SAH Civil Rights Memorial Study Tour

The Society of Architectural Historians has recently announced an intriguing tour of Civil Rights memorials in Georgia and Alabama, October 8-12, 2009. According to the SAH website, the four-day tour will begin in Atlanta, visiting Auburn Avenue and the Atlanta University Center (where Morehouse, Spelman, and Morris Brown are located), and of course the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Getting on a bus, they’ll travel to Tuskegee, which I’ve been to once and would love to see again–it’s an amazing place. Next stop is Montgomery, including Dexter Avenue-King Memorial Baptist Church, and of course, the Civil Right memorial by Maya Lin “Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters . . .” The fourth day will go to Birmingham, where:

We will devote considerable attention to Birmingham’s historical racial geography, including the early twentieth-century middle-class black suburb of Smithfield; Dynamite Hill (scene of the late 1940s bombings intended to prevent expansion of black residence into a white neighborhood); the remains of the Fourth Avenue black business district; Sloss Furnace, a National Historic Landmark that interprets the steel industry that once controlled Birmingham politics and established the conditions of life for both black and white Birminghamians; and postwar urban-renewal intended to reinforce Birmingham’s spatial segregation. Our tour will culminate at the extraordinary collection of monuments in Kelly Ingram Park, scene of the televised confrontations of March to May 1963, along with the adjacent Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the church bombed in September 1963 and a major monument of black-middle-class life in Birmingham.

As you can see, this will be a packed tour, and it will be led by Dell Upton, who I’ve mentioned before on this blog in “Fluidity in Architecture.” Upton is a recognized scholar and leader in the vernacular and urban studies, and I think will have a lot of interesting insights into the meanings and uses of the Civil Rights Memorials that have begun to dot our landscape much as the Civil War monuments started going up about 30-40 years after the war.

There’s a fellowship available to cover the $1,695 cost for PhD students and/or an “emerging professionals.” Too bad I’m not emerging anymore, although I can’t say that I’m completely emerged either. Would I be defined as “mid-career”? “Once-Promising”?

Medgar Evers House (1956), Jackson

Medgar Evers House (1956), Jackson

I don’t know why they aren’t coming to Mississippi. Was it something we said? I guess, while we have lots of sites associated with the Civil Rights movement, maybe we don’t have as many overt memorials to the movement as Georgia and Alabama? We do have the Medgar Evers House and a monument to him at the Medgar Evers Branch Library. There’s the gravestone-like monument to Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman at the Mt. Nebo Church in Philadelphia. Jackson State University–there’s a small monument to the two killed in the confrontation there in May, 1970.

What other monuments am I missing? Obviously there are many sites around Jackson, including the old Municipal Library, site of the Tougaloo Nine sit-in, but there’s no monument there. The store at Money where Emmett Till met his murderes is falling down because the owners–the family of the murderers–won’t sell.

I picked up an interesting book recently called Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography of Memoryby Owen J. Dwyer and Derek H. Alderman. I haven’t read it through yet, but I have flipped through it several times–the first half of the book features a photo of a memorial site on each page along with text analyzing it. This intriguing comment in the text accompanying the Money Store caught my eye and may explain why Mississippi isn’t in the SAH Study Tour:

Whereas Alabama’s presentation of civil rights history as ‘heritage’ is part of the state’s economic development strategy, Mississippi has been unwilling to capitalize on its sites associated with the Won Cause, perhaps because the Cause hasn’t yet been won in the Magnolia State.

Umm . . . I’m not sure whether to be miffed or not. Surely they can’t be implying that Alabama has a better record of racial reconciliation than Mississippi, allowing them to “capitalize” on the movement while we twiddle our thumbs? Something about that doesn’t ring true to me, but maybe I’m just out of touch. Thoughts? Anyone? Anyone?

Categories: African American History, Civil Rights, Historic Preservation, Museums, Preservation Education

1 reply

  1. Obviously if you have ask these questions, not enough has been done in Mississippi. That’s a shame too. But I’m fascinated by the information I gleaned about the Freedom Movement from some of these web sites. Especially the Brown-Tougaloo University, Freedom Now! and Civil Rights Movement Veteran’s web sites. I was born in Mississippi and grew up in Alabama during this era. It was such a surreal existence in comparison to all that I have come to know since then. I have always been awed and very thankful for the tremendous courage exhibited by the Freedom Riders and Freedom Marchers.
    It seems a shame that these pioneers and the places where they made a stand in Mississippi and in other Southern states are not being memorialized like the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. Today when I return home I know that we walk in the footsteps of giants like Hamer, Evers, Meredith, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner to name but a few. Mississippi in particular seems to have come a long way, but it still has a lot of work to do. I wonder, is anything like that being contemplated at this time?
    I recently began reading a fascinating book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II, by Douglas A. Blackmon. The more I’m sure is known about down home, it turns out just begins to scratches the surface.
    Please write your congressman and meet with state officials to get moving on this soon. Let us know what we can do to help out.
    Eugene Fleming
    Richmond, CA


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: