Happy Friday. For many of you tomorrow is opening night of the film festival. I am sorry I am not there. I am writing from Montgomery Alabama where I am attending the Southern States Communication Association Annual Convention and doing research on civil rights memory with colleagues and dear friends. More on that in a bit.
Since I am traveling, I haven’t collected a ton for today’s email.
Because it’s not enough to run a bazillion forums. Not enough to start a PhD program. Not enough to run a film festival. We also need to design and complete new offices for the CPD! And then host an open house. Come check out the space. Share food and drink (but don’t you dare spill on the new carpets!).
Wednesday, April 10 11:00-12:50 Warner 345. Faculty meeting. Note the changed place. We are in one of the nice new conference rooms in the Warner addition to Natural Resources. We will be getting a group photo taking near the end of the meeting then head shots. For those of you in the community but not part of a faculty meeting, if you want a free head shot, pop over the Warner 345 around 12:40 and we will get in into the photo shoot.
I spent the day today with many of my friends and colleagues who write about race, racism, anti-racism, memory, and place. Among us we visited a number of sites around Montgomery. The city is filing up with civil rights memorials. There is, of course, the May Lin designed Civil Rights Memorial outside of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Many of you know this memorial from the very important essay by Carole Blair and Neil Michel. There are memorials and museums to the Freedom Riders, to Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and the National Memorial of Freedom and Justice and the Legacy Museum designed and run but the Equal Justice Initiative. I spent time at that last two sites and, to be honest, I am still reeling.
The National Memorial of Freedom and Justice, as many of you know, is designed of a series of boxes reminiscent of caskets and constructed of iron hanging from steal beams. There is a box for each county in the south and counties and state across the rest of the nation where one or more of the 4,000 plus racial terrorism lynchings occurred. The boxes have the names of the lynching victim and date etched in to them. As you walk through the memorial you slowly walk down into the space and the boxes rise above your head. Box after box after rusted box presses down. I found myself toggling between the individual stories of lynching victims and the systemic terror meted out on black bodies from Reconstruction to the 1940s. Everywhere I turned to escape, to find some relief, the memorial met me with another story, another etched box, another county where white folks murdered African Americans. Their crimes? Asking for fair wages. Trying to vote. Being acquitted—that’s right acquitted—of murdering a white person. Being in the vicinity of angry white people. Being black.
At the site’s apex, deep into the ground, surrounded by rough concrete, with the strange fruit of the iron boxes hanging overhead, the designers inscribed these words:
For the hanged and the beaten
For the shot, drowned, and burned
For the tortured, tormented, and terrorized
For those abandoned by the rule of law
We will remember
With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice
With courage because peace requires bravery
With persistence because justice is a constant struggle
With faith because we shall overcome
As we head into the ACT Human Rights Festival Week, as we welcome our guests—filmmakers, film subjects, audience members—I will keep these words in mind. I will remind myself that I have to choose hope even when the world seems hopeless. I have to choose courage, because peace demands more bravery than hate. And I have to have the faith that, together, we can overcome the bigotry, hatred, and systemic oppression that has been the birthright of our nation. Our festival, the work of the CPD, the work we do in some of our classes, these are places where we perform this bravery and we seek out this justice.