The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past

From The Journal of American History
  • Jacquelyn Dowd Hall


The civil rights movement circulates through American memory in forms and through channels that are at once powerful, dangerous, and hotly contested. Civil rights memorials jostle with the South’s ubiquitous monuments to its Confederate past. Exemplary scholarship and documentaries abound, and participants have produced wave after wave of autobiographical accounts, at least two hundred to date. Images of the movement appear and reappear each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and during Black History Month. Yet remembrance is always a form of forgetting, and the dominant narrative of the civil rights movement—distilled from history and memory, twisted by ideology and political contestation, and embedded in heritage tours, museums, public rituals, textbooks, and various artifacts of mass culture—distorts and suppresses as much as it reveals.1


Affirmative Action Black Worker White Worker School Desegregation Black Panther Party 
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© Organization of American Historians 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacquelyn Dowd Hall

There are no affiliations available

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