The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory

Article excerpt

Romano, Renee C. and Raiford Lee, eds. The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006. 382 pp. $22.95.

Renee Romano and Lee Raiford have assembled and contributed to a fascinating collection that helps us recognize how civil rights memory is created and the role it plays in today's society. They provide a thorough introduction that adds depth and perception and helps to create an understanding of how the mass media, social movements, and civic spaces contribute to, borrow from, and create memory. They make clear that they use the word "memory" to explain how "people recall, lay claim to, understand, and represent the past." Much of the research revolves around the belief that the media, historiography, and public officials have added to the subjective, and sometimes inaccurate, nature of memory.

The book presents descriptive cases to show how events and texts have helped to form civil rights memory. The authors of chapter look at both the naturally evolving and "institutionalizing" generation of memory. Examples of institutional memory building include the placement of statues, the naming of streets, and the establishment of museums, and each of these strategies is thoughtfully examined in the first section of the book. The authors use examples to explain how municipal authorities and citizens can consciously construct cultural narratives that will influence the collective public memory. One of the most revealing examples of consciously creating memory is the story of theBirmingham Civil Rights Institute, a ten-year endeavor that resulted in a nationally recognized and celebrated museum and research center.

In the "Institutionalizing Memory" section, Romano's chapter addresses the trial of the Birmingham church bombers. She explores how recent trial coverage has influenced the memory of events that took place in 1963 and explains that the coverage of the trial is significant because it constructs a "narrative about the past that may well influence both how people remember the movement and what they think about race relations in the present. …