assessment plan literature, Sheehan (2019) outlines a procedural and
iterative approach to promote regenerative memorialization in the landscape. Here, we
expand her idea of regenerative memorialization by elaborating on the dynamic cul-
tural, social, and political processes whereby memorialization in the landscape is part
of a larger project of memory-work that explicitly connects the past, present, and fu-
ture for socio-spatial justice. In what follows, we first briefly relate mobility literature
broadly and actor-network theory specifically to memory-work. Then theorizing how
memory is always on the move and connected to other networks, we explain how this
dynamism is utilized through actants and networks in the Equal Justice Initiative to cre-
ate regenerative memorialization. Then, building upon the above, we turn to suggesting
a regenerative memorialization approach for the South, where the memory-scape of the
South may contribute to restoring lost plenitude associated with maligned individuals’
and communities’ histories and recognition that past marginalization feeds continued
suffering through exploitation, repression, and subjugation.
Mobility and actor-network theory literatures offer means to theorize the dynamism
in regenerative memorialization which necessarily includes a holistic approach to trans-
gress oppressive power structures in the US South and beyond. Through the intersection
of material and discursive domains, the mobilities paradigm allows us to think of memo-
rialization as always in a state of becoming, or in regenerative terms, evolving to enable
self-healing (Cresswell 2002, Adey 2006, 77, 79). Cresswell suggests that such becoming
is relational, explaining how research that uses a mobilities approach explores the en-
tanglement of movement, representation, and practice (2010, 20). Such entanglements
may be understood as the politics of connectivity (Amin 2004, Adey 2006) or constella-
tions of (im)mobility (Cresswell 2010).
328 sheehan et al.
Mobility literature, either implicitly or explicitly, draws from actor-network theory3
(Latour 2005), where the world is understood in terms of networks, akin to the poli-
tics of connectivity and constellations of (im)mobility above. Networks are assembled
through relations and associations (flows) between various human and nonhuman act-
ants (which may be material or nonmaterial); themselves the result of networks. The
flows within and between networks make memorial landscapes appear enduring due
to powerful actants working in alliance. For example, throughout Tell’s book (2019) on
the public memory of Emmett Till, he shows the interweaving of memory, physical ge-
ographies, cultural and symbolic landscapes, racial politics, poverty, infrastructure, vio-
lence, vandalism, murder, tourism, and bullet holes. His idea of the ecology of memory,
“the interanimating force of race, place, and commemoration” suggests the necessary
interdependence of varied actants and networks (Tell 2019, 5). Similarly, Inwood and
Alderman (2020) argue for a wider understanding of memory-work, one that includes
a greater variety of social actors and where, like in Tell’s book, other interests, such as
urban development, enroll memories of racial terror for the aim of increased capital.
Tell’s work also suggests the significance of critical events (e.g., murder, riddling a
commemorative marker with bullets), which like strong actants or nodes, have the abil-
ity to alter or strengthen actor networks (Inkpen et al. 2007, Holifield 2009). However,
network theorists reject the notion of discrete hierarchical scale, where the larger or
higher the level, as in a set of Russian dolls, the more power actants and networks hold
(Latour 2005, Rocheleau 2011). Instead, scale may be understood as a relational plane
where different associations are stretched or squeezed to produce differential power
(Inkpen et al. 2007). Accordingly, such spatial arrangements create varied topography
on the plane, like an accordion, where actants may become more or less entrenched
(Inkpen et al. 2007). Thinking of scale in this way reframes notions of power to be more
complex, where influence is never assumed, nor its characteristics given. In short, while
we may allude to different sizes or levels of scale, the larger the size or the greater level
does not necessarily mean more power.
