Showing posts with label memorials. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memorials. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Greetings from the Ledge: A Pop-Up Museum

I was running an administrative errand in a building I visit only infrequently on campus when I came across a small DIY pop-up exhibit commemorating numerous victims of racist violence.  Welcome to The Ledge Gallery, folks.  

This makes me glad. 




It is simple. It is somber. It is done with a very sparse curatorial hand --- no labels, no descriptions.  The images speak for themselves.  The images speak to those who stop, who look, who listen to what the they say.

A memorial card for Malcolm X holds the center of the tableau.  It forefronts "Our Black Shining Prince," the name Ossie Davis chose for Malcolm X in the eulogy he delivered at Faith Temple Church of God in February, 1965.  Davis famously likened X to Jesus and called on supporters to continue his work when he exhorted, " what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed-which, after the winter of discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is—a Prince—our own black shining Prince!—who didn't hesitate to die, because he loved us so."


Barry Blitt's "Dream of Reconciliation",  which graced the cover of the January 26, 2015 New Yorker Magazine, also made its way into the exhibit.  Dream invokes the iconic image of Martin Luther King linking arms with civil rights protestors during the march from Selma to Montgomery, but instead of King's historic contemporaries, Blitt chose to pair King with a different set of kin.  The cover depicts Dr. King marching alongside Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Wenjian Liu, the NYPD officer killed last month with Rafael Ramos.

There is also a photo of a witness call box, which were used so powerfully in this exhibition on police violence. Due to the exhibit, images of traditional police/fire call boxes have come to stand as a memorial for police violence.




Finally, the unidentifiable image.  South Africa?  The Children's March? I haven't been able to place the image of a police officer with two small boys or to track down the significance of the number, "24841."  If you know, please leave me a comment or email me.


The Ledge is simple, even subtle.  It is easy to miss, and in fact, I was dismayed by the number of people who either didn't notice it, or worse, noticed it and didn't think much of it.  Because it made me want to jump up and down.  It made me want to celebrate, despite its painful content.  It made me proud of the students who came up with the idea and implemented it, claiming space on this campus for memory.  


As U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves reminded us eloquently last week in a speech before sentencing three young white men for the death of James Craig Anderson, an African American who was beaten and then run over, racial injustice today must be understood and faced squarely within the context of over 200 years of institutional racist violence.  The inheritances of the past matter.  They cannot be unremembered and therefore they must not be forgotten.  


Thanks, Ledge guerrilla curators, for reminding us.   
And --- don't you all want to go build a pop-up museum right now? 


Monday, February 2, 2015

Night Will Fall: A Meditation on Representation

At ceremonies and pilgrimages, through newspaper accounts and private reflection, people around the world observed the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz last week.  It has become a touchstone date, a moment for remembrance, a call to witness. 

Perhaps the ghosts of the Holocaust were with us as well.  In a locked room at Auschwitz in which an the Italian television crew and Jewish leaders found themselves trapped. Amidst silence and candlelight at vigils across the globe.  
And in André Singers' film "Night Will Fall," which aired around the world on January 27th.


Night Will Fall is a film about witnessing.  About survival amidst death. About the ways to tell a story, the impact of the visual, the politics of evidence.  About the power of solid historical research to deepen our understanding of both the past and the horizons and the limits of our humanity.  It is a difficult and necessary film.


There's been much ado about the documentary, and for good reason.  It introduces most viewers to historical newsreel footage of the Allied liberation of Nazi concentration camps that British filmmaker Sidney Bernstein used to create the film "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey."  Bernstein's film was never completed, the project ultimately axed because the US Army withdrew its footage due to fears of alienating Germans at a critical point in the early Cold War.  

Some of the US footage was used by Billy Wilder, an Austrian Jew and Hollywood director , members of whose immediate family were killed in the Holocaust.  Wilder produced "Death Mills" for the U.S. Department of War.  Its purpose was perhaps best expressed by the intro for US audiences to the English language version of the short film, which played in German in cities and towns across occupied Germany and Austria to showcase Nazi atrocities.  "It is a reminder that behind the curtain of Nazi pageants and parades, millions of men, women and children were tortured to death -- the worst mass murder in human history." The Bernstein film that was never made, (until recently under guidance of the Imperial War Museums staff,) was a subtler, more evocative exposé.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Salem Witch Trial Memorial - “What's This Memorial Really About?”



I was supposed to give this talk today, but it got rained out.  I may have the chance to give it again sometime soon, but I thought I'd post this here in case anyone is interested.

The Salem Witch Trial memorial was erected in 1992 to mark the tercentenary of the witch hysteria. It was designed as the first physical structure in the city of Salem to commemorate the trials and the execution of twenty innocent people suspected of witchcraft in 1692.  

What a beautiful, reflective, introspective space.  People often forget just how long the memorial was in coming to fruition.  Historic Salem, Inc. created a committee in 1963 to commemorate what they then referred to as the Witch Delusion.  The idea was that the memorial would rest on Gallows Hill, where the hangings are believed to have taken place.  At that point, the Essex Institute, now part of the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Massachusetts Society for the Preservation of American Antiquities, now Historic New England, had tossed around the idea of purchasing the Gallows Hill lot on Proctor Street.  They intended to erect a granite shaft to honor those who were executed.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dialogue with Racial Violence - Really?

So, turns out that three first year students from the Ole Miss chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity were probably responsible for defacing the statue of James Meredith on the Ole Miss campus last weekend.  The chapter's been indefinitely suspended, but not before it voted to expel the students allegedly responsible for tying a noose around the neck of the statue and enrobing it in a flag emblazoned with the Confederate Battle flag.  Their parents must be so proud.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Performing Violence: The Case of the James Meredith Statue

Imagine being the journalist assigned to call an eighty-one year old man to tell him that the statue of his image, erected close to the site where the governor of his state physically barred his access to college 52 years ago, had been draped in a vintage confederate Georgia state flag, had a noose wrapped around its neck -- in other words, had been symbolically lynched?  James Meredith received calls from journalists this week, after the memorial to integration at the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, was vandalized on Sunday.

Let's traumatize him again, shall we?  

Meredith's response to the news of what was almost certainly a hate crime on the Oxford, Mississippi campus?  He told Shay Harris of WMCT that the crime confirmed what he already knew, " that Mississippi has a moral character breakdown."


As an historian who thinks a lot about the legacies of painful histories, I was concerned that the media might track down Meredith for his reaction.  To me, the story didn't lie there, however.  More important is the campus's response.  First, there is the alumni association's decision to offer a $25,000 reward for information that led to the arrest of the vandals.  Was this, I wondered, because they really wanted to find out what happened or because they knew they weren't going to? Was it an act of defiance against  hate crimes or an attempt to save face while also acknowledging the likelihood that the campus would keep its secrets?  Time will tell.  

Was the symbolic lynching a response to the Michael Dunn verdict?  There is no way of knowing, at least not unless the perpetrators are in custody.





PICTURE CREDIT : THOMAS GRANING/THE DAILY MISSISSIPPIAN/AP