Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography of Memory

Owen J. Dwyer and Derek H. Alderman

The first critical reading of the monuments, museums, parks, and streets dedicated to the black struggle for civil rights


"The book takes a thoughtful approach to all the questions it examines, including tensions, in the planning of memorials, over whether the work and sacrifice of those who stood with King has been overshadowed by King himself."
Los Angeles Times

"In this concise and cogently written book, Dwyer and Alderman offer a useful introduction to many of the questions central to the study of memorials and historical memory...Civil Rights Memorials also offers fascinating portraits of the many interests at stake in building memorials, from white politicians and businessmen who believe a new civil rights museum will remake their city’s image and bring in tourist dollars, to long-committed black activists, or “memorial entrepreneurs,” who desperately want to keep the past alive in order to offer lessons for today...The authors offer an engaging introduction to the field of memorial studies, and it would make an excellent teaching text."
Alabama Review

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The creation of memorials dedicated to the civil rights movement is a watershed event in the commemoration of southern and American history, an important reversal in the traditional invisibility of African Americans within the preservation movement. Collective memory, to be sure, is certainly about honoring the past--whether it is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace in Atlanta or the memorial to Rosa Parks in Montgomery--but it is also about the ongoing campaign for civil rights and the economic opportunities associated with heritage tourism.

Owen J. Dwyer and Derek H. Alderman use extensive archival research, personal interviews, and compelling photography to examine memorials as cultural landscapes, interpreting them in the context of the movement’s broader history and its current scene. In paying close attention to which stories, people, and places are remembered and which are forgotten, the authors present an unforgettable story.

As Dwyer and Alderman illustrate, there are reasons why memorials are not often located at the traditional core of civic space--City Hall, the Courthouse, or along Main Street--and location seriously affects their public impact. As the authors reveal, social and geographic marginalization has accompanied the creation and promotion of civil rights memorials, calling into question the relative progress that society has made in the time since the civil rights movement in America began.

Center Books on the American South

Distributed for the Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago

Page count: 224 pp.


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Owen J. Dwyer is an associate professor of geography at Indiana University at Indianapolis. Derek H. Alderman is an associate professor of geography at East Carolina University. Their articles and essays on civil rights memorials have appeared in numerous books as well as in Professional Geographer, Social and Cultural Geography, Southeastern Geographer, and Urban Geography.