Importantly then, even as memorialization may produce a sense of perpetuity, it only
maintains this sense because of entrenched relations among various-sized and powerful
human and nonhuman actants in assorted networks. These constellations of relations
form nodes, such as monuments, centers, toponyms, films, reports, and websites, which
overlap and mutually co-produce networks of memorialization. We call for heightened
attention to and increased emphasis on constellations of networks associated with me-
morialization that explicitly connect the past, present, and future. Actants and networks
themselves may form, reform, and even dissolve in different ways at different times,
based on ever-changing relations and associations (Latour 2005). This creates the foun-
dation for regenerative memorialization with mobilities in various forms being key to
create rich feedback loops of sociocultural capacity-building and healing that work to-
ward the aspirations of greater socio-spatial justice (Soja 2010).
the equal justice initiative and regenerative memorialization
Due to space limitations, it is not our aim to map all the actants, alliances, associ-
ations, and networks related to EJI and regenerative memorialization. We draw from
Mobilities and Regenerative Memorialization 329
ongoing research, utilizing interviews, participant-observation, autoethnographic
methods, and EJI documents to offer a brief overview of how EJI began as well as the
evolving architecture of EJI’s network today, illustrating the foundations as well as
movement that have given rise to its particular efforts at carrying out memory-work.
Then, we show that EJI’s work demonstrates regenerative memorialization because it
has strengthened and generated key actants and networks that move to connect the past
to the present and future, that is, feedback loops which inspire and create social change
through participatory processes.
In 1989, Bryan Stevenson founded EJI in Montgomery, Alabama as a legal aid organ-
ization for state prisoners who needed representation because of networks of systemic
racism that produced inequity in the legal system with disproportionate incarceration
rates and disproportionately harsh sentencing for Black men (PEW Research Center
2020). Born in 1959, Stevenson experienced de jure and de facto segregation and grew
up with a mother who protested racism—actants which drove his enrollment in law
studies and work at the Southern Center for Human Rights (Stevenson 2014). When
Congress defunded the Center, Stevenson, by then a durable actant of justice, was com-
pelled to create EJI in Montgomery, a city fraught with historical geographies of racial
injustices and terror (Toobin 2016, Inwood and Alderman 2020). The racist actants and
networks that create(d) these geographies also in part have created the actants and net-
works of resistance and opportunity especially in Southern cities such as Montgomery.
Indeed, over the years, the EJI has expanded its vision, that is, its network, to “changing
the narrative about race in America” ( Making this change means confronting
how past racial apartheid, (institutional) discrimination, disenfranchisement, slavery,
and terror contribute to continued oppression in the present. Today, major components
of this organization include programs in criminal justice reform, racial justice, and pub-
lic education. These nodes are the consequence of EJI facilitating strong relations and
associations among a wide array of networks. While continuing to provide legal aid and
argue for legal reform, EJI also produces reports, concerning, for example, racial dis-
crimination in jury selection, and creates educational resources, including, for exam-
ple, digital apps, reports, and short films on the history of racial injustice in the United
States. These material actants move via policy makers and educators, forming alliances
to effect social change.
Moreover, EJI was forged out of recognition that because the United States has (had)
a cultural unwillingness to reckon with evils of the past, it has not created adequate cul-
tural spaces which allow the country to confront the memories of slavery, lynching, and
segregation and to connect how these legacy actants impede justice today. In response in
2018, under EJI’s Racial Justice program, it opened the Legacy Museum, drawing from
its richly curated archival collection (open to researchers). Located on the site of a ware-
house where the enslaved were held captive before auction, the site and the museum
form a visceral assembly of present and past actants and their networks. The self-guided
tour through the museum uses mixed media to provide a powerful narrative of systemic
racism in the US from the Transatlantic Slave Trade to voter suppression to mass incar-
ceration. Near the end of the tour stands a striking wall of jars containing soil collected
from documented lynching sites throughout the US (South), literally geographically
moving those sites that hold memories of terror and emplacing them to affectively move
330 sheehan et al.
museum visitors. As we explain below, the process of soil collection from lynching sites
is also significant because the soil serves as a powerful nodal actant in participatory com-
munity memory-work.
