Preserving Justice in Place | Brent Leggs & Randall Mason

Preserving Justice in Place | Brent Leggs & Randall Mason

The US civil rights movement resonates strongly with the 1972 World Heritage Convention’s notion of universally valued heritage. Like liberation movements in many countries and all regions of the world, the civil rights movement—whether one thinks of the canonical civil rights icons of mid-twentieth century or the long civil rights movement—centers on the fundamental rights afforded to members of society.1 These civil rights are relational, about participating fully in a society and contributing to one’s own culture: voting, land ownership, protection from violence, access to education, legal due process. In safeguarding these rights, civil rights movements and leaders tried to save the United States from itself, make good on the promises of the founding documents for all Americans, and reckon with the unjust and uncivil realities of US history as experienced by many Black and Brown people.

In light of contemporary political struggles and societal conflicts, the heritage of civil rights has become more consequential. As with all aspects of Black heritage, decades and centuries of erasure, destruction, and decay shape the possibilities for preservation of civil rights sites. Heritage places serve as symbols of still-unresolved civil rights issues, marking the sacrifices of political leaders but also (increasingly) celebrating the hard-fought prosperity and joy of Black attorneys, scholars, entrepreneurs, artists, and community leaders. The types of heritage places at issue range from the conventional historic houses and sites of conflict to more unconventional heritage experiences enabled by digital humanities or generational wealth building through property ownership. The urgency connected to preserving civil rights heritage, and its fraught nature in the ongoing culture wars, is exemplified by vitriolic debates over The 1619 Project and the runaway success and influence of the Equal Justice Initiative’s memorial, museum, and other heritage activities in Montgomery, Alabama.2

To read the FULL ARTICLE, purchase a physical copy at https://cot.pennpress.org/home/, or visit Project Muse for digital access https://muse.jhu.edu/pub/56/article/869106. Thank you for your support!