Bond and O’Donovan on Remembering the Memphis Massacre of 1866 | @ProcessHistory

Beverly Bond and Susan Eva O’Donovan on how to commemorate the violence of Reconstruction:

“But how to make this happen was a puzzle. Because this was a first-of-its-kind program, we had no model to fall back on. We didn’t have the advantage of the acres of battlefield parks and marbled statuary that can be used to frame Civil War histories. Of the 400-plus NPS units in existence in July 2015, not a single one was devoted to any aspect of Reconstruction history. We were on our own, or so we initially thought. What we did not know last summer but came to understand by the fall was that we had a very big and eager community standing right behind us. We were floored by the fierce outpouring of enthusiasm for our project from its very beginning. Memphians, we discovered, were desperately hungry for a more inclusive past. Tired of a history dominated by dead Confederates, a monument to one of whom still looms over city center, citizens of all backgrounds, classes, and complexions greeted news of our commemorative efforts with open arms, open minds, and open wallets. “We want in” was a common refrain. So determined were some members of the Memphis community to engage with our shared past that they had already begun to act on their own initiative, striving to tell bigger, broader, and sometimes much more painful stories of the place we all call home. The Memphis chapter of the NAACP, for instance, had already launched an effort to place a marker recognizing the more than forty black men, women, and children who died at the mobs’ hands during the 1866 massacre. Inspired by the work being done by Bryan Stevenson in Montgomery, Alabama, another group had begun to identify and mark the locations of lynching sites throughout the surrounding county. These organic movements more than made up for the absence of a larger commemorative framework in which to work. We knew that we had a much bigger and more important advantage: we could tap into and graft our project onto increasingly organized local interest in the black past…”

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