Also in 2018, EJI opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (NMPJ) which,
like the Legacy Museum, is another node of memorialization. Located less than a mile
from the Legacy Museum, the NMPJ is dedicated to mostly Black victims of racial-terror
lynchings. Housed in a pavilion-style structure, the NMPJ contains hanging columnar
memorials corresponding to over 800 counties where over 4,400 documented lynch-
ings between 1887 and 1950 occurred. Starting at a high point one walks next to the
columns, inscribed with the identifying information of lynching victims. As one moves
through the memorial in a clockwise direction, the columns eventually are overhead. In
the last stretch of walking the memorial, one is well below the columns with a water wall
to the left and in front of one’s path lies an elevated glass box with soil in it collected from
lynching locations from around the US. At the end of the memorial, one may turn right
to walk up a rounding path to the top of the interior where “Memorial Square” resides.
This square symbolizes the public squares and courthouse lawns where lynchings took
place as public spectacle. Here, one comes to a resting point to contemplate spectating
the terror, torture, and murder of Black people. As with the Legacy Museum, by moving
through and connecting to particular spaces as well as mediums, visitors participate in
embodied experiences of memory, providing more impactful awareness that may con-
tribute to visitors’ personal and community networks of racial healing.
If visitors turn left at the end of the pavilion of hanging columns, they enter an ad-
jacent field, where 800 duplicate columns are waiting, lying on the ground, to be re-
claimed and re-placed by the individual counties across the US, largely in the South
(Figure 2). Thus, the columns are also actants – pregnant with not only the movement of
memory but also calling people to create participatory feedback loops that assemble the
past and present to continue to work for changing the race narrative in America. This is
because the returning memorials may only be installed after substantive memory-work
in the community occurs. EJI wants the local memorial to “…represent the accomplish-
ment of work done so far, and stand as a symbolic reminder of the community’s contin-
uing efforts to truthfully grapple with painful racial history” (Equal Justice Initiative
2020). In fact, EJI established the Community Remembrance Project to facilitate efforts
to locate the reclaimed lynching monuments from the field, institute historical markers
of lynching locations, organize soil collection and ceremonies at lynching sites, and pro-
vide essay contests for high schools to support the development of local, community-led
efforts (Equal Justice Initiative 2020).
Created in response to EJI’s clarion call and compelled by the lying columns and its
own history of racial terror, the Jefferson County Memorial Project (JCMP) is Birming-
ham, Alabama’s grassroots effort to retrieve the county’s memorial column. While JCMP
initially focused on the retrieval project, like EJI, the organization quickly expanded its
vision, organized around the four pillars of Research, Educate, Place, and Advocate, con-
necting and creating actants and networks of the past, present, and future. For example,
while awaiting EJI’s directions for the retrieval process, JCMP developed the Fellows
Mobilities and Regenerative Memorialization 331
program, facilitating community research on the 30 documented lynching victims in the
county and service projects for Donaldson Correctional Facility. This research produced
the report Jefferson County’s 30 Residents, providing biographical history and a recount-
ing of terror lynchings (Jefferson County Memorial Project Fellows 2019). Moreover, in
partnership with EJI, JCMP serves as a nodal actant by working with communities to
locate historical markers at lynching sites throughout the county.4
In 2019, EJI opened the Peace and Justice Memorial Center across the street from the
Memorial. Included at the Center is a monument for victims of lynching from 1950–1959
and additional jars of soil collected from lynching sites of this time period, extending
the Memorial’s work, as an ongoing, ever-becoming project. The Center also aims to
contribute to the goals of the Memorial and Legacy Museum by hosting nationally ac-
claimed artists, writers, and scholars, showing films, and providing other programming,
enhancing their education goals for the local community as well as the broader public.
Together the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice
and Center are moving. That is, they rely on movement – emotionally, politically, and
geographically – to build capacity for regenerative memorialization. They move the
heart and mind of the visitor to understand the gravity of racial terror of the past, and
Figure 2. View of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, including duplicate steel monuments
to be reclaimed by community organizations in counties where racial terror lynchings took place.
Photography by Jordan Brasher.
332 sheehan et al.
especially in the case of the museum, to understand how that past continues to shape
racial injustices today. The affective qualities of the many materialities, such as the soil
from lynching sites, of the museum, memorial, and Center work in alliance with EJI
programs that call visitors to engage with the significant sociocultural capacity-building
of memory-work. In this way, EJI extends and creates new actor networks, such as the
JCMP. EJI’s nodes of memorializations are regenerative – inspiring ever-greater efficacy
in “changing the narrative about race in America.” They empower feedback loops via
ongoing memory-work, including research, educational programming, and, of course,
memorialization in the landscape at local levels that create, contribute, and connect to
broader networks that work towards greater socio-spatial justice.
future movements of memory in the south
In 2020, the critical events of the global Covid-19 pandemic and yet another wave
of murders of unarmed Black women and men by white supremacist vigilantes and
state police forces, not only enlivened the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which
EJI has long emphasized in its varied work (Arora 2020), they also have hastened par-
ticular forms of memory-work and substantial memorial-landscape change. Late and
inadequate government responses to Covid-19 have contributed to tragic human tolls,
mentally, physically, and financially. These intersecting actor networks of government
ineptitude and social calamity have drawn public ire, an actant uniting an intersectional
racial justice movement. Mandated quarantines and shut-downs at city and state levels
generated unattended time and space. On May 25, 2020, the devastating eight-minute
viral video of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, and his last words, also gasped pre-
viously by other Black victims of police violence, “I can’t breathe,” have become compel-
ling actants that levy diverse public alliances for police reform and greater racial justice
throughout the nation and the world. Thus, with collective outrage stemming from the
two critical events above and with “unoccupied” time as well as vacant streets, parks,
and squares, antiracism advocates and activists have galvanized to participate in (un)
planned BLM public protests to demand change. In the South, these protests often take
place where Confederate and other white supremacist men are memorialized, where
they call for or take direct action to remove the monuments, thus connecting the past
with the present and the hope of a more just future.
Indeed, on May 31, 2020, protestors in Linn Park, Birmingham’s primary public space,
surrounded by city hall, the county courthouse, the state archives, and the art museum
demonstrated against the police murder of George Floyd. Among other actions, they
successfully tore from its plinth the statue of Charles Linn, who, though a civic leader in
the city, served in the Confederate Navy. Some protestors turned to the statue of Thomas
Jefferson on the east side of the park, determined to remove it through fire—they were
unsuccessful, though the base of Jefferson was significantly scorched. The incensed
crowd also shouted for the removal of the Confederate obelisk at the south end of the
park. Some in the crowd spray painted the memorial, while one protestor used his truck
in an attempt to pull it down. Mayor Randall Woodfin arrived at the protest, promising
Mobilities and Regenerative Memorialization 333
to remove the Confederate memorial within 24 hours. He kept his promise, and by the
end of the first day of June, the statue was gone and the plinth ground down to nothing.
Today, a park visitor would see the empty plinth of the Charles Linn statue, the torched
base of the Jefferson statue, and a square of new pavers creating empty space where the
Confederate monument once stood. On the horizon, JCMP will install Jefferson Coun-
ty’s memorial column to victims of lynching (that still rests on the ground at the Equal
Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace) in Linn Park, the site of the county’s
first recorded lynching. The continuing story of Linn Park shows how in memory-work,
material nodal actants may dissolve and change, while others dynamically emerge and
coalesce (Latour 2005). Moreover, it demonstrates how memorials in the landscape are
just one element in ever-changing relations and associations among a variety of actants
and networks in regenerative memorialization.
Acknowledging the mobile nature of memory-work and building upon Clowney
(2013) and Brasher et al. (2017), Sheehan (2019) proposes dynamic landscape impact
assessments of memorial landscapes (proposed and existing) to consider their social
and human rights impacts on local areas. She outlines a participatory iterative process
with diverse local and state stakeholders to (re)examine, at regular intervals, memorial
landscapes, recommending plans for socio-spatial healing. Sheehan (2019, 199) con-
cludes with “the hope that [these local efforts be] interlinked to a larger regional regen-
erative system of memory-work.” Yet charting any kind of one-size-fits-all memoriali-
zation approach for the South seems difficult at best and dangerous at worst, given the
ever-changing relations, associations, and emerging actants and networks. We contend,
however, that it is precisely the dynamism inherent in a regenerative paradigm that cre-
ates the potential to move, in myriad ways, human and nonhuman landscapes.
Looking toward the future, we encourage scholars of the South to continue mapping
actants already creating spaces for memory such as the Equal Justice Initiative (Ala-
bama), the Southern Poverty Law Center (Alabama), and “smaller” actants, organiza-
tions, and activists (Take ‘Em Down Nola, Cville, Jacksonville; Move the Monument),
local and state governments, and their associated networks. To some extent, the geogra-
phies of memorialization are already being plotted. For example, the Southern Poverty
Law Center already has an ongoing project of surveying Confederate-inspired memori-
alization placement, and since 2015 their removal in the landscape, but the actants and
the networks responsible for their removal are not included in the resource. Moreover,
as recent scholarship has argued, counter-mapping and the very notion of what consti-
tutes mapping, need to be incorporated into this ongoing critical enterprise (Alderman
et al. 2021).
Accordingly, we call on scholars to work with citizens, organizations, and local and
state governments to identify the relative strengths and weaknesses of the socio-spatial
memory-work of actants and actor networks in the South. This would entail an ongoing
area assessment in order to create feedback loops, similar to the dynamic landscape im-
pact assessments that Sheehan (2019) proposes, using participatory GIS and qualitative
inquiry. Social justice actants (new markers, activists, social media) moving in strong
alliance, for example, could indicate the forming of a strong node, such as the JCMP.
334 sheehan et al.
Conversely, counties not reclaiming their lynching column through EJI’s Community
Remembrance Project could indicate a lack of actants (people, resources, knowledge,
ideas) and necessary relations or that other actants’ and networks’ alliances are solidi-
fying the stasis of white (male) supremacy in some areas. Accordingly, human actants
could invest more resources (also actants) into these areas to facilitate the reclaiming
Additionally, for the South to more effectively work towards self-healing, more social
justice organizations and local and state governments need to directly create and connect
to existing spaces for memory-work generally and memorialization in the landscape spe-
cifically, just as EJI has done. Diverse existing social justice organizations with a more
likely ability to allocate or raise resources for such efforts, like the Mississippi Center
for Justice, Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond (Louisiana), Southern Christian
Leadership Conference (Georgia), Southern Coalition for Social Justice (North Caro-
lina), Southerners on New Ground (across the South), and The Equity Alliance (Tennes-
see), could lead efforts in developing cultural spaces and landscapes for memory and
importantly integrating this work into how they go about achieving their social justice
Such organizations’ position in social justice networks of the South would elevate the
centrality of socio-spatial memory-work to restoring lost plenitude. This is not to argue
for a top-down approach. Recall that local actants and public participation are funda-
mental to regenerative memorialization. Actants (human/nonhuman/material/nonma-
terial) work in assembly, enrolling other actants for particular aims, where changing al-
liances and relations determine modes of ordering and hierarchy, rather than traditional
notions of scale and power.
Significantly, the diversity of organizations would also bring an intersectional ap-
proach to memory-work. As scholars argue, it is not possible to separate subjectivi-
ties such as gender, race, class, and sexuality in analyzing the social (Crenshaw 1993,
Valentine 2007) because the experience of one subjectivity affects the experience and
constitution of others (Rodó-de-Zárate and Baylina 2018). Accordingly, intersectional
approaches to social justice efforts bring different subjectivities to the fore in memory-
work and memorialization in the Southern landscape as marginalization is not treated
evenly. Some marginalized subjectivities and events receive more recognition than
others in remembering the past, creating marginalization within marginalization (Tay-
waditep 2002, Harris 2009). This is not to say that all subjectivities maintain the same
significance in any given context and place but rather such an approach takes this fluid-
ity into account (Domosh 1998, Valentine 2007, Gilbert 2011, Hopkins 2018, Rodó-de-
Zárate and Baylina 2018).
Finally, the above suggestions necessitate the mobility of actants and actor networks
working in alliance. Such alliances could facilitate and amplify further healing from en-
trenched wounds of the past and contribute to restoring lost plenitude. Such memory-
work, particularly memorialization in the landscape, would be more than symbolic, as
important as that is, for example, to a sense of belonging in the present and future. If re-
generative memorialization, a continuous endeavor, becomes integral to various social
Mobilities and Regenerative Memorialization 335
justice aims, it would help produce material changes to the cultural, economic, and po-
litical realities of marginalized groups. Ultimately, we see regenerative memorialization
as a useful paradigm for fostering the kinds of reparative socio-spatial cultural systems
that generate capacity for building an intersectional, just future for the American South.
We want to thank the research participants from the Equal Justice Initiative and the Jefferson
County Memorial Project for their insights into and efforts of memory-work in the US South. We
also express our deep appreciation for the very thoughtful suggestions and encouragement of two
anonymous reviewers as well as the editors, Bill Graves and Derek Alderman, for this special issue.
1. Although we do not have space to fully engage with the emerging body of scholarship on re-
parative memorialization, we see regenerative memorialization as one approach to understanding
and ultimately hopefully bolstering the reparative capacity – made ongoing via regenerative feed-
back loops – of memorial landscapes. See Figlio 2017, Jimeno 2018, Allen and Brasher 2019, and
Greeley et al. 2020 for a sampling of scholarship exploring the reparative capacity of social memory.
2. Scholars and the public have made calls to include and make central, for example, the histo-
ries of enslaved Black people at toured Southern sites of memory (Carter et al. 2014, Cook 2016,
Benjamin and Alderman 2018, Hanna et al. 2019, Lovelace 2021). Interventions have begun at
some sites (Commander 2018, Johnson 2019, McInnis 2019, Lebron 2020, Pratt and Rojas 2021),
though the efficacy of these interventions has been questioned (Small 2013, Autry 2019).
3. Actor-network theory has much in common with assemblage theory, particularly concerning
human and nonhuman actants in memory-work (see, for example, Waterton and Dittmer 2014);
however, ANT provides a more effective means to trace relations in empirical work (Müller 2015).
4. Other cities and counties are also working with EJI to widen and deepen the actor network
of memorialization in the landscape of lynching victims. See, for example, Anne Arundel County,
Maryland, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, Dekalb County, Georgia (, Washington County
Arkansas (, and Alexandria, VA (
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dr. rebecca sheehan ( is an Associate Professor in the
Department of Geography at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, 74078.
Her research interests include public space, especially concerning identity, inclusion, and
memorialization in New Orleans as well as the larger US South.
342 sheehan et al.
dr. jordan brasher (, @jpbrasher) is an Assistant
Professor in the Department of History and Geography at Columbus State University in Columbus,
Georgia, 31901. He is also a Research Fellow with Tourism RESET and his research interests
include race, place, heritage tourism, public memory, and settler colonialism in the US South and
dr. jennifer speights-binet ( is a Professor of Geography in the
Department of Geography and Sociology at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, 35229.
Her research interests include cultural and historical geography, urbanism, public memory, and
the memorialization of public space.
... One of those new possibilities involves what Sheehan (2019) calls "regenerative memorialization" (also, see Greeley et al. 2020;Sheehan et al. 2021). Instead of viewing memory-objects in isolation or as fixed elements of memory-places, a regenerative perspective advocates for a systemsbased, processual approach to memorialization. ...
Full-text available
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.
