The Challenges of Remembering: March on Washington & Birmingham Bombing

19 Sep

Historian Edward J. Blum highlights the tensions in remembering–commemoration–fifty years after the March on Washington and the Birmingham Bombing:

How do we balance King’s dream with McNair’s nightmare [father of one of the four girls killed in the bombing] in our supposedly post-racial and now-digital age? We still live in a country of freedom dreams and violent nightmares.

Indeed. Commemorations single out one or more things from the past–but the past is intertwined, not only with the present, but with itself. Commemorations can sometimes lose sight of the complexity and paradoxes for the sake of single-minded focus.

For myself, I’m uneasy with commemorations, in general. Perhaps it is an occupational quirk that goes with being a historian. I’m too aware of the complexities of the past. Yet it also has to do with my convictions about human nature and experience–which necessarily inform a study of the past.

Commemorations are understandable, even necessary, things. They are an important collective way of acknowledging the past, even beginning to come to terms with it and, at times, moving on. This, however, is when things are at their best. Often, commemorations are less than this “best.” Perhaps the bigger they are in scope, the more difficult it is to commemorate well, since with greater scope there is also a larger number of people to try to engage in the commemoration. It is much easier to commemorate the March on Washington than the Birmingham Bombing, which actually came so soon after the March. Our human limits and self-regard bend all things, including commemorations.

Read Blum’s reflections in full here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Exploring the Past

Reading, Thinking, and Blogging about History

Enough Light

"In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't." - Blaise Pascal

Lenten Lamentations

Preparing to Participate in God's Mosaic Kingdom

The Text Message

Discoveries from processing and reference archivists on the job

john pavlovitz

Stuff That Needs To Be Said

Wirelesshogan: Reflections from the Hogan

"History is the record of our loves in all their magnificent and ignoble forms." Eugene McCarraher

The Way of Improvement Leads Home

"History is the record of our loves in all their magnificent and ignoble forms." Eugene McCarraher

the way of improvement leads home

reflections at the intersection of American history, religion, politics, and academic life

The Pietist Schoolman

The website and blog of historian Chris Gehrz

Native News Online

American Indian News

Reformed Journal: The Twelve

Reformed. Done Daily.


by Alex Scarfe

Thoughtful Conversation about the American West

Northwest History

"History is the record of our loves in all their magnificent and ignoble forms." Eugene McCarraher

%d bloggers like this: