Interpreting the Civil Rights Movement: Place, Memory, and Conflict
Produced over the past decade, monuments and museums dedicated to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s have desegregated America's memorial landscape. Tracing a broad arc across the US South, the material elements of this landscape — historic markers, monuments, parks, registered buildings, and museums — present a distinct challenge to representations of an elite, white American past. This challenge, however, is offered in a distinctly gendered manner, inasmuch as the role of women in organizing and leading the movement is obscured. Further, the historical narratives concretized at these sites are mediated by conventions associated with civil rights historiography and the tourism development industry. The result is a complex, sometimes ironic landscape. Via the narratives they embed and the crowds they attract, these landscapes are co-constitutive with contemporary politics of representing the past in the United States. This paper offers an overview of current memorial practices and representations of the Civil Rights movement found at the country's major memorial landscapes.