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Responding to recent work in critical cartographic studies and Black Geographies, the purpose of this paper is to offer a conceptual framework and a set of evocative cartographic engagements that can inform geography as it recovers the seldom discussed history of counter-mapping within the African American Freedom Struggle. Black resistant cartographies stretch what constitutes a map, the political work performed by maps, and the practices, spaces, and political-affective dimensions of mapping. We offer an extended illustration of the conventional and unconventional mapping behind USA anti-lynching campaigns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, highlighting the knowledge production practices of the NAACP and the Tuskegee Institute’s Monroe Work, and the embodied counter-mapping of journalist/activist Ida B. Wells. Recognizing that civil rights struggles are long, always unfolding, and relationally tied over time and space, we link this look from the past to contemporary, ongoing resistant cartographical practices as scholars/activists continue to challenge racialized violence and advance transitional justice, including the noted memory-work of the Equal Justice Initiative. An understanding of African American traditions of counter-mapping is about more than simply inserting the Black experience into our dominant ideas about cartography or even resistant mapping. Black geographies has much to teach cartography and geographers about what people of color engaged in antiracist struggles define as geographic knowledge and mapping practices on their own terms—hopefully provoking a broader and more inclusive definition of the discipline itself.
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The power of memorialization is widely recognized as a form of symbolic reparation aimed at overcoming deep social divisions in the aftermath of mass violence. Yet memorialization as a juridical tool of repair lacks systematic conceptual elaboration, and its potential remains underutilized. This often results in ineffective, even detrimental monuments, and in programmatic failures to integrate memorial practices into multilayered strategies for justice and social reconciliation. This article explores three case studies from the Inter-American Human Rights System in order to examine the strengths and shortcomings of existing approaches to memorialization. We then offer recommendations for expanding the reparative and transformative capacities of symbolic reparations. We conclude by summarizing our observations on how the fundamentally expressive nature of symbolic reparations provides a potentially powerful tool of repair and transformation.
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In addition to recognizing a commemorative space and geography that serve to legitimize a particular racial identity, streetscapes in the U.S. named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (MLK) are also a stereotyped space that is presupposed as marginalized. The main objective of this paper is to investigate whether stereotyped MLK neighborhoods differ from the lived spaces. To achieve this objective, the paper relies on two indexes of segregation: namely dissimilarity and interaction indices, the racial composition, and the socioeconomic characteristics of MLK neighborhoods in the 48 contiguous states. Both dissimilarity and interaction indices implied higher segregation in the South and Midwest. The higher proportion of the African American population relative to Whites and other races in the MLK neighborhoods, except in California, confirms that the MLK streetscapes are racially concentrated spaces. Further, analysis of socioeconomic variables does resonate with the stereotype of MLK neighborhoods as marginalized spaces. To demystify the stereotype and to reconstruct the identity of African Americans and their lived and experienced spaces, this paper draws upon studies of the broader process of racialization, critical toponymy, and stereotype theories. Based on this exploratory approach, the paper concludes that though the characteristics of MLK neighborhoods reflect their marginalized status, this status is itself the result of a broader process of racialization. This process has distributed resources unequally among racial groups, forming and buttressing negative stereotypes about African Americans while also stigmatizing their living spaces, which are all too often susceptible to a policy of benign (or not-so-benign) neglect, property devaluation, and industrial pollution.
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Scholars are increasingly studying memory-work as an essential place-defining force within cities, but few scholars have analyzed urban redevelopers as agents of memory-work. Using the Montgomery Builds effort to redevelop the Kress Building as a "memory moment," we argue for a broader reading of memory-work that recognizes the broad spectrum of social actors, interests, and tensions involved in not only doing justice to the legacies of racialized pasts but also appropriating them in the service of urban capital. Central to our argument is a recognition that urban spaces are not just the product of the labor of remembering and preserving, but that these spaces have an affective and material place and impact within people's lives and connections with the past. In so doing, we articulate how memory works through the remaking of space and place and argue for a broader definition of memory-work, a recognition of the harder and softer socio-political forms they can take in cities, and the way ostensibly painful memories are folded back into urban redevelopment visions in ways that facilitate but also complicate development and racial reconciliation.
