Field Trip, “Memorials and Erasures”
Oct 31, 2008
Professor Chidsey Dickson
10:20 CVTC: Formerly, “State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded” (Tour guide Burk Blob, Director of Human Resources, CVTC)
**Lunch en route**
12 pm National D-Day Memorial (Tour Guide, Jim McCann)
3:30 Return to L.C.
fieldtrip will range across the city and surrounding area in search of a fuller
understanding of the “memorials and erasures” of
Some of the erasures in
For instance, there is no remembrance of how
There is no remembrance of the fact that
Trailways Bus Terminal (
Patterson Drug Store sit-in (1960).
Clinic is at
Ř Local colleges. All of them integrated in the 1960s. First RMWC, then LC, then SB. Sweet Briar was the last because the will that established the college stated that the school should be for whites only.
Ř Boonsboro Country Club Blacks were not allowed as members until 1987
Ř Lynchburg General Hospital Employees had separate dining facilities. Blacks ate in kitchen. Black nurses could not work in surgery or obstetrics.
This field trip, and accompanying readings, will help us explore how a city’s memorials and monuments shape the public memory of “significant” events and people. Why are many war monuments lifted onto pedestals while memorials to civic leaders are smallish plaques? Who decides which lives or events have “public resonance”—that is, importance for the identity of the larger group? Why does everyone know Martin Luther King but very few know Barbara Johns? Elaine Watson? Hermina Hendricks? Carl Pinn?
Can people get together and rethink a city’s use of memorials to tell the story of its past (and the direction of its future)? In other words, how could memorials be designed in the future?
Could memorials attract more visitors and really become apart of a community’s rituals if they were more:
o Interactive? Allowing ordinary visitors to contribute to the construction of the public memory? Inviting, through their design, people to see themselves in the historical circumstance (I.e., the Vietnam War Memorial is made of polished granite so you see your face in the names of the dead. the names are etched so it seems to invite people to made rubbings of the names).
o Physical? Like an installation or environment?
o Extreme? Like “scaremare” or the “funhouse”?
o ‘Shocking’? Like the work of Kara Walker or Michael Ray Charles*
o Integrated into everyday life? Into schools and malls and neighborhoods?
*These 3 websites address the issue of how contemporary artists have opened up the shameful issue of how to deal with the history of slavery and its racist superstructure: http://www.laep.org/artsonline/mrc/sambo.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Ray_Charles
Your zine project could deal with any number of possible issues or topics that come out of this fieldtrip:
Civil Rights in
“Othering” and Law: Past and Present
The Representation of War
The Representation of Death
The Value of History
Difference between Art Installations and Historical Commemoration
After choosing a topic, you’ll want to find an idea/question worth thinking about and write an essay. You might want to do some freewriting on one of the following themes before deciding:
Where do we see acts of public commemoration in
v How many monuments vs. memorials?
v What is the function of these “acts” of memory-writing? Testify to greatness? Bring closure to trauma? Signify a “contested form of remembrance” (i.e, cut against the grain)?
v What is the difference between a memorial , monument, and a marker?
Arthur Danto, an art critic, says: “We erect monuments so that we shall always remember and build memorials so that we shall never forget.” Monuments are not built to commemorate defects; the defeated dead are remembered in memorials….lives “sacrificed for a set of values” (Sturken* 403). A monument, which usually features “alpha males” (rulers and victors), offers closure on war with a “narrative of victory or bitter price for victory” (404).
“Memorials tend to emphasize specific texts or lists of the dead, whereas monuments are usually anonymous” (403).
“Markers” are perhaps the least substantial of all commemorative acts. They formally designate some place or person or event "historical" but without the larger pretensions of a monument to direct our behavior—to shape our values.
instance, there’s only a marker for
*Marita Sturken “The Wall, The Screen and
the Image: The
v How are visitors led in, directed, controlled? From what distance are you supposed to look at the monument/memorial (m/m) and how does that affect its effect on a visitor and/or its cultural significance?
v How/when/why was the m/m created? (What were the sources? Who were the specific audiences?)
v How has the m/m changed since its opening? (i.e. Any additions? The Vietnam War Memorial began two walls of black granite. Since 1984: they added a flag, statuary of 3 soldiers, and statue commemorating women who served in the wall)
v What counts as a “failed” monument/memorial? To succeed do they have to serve as the “focal point for a group” as the Confederate cemetery did for years (but no longer does)?
v Can people in a community create a counter-ritual with a monument at its center? I’m thinking of Prof Todd’s statement: “Memorials tell me about where I come from, whether I want to come from there or not.” Is it ethical to use a m/m in a way contrary to how it was intended?
v How do m/m “distract” or “soothe” audiences? (I.e., Todd’s comment that the Appomattox monument to the surrender of the Confederates includes humorous reference to Custer—who was late to the signing because he’s so vain that he was taking a lot of time to prepare his dress and coiffure—to “sooth and distract visitors from political controversies over military history and racial issues.”
