Book Review:

Romano, Renee C. and Leigh Raiford, eds. The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory. Athens, GA: The University of Georgie Press, 2006.

Study Up on Civil Rights

book

The Civil Rights Movement is a very important part of American history. This was a moment when a group of people, tired of the treatment that they had been faced with for hundreds of years, stood up and made it clear that they were no longer going to endure it. People like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Huey P. Newton are remembered for their contributions to the movement, whether or not those contributions are perceived as good or bad. Events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Birmingham Church Bombing, and the Black Panther’s conflicts with the police are also remembered for the effects they had on the movement and society, whether good or bad. In The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory, how such people and events are remembered is the center of the discussion.

The book is divided into four sections, Institutionalizing Memory, Visualizing Memory, Diverging Memory, and Deploying Memory. The first section explores the ways in which the historical memory of the movement has been translated into public memory in sites such as museums, memorials, and courtrooms. The second section examines how the Civil Rights Movement has been represented in the mass media. The third section examines the role of gender in the Civil Rights Movement, and the fourth section examines how groups since the movement have attempted, successfully or unsuccessfully, to connect themselves to the spirit of the movement.1

The essay in the first section that did the best job of showing how the Civil Rights Movement has been remembered by the public was “The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the New Ideology of Tolerance,” by Glenn Eskew. In his article, Eskew followed the process by which the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute came into being. He examined how it was possible for such a museum to go up in a city and state that had been known for sometimes violent reprisals against civil rights activists. The city had seen the bombing of a local church and the release of attack dogs onto peaceful protestors. Both white and black people were involved in the project to include Governor George Wallace, a once virulent enemy of the Civil Rights Movement. He now saw the economic potential of such an institution, and along with others, saw how such an institution could serve to repair both Birmingham’s and Alabama’s tarnished image.2

In the second section, the essay that best described how the Civil Rights Movement has been used by the mass media was “Restaging Revolution: Black Power, Vibe Magazine, and Photographic Memory,” by Leigh Raiford. In this essay, Raiford compared the narratives of the Civil Rights Movement, examined the use of photography by the Black Panthers and then how their images were used by the media, compared the Black Power Movement to other anti-colonial struggles of the 1960s, and showed how images produced by both the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power have produced consumable memory. She used the movies that involved the character Foxy Brown to show how Black Power has been both used to make money and how the movies have been used to turn the narrative of Black Power from one of liberation to one of vengeance.3

In the third section, the essay that best examined the role of gender in the Civil Rights Movement was “Engendering Movement Memories: Remembering Race and Gender in the Mississippi Movement,” by Steve Estes. In his essay, Estes examined the ways in which movement activists shaped their own accounts of the Civil Rights Movement as the dominant historical memory and historiography of the movement changed. He pointed to how white women’s accounts of sexism in the SNCC were altered later, as they came to feel that such accounts might take away from the focus of the movement as a fight for racial equality. He also examined the reality that black women had more opportunity in the movement than did white women.4

In the fourth section of the book, the essay that best stood out as an example of how groups, since the Civil Rights Movement, have attempted to connect themselves to the spirit of the movement was, ““Deaf Rights, Civil Rights: The Gallaudet “Deaf President Now” Strike and Historical Memory of the Civil Rights Movement,”” by R.A.R. Edwards. This was an example of how a group successfully related itself to the Civil Rights Movement. In his essay, Edwards followed the story of the Gallaudet University “Deaf President Now” Strike, and pointed out that the students were successful because they were able to mold a new image of themselves as an oppressed minority rather than a set of individuals with a medical problem. He also pointed out how their success led other disabled groups to pick up similar rhetoric in their successful push to get the Americans with Disabilities Act passed. Edwards also argued that, while deafness is now curable to some degree, this association with the Civil Rights Movement is more appropriate than creating an isolated ‘Deaf Culture.’5

What do the essays in this book show, collectively? First, they show that the Civil Rights Movement has not been forgotten. The people that lived the event are still alive and helping to develop the image of the movement and are passing that image to the next generation. They also show that the American people have taken to a more collective view of the Civil Rights Movement, in that the movement is not viewed by people as the sole possession of a single race. Deaf people, LGBT people, Women, Chicanos, Asians, and even Christians have attempted, some successfully and some unsuccessfully, to use the ideals of the movement to further their own interests in this country. 6

Applying this to the present, one might consider if current movements, like Occupy Wall Street, will be able to maintain that the plight of the working class is a civil rights issue. As the protesters argue for better jobs with better pay, greater educational opportunities, and fiscal and economic responsibility on the part of the government, they could make their connection by pointing out that Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed during an event in which he was offering support for striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.7

--Keifus

 

 

1 Romano, Renee C. and Leigh Raiford, eds., The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2006).

2 Glenn Eskew, “The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the New Ideology of Tolerance,” 37, 41.

3 Leigh Raiford, “Restaging Revolution: Black Power, Vibe Magazine, and Photographic Memory,” 224, 238-241, 242-245.

4 Steve Estes, “Engendering Movement Memories: Remembering Race and Gender in the Mississippi Movement,” 299-307.

5 R.A.R. Edwards, ““Deaf Rights, Civil Rights: The Gallaudet “Deaf President Now” Strike and Historical Memory of the Civil Rights Movement,”” 317-325, 336-340.

6 In “Integration as Disintegration: Remembering the Civil Rights Movement as a Struggle for Self-Determination in John Sayles’s Sunshine State,” Tim Libretti mentions briefly some the other movements, like the Chicano Movement that have taken inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement.

7 If one wished to follow the Occupy Wall Street movement or to do some research on its mission, one could get started at http://www.occupywallst.org/.