On August 21–22, 1831, led by Nat Turner, a group of free and enslaved Black men engaged in the largest slave rebellion to ever take place on US soil. Marching across Southampton County, VA, this rebellion created a Black freedom trail. This freedom trail, however, has no official memorials, mon-uments, or tours – unlike those found in places like Boston or Philadelphia. By employing the theoretical and methodological processes, rememory (a place where images of the past can be stored), and remembering (the act of using memory to reassemble that which has been broken apart), or Black Feminist Hauntology, this article investigates why Nat Turner’s Freedom Trail is denied memorialization. Black Feminist Hauntology works against traditional memory to highlight how violence against Black people is made legitimate by geography, in the form of state-sponsored roads, historical markers, and restored houses. © 2021, University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.
This essay examines how several contemporary black women artists—Attica Locke, Natalie Baszile, Beyoncé, Ava DuVernay, and Kara Walker—interrogate the afterlives of the sugar plantation in present day literature, performance, and visual art. Drawing on Katherine McKittrick’s conceptualization of “black women’s geographies,” I show how these artists turn to the landscape and built environment of the sugar plantation and factory to restore black women and the US South to the global history of sugar. Part one, “Plantation Pasts,” examines Locke’s 2012 novel, The Cutting Season, alongside Kara Walker’s 2014 installation, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, as critiques of the sugar plantation’s ongoing economic viability through plantation tourism and modern agribusiness. By foregrounding a “logic of perishability” that insists on the plantation’s dissolution and demise, Locke and Walker interrogate these sugar plantation afterlives to exhume, expose, and ultimately revise buried histories of racial dispossession and consumption in the US and global sugar industries. Part two, “Plantation Futures,” examines how Natalie Baszile’s 2014 novel, Queen Sugar, its television adaptation created by Ava DuVernay, and several of Beyoncé’s music videos—“Déjà Vu” (2006), “Formation” (2016), and the visual album Lemonade (2016)—“return” to Louisiana’s sugar plantation geographies to confront the violent histories of slavery and Jim Crow and to reconcile African Americans’ contentious relationship to land, agriculture, and contemporary southern identity in the post-Civil Rights era. Given the limits of colonial and state archives of slavery, I argue that these artists reestablish the landscape and architecture of the sugar plantation and factory as counter-archives, wherein the slave cabin, big house, refinery, and cane fields are figured as contested sites of official history and memory. In doing so, they “respatialize” hegemonic geographies, exposing and indicting the persisting legacies of racial-sexual dispossession and violence, on one hand, and positing embodied practices of pleasure, mourning, and collectivity as modes of “reterritorialization” on the other, imagining a new relationship to land, agriculture, and the earth.
This essay extends the work of critical international and intercultural scholars that have studied the persuasive functions of memoryscapes. The authors argue that the 2018 opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (NMPJ) and Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama has provided Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) with key spaces and places for radical critiques of what they call the American forgetting of “racial terror” lynchings. The authors contend that unlike more traditional civil rights museums, which tend to highlight the progress that has been made since the time of the 1960s civil rights movement, the more “postmodern” NMPJ and Legacy Museum provide viewers with a “hauntology” that connects America’s dark history of lynching to its current age of mass incarceration.
In southern Louisiana's Mississippi basin, the parishes upriver from New Orleans are home to multiple restored sugar plantations and museums focused on the history of plantation slavery and the culture of the region. This interview-essay is based on interviews conducted individually with slave plantation site and museum operators, artists, academics, and those between and beyond these categories. The interviews are presented as a staged dialogue on the dynamics of violence, commerce, identity, and agency that construct plantation slavery tourism in Louisiana in conflicting ways.
In this article, we explore the controversy surrounding the removal of four Confederate-inspired monuments in New Orleans through the narratives of key figures and organizations. We show how pro- and anti-monument supporters employed particular tactics that informed strategies on a continuum, from indirect to direct, to deny and to address white supremacy in the landscape and beyond. These strategies differed in their degree of deference to whiteness, deference that reveals how white fragility is interwoven into the politics of social justice and equity in the memorial landscape.