Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Remembering Medgar Evers: Writing the Long Civil Rights Movement

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Remembering Medgar Evers: Writing the Long Civil Rights Movement

Article excerpt

Remembering Medgar Evers: Writing the Long Civil Rights Movement. By Minrose Gwin. Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures. (Athens, Ga., and London: University of Georgia Press, 2013. Pp. [xiv], 232. Papier, $22.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-3564-3; cloth, $69.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-3563-6.)

"The laws are with him / To protect his white skin / To keep up his hate / So he never thinks straight": Bob Dylan penned these words, some of his most memorable lyrics of social commentary, within weeks of the murder

of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963. Dylan's "Only a Pawn in Their Game" focused on Evers's assassin, Byron De La Beckwith, to underscore not just the horror of the crime but also that poor southern whites were an extension of a morally bankrupt culture and power structure. Although Dylan performed "Pawn" at the landmark March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, historian Sean Wilentz has argued that the song was at best an awkward fit with "the moral dramaturgy of the civil rights movement" ("Bob Dylan's Tribute to Medgar Evers Took on the Big Picture," All Things Considered, June 12, 2013, www.npr.org).

In Remembering Medgar Evers: Writing the Long Civil Rights Movement, Minrose Gwin explores cultural products like "Only a Pawn in Their Game" to situate Evers both in the history of the struggl es of the 1960s and in the ways that struggle has been remembered. Gwin's focus is "aesthetic acts of memory"--newspapers, songs, poems, southern memoirs, and essays--because those products "confront us with the complexity, the multidimensionality, the tangled messiness of history" (pp. 157, 157-58). "A flame [was] kindled," Gwin explains of the project's origins, "out of my own uneasy sense ... of a void around the Medgar Evers story that aesthetic production had yet to fill" (p. 159). Through analysis of that aesthetic production, Gwin argues that "historically and imaginatively imbued memories of the civil rights movement that emerge from African American history and memory might also shape a broader sense of relation and responsibility to global issues, past and present" (p. 23). Partly because of this transparent plea to make use of history, Gwin's judgments and labels sometimes seem a bit heavy-handed. …

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