Trauma Redeemed: The Narrative
Construction of Social Violence
Kim Lacy Rogers
In recent years, we have increasingly become exposed to the life narratives of people who have survived nearly unbearable experiences of violence and emotional devastation. Talk show guests, autobiographers, novelists, and academics of various persuasions have related the stories of disaster victims, Holocaust survivors, combat veterans, victims of political terrorism, and rape and incest survivors to an avid and interested public. Psychologists have shown a particular interest in the way that these life stories reflect a successful and creative adaptation to both the initial episodes of stress, and to later experiences of grief and loss ( Aberbach, 1989; Storr, 1988). Psychologists and historians have analyzed the personal narratives of trauma survivors in order to understand the methods individuals use to give meaning to experiences that have threatened them with annihilation and destruction ( Herman, 1992; Leydesdorff, 1992; Lifton, 1979; Mollica, 1988; Ochberg, 1988).
In this chapter, I examine the oral narratives of five African-American women and men who were active in the civil rights movement in the deep south in the 1960s. At various times in their 5 years with the movement in New Orleans and rural Louisiana and Mississippi, these individuals experienced terrorism and violence from segregationist Whites, and some suffered from battle fatigue due to continual exposures to danger and loss ( Carson, 1981; Rogers, 1993). Mid-life interviews with seven former members of New Orleans' chapter of the pacifist, interracial Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and two of their lawyers--known collectively in New Orleans as the CORE family--illustrate the incorporation of collective and individual trauma into mature personal narratives.
I argue that activists have developed two narrative forms to encapsulate their complex experiences within the civil rights movement--trauma narratives and narratives of redemption. I further argue that mid-life narratives indicate that