Friday, November 20, 2015
November 20, 2015: SHA Follow Ups: Little Rock and Race
[This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend my first Southern Historical Association annual conference, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thanks to a We’re History piece of mine, I was invited by Elaine Frantz Parsons to take part in a wonderful panel on the Reconstruction-era KKK. In this series I’ll follow up both that panel and other takeaways from this great conference!]
Three layers to how the city remembers race, and the fragile significance of the third.
1) Central High School: The story of Little Rock and race is of course inextricably tied to Central High School, and I’m very happy to say that those histories and stories are very well captured in the city. That happens at the National Historic Site, which features a wonderful short film on the voices and lives of the Little Rock Nine, and many other compelling exhibits about those histories. But it also happens at the high school itself, which remains open and which features the amazing student endeavor that is The Memory Project. I had the chance to attend a Saturday special event at Central High on the Memory Project, and came away deeply impressed and inspired by how these students, like these sites, are carrying forward the histories and meanings of civil rights.
2) Mosaic Templars Cultural Center: Public memory also has to evolve as our communities do, and this museum of African American history, which opened within the last decade in a reconstructed version of the Mosaic Templars of America national headquarters (which was tragically lost in a 2005 fire), exemplifies such evolution. Alongside exhibits on local and regional artists, figures, and histories (such as the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame), the museum is also becoming more and more prominent on the national stage, as reflected by its forthcoming role as one of the few American spaces to feature the Kinsey Collection II exhibition. I had the chance to meet and chat at length with museum staff member Maggie Speck-Kern at the conference, and can testify that this up and coming Little Rock site is in very good hands.
3) Historic Homes: History isn’t and can’t be captured solely in historic sites and museums, however, and the neighborhood around Central High School is full of historic homes and buildings that represent more than a century of Little Rock and African American history. These historic buildings not only offer a vital, intimate complement to more official and formal sites of public memory, but continue to serve the city’s families, businesses, and communities. Yet as is the case in so many less wealthy neighborhoods around the nation, these homes are in significant danger of being demolished, and both their histories and current roles endangered. Such destruction represents both a cultural and a contemporary crisis well worth our attention as we work to remember and preserve African American history and community in Little Rock.
Special NeMLA preview post this weekend,
PS. What do you think?