Broad Themes: #2 Was the Civil Rights Successful?
The Classical Era of Civil Rights* (CCR) begins with Brown Vs. Board of Education (1954) and Montgomery Alabama Bus Boycott (1955) and ends with Voters Rights Act (1965). In this period, Civil Rights activists were reformists and assimilationists—their objections and demands were consistent with the liberal philosophy of American economic and social system. Achieving these goals (desegregation of pools and other public facilities) did not threaten material losses to whites.
The CCR movement had at its core MLK and the politics of reform and nonviolence. As represented in history books, it made “symbols” of MLK and Rosa Park, rather than seeing these people as complex historical agents, which would make room for considering other people involved in the broad movement, like historically underrepresented women: Ella Baker, Septima Poinsette Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida Wells-Barnett.
The Post-1965 Era of Civil Rights consists of demands and rhetoric that were in the most part rejected by whites, even liberals, because of the achievement of goals for Blacks meant material losses to Whites. Critical to this era are the writings of Paul Robeson, W E B DuBois, Marcus Garvey, MLK (as an advocate for the war on poverty and a critic of Vietnam War), Malcolm X, and a number of women activists: Angela Davis, Johnnie Tillman, Audre Lourde, Peggy MacIntosh, bell hooks, to name a few.
Black activists in this period made demands about
Black activists in this period also made self-empowerment arguments that did not include narratives/images of racial harmony but severely criticized mainstream assumptions and institutions:
As vital as the CCR was to the American democratic value of an egalitarian society, the post-1965 CR has been to the American democratic values of pluralism, self-determination and dignity. The post-1965 CR has inspired and provided strategies/examples for the National Farm Workers Association (Chavez), Chicano Movement, Native American Movement, Gay/Lesbian/Queer Movements, Disability Rights Movements and Independent Living Movement.
So, to some extent, it is possible to say that the CCR was successful in opening space for
Some problems with this argument. Dropout rates and median income of African-Amercians indicate that some of the post-1965 CR goals (economic parity and self-empowerment of black communities) have yet to be realized.
The official history and the public commemoration of the
entire Civil Rights Movement in
What is recorded about the struggle in history books (at least those written by white authors) often seems somewhat slanted towards an interpretation of the struggle that values the nonviolent and reformist aspects of the movement over more militant stances on poverty and racism. There are good arguments to be made that progress requires careful reform and assimilation, but there are good arguments on the other side, too.
For example, you can read in Clifton Potter and Dorothy
Lynchburg avoided the violence and polarization that threatened many southern communities during the desegregation crisis of 1950’s and 1960’s due to the conservatism and good sense of the ‘old guard,’ and the black churches and fraternal organizations’ decision to follow the path of reason and non-violence.
Even if it is true that the protests and militant rhetoric in Danville and other southern cities had some negative outcomes (polarization, clashes with police), it is also true that “violence and polarization” have in many places resulted in greater social gains for the oppressed than patient lawful obedience and biracial deliberation.
In another history of the struggle, James Elson’s Lynchburg: The First 200 Years, the author seems disappointed that blacks continued to lobby for change after they had gained admittance to the white school:
Much to the dismay of many white citizens, the more
The language seems to imply that whites’ “dismay” signaled
an equal stake in the issue for them as the one blacks had, which seems far
from the truth. One example of the “aggressive” behavior that Elson mentions
came in 1971 when 40 black students walked out of the E C Glass in protest
because the Principal would not hear their request for a Black history week.
They had WW Thornhill, later
*Most of the historical information is drawn from an article by Judith Rollins: “Part of a Whole: The Interdependence of the Civil Rights Movement and Other Social Movements.” Phylon. Vol 47, No. 1 (1st Qtr., 1986), pp 61-70.