Mastering the Narrative

On Wednesday morning I had the privilege to brief a group of high school students from St. Louis interested in civil rights history and social justice on the Purple Team’s role in the Crossroads Project. On the penultimate day of their month-long tour across a wide swath of the south, with visits to such important cities as Selma, Birmingham, and New Orleans to name but a few, it seemed fitting that their tour concluded here in Memphis, namely because of the location of the National Civil Rights Museum. Listening to Dr. James Lanier’s account of his childhood and early adulthood in a still segregated south, however, Memphis’ role in the movement garnered renewed significance towards my own construction of the history of the era. While the importance of Memphis cannot be underscored because of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. just a few miles away from Rhodes, the way in which Dr. Lanier bookended his personal encounter with the movement’s de facto climax in Memphis in the late sixties reiterated many points made in the master narrative, but in a more focused and salient manner. Having grown up in rural Florida and attended graduate school in Atlanta, Dr. Lanier started teaching at Rhodes in the fall of 1967, just months before the cataclysm of the sanitation strike and the violence that ensued in Memphis in the spring of 1968. To think within the span of ten years a veritable revolution could have irrevocably altered the status quo in this country on every level of history, government, and cultural is almost beyond belief. Not having grown up in the south during segregation, I am continually amazed that such events could have occurred at all, let alone so recently. Even though I reluctantly recognize that I will never be able to fully understand the nature of the movement and its cultural underpinnings, I was grateful to hear Dr. Lanier’s story, which has established yet another kind of tangible connection between me, the civil rights movement, and the city and people of Memphis, Tennessee, the nexus of civil rights history.

Mack Zalin
Purple Team

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Published in: on July 2, 2009 at 10:59 am  Comments Off on Mastering the Narrative  
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