Hidden Stories, Contested Truths

I had the opportunity to present my research at the Oral History Association’s 2013 Annual Meeting in Oklahoma City’s Skirvin Hotel. Though I was extremely excited, I was also pretty nervous, since this was the first time I presented my research at a national conference.

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My presentation Not So Silent: the Black Church and Rural Black Activism involved the use of oral histories and documentaries to tell the story of the black church as it functions outside metropolitan areas and to encourage political participation. It was inspired, in part, by Dr. Shayne Lee’s Church of Faith and Freedom article, where a congregant indicated to Dr. Lee that a rural traditional Baptist church would be more resistant to a progressive program than a Baptist church in metropolitan Evanston, Illinois.

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What we do not remember, however, is that the Civil Rights Movement was not confined to one fractious decade, neither was it limited to metropolitan centers in the South, nor to public demonstrations, packaged neatly to display nightly on televisions across the country. Instead, the Civil Rights Movement was longer, had no true geographic center, took many forms, was often messy, fraught with frustrations and setbacks, and largely took place away from the seemingly ubiquitous cameras.

My other presentation, Recovery and Discovery: the Applicability of Remixing Rural Texas to Further Research, detailed how the work of the Remixing Rural Texas project can serve as the launching point for other studies in other disciplines. For example, my interest in the history of memory makes use of the work of RRT in that I can take something learned from RRT or an artifact used by RRT and drill down to find that artifact in an archive, and to use that as a starting point for something that matches my interest in political science.

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For example, regarding the history of memory, I recognize that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has become an American icon for his nonviolence in the face of brutality as he and fellow black Americans protested for political equality. However, I also recognize that the iconographication of King has required a bout of national amnesia with regards to some of his later pronouncements, especially regarding economic inequality and American foreign policy.

To millions of Americans today, Dr. King is only the man marching on and dreaming in Washington. The man who criticized America and Americans as “strange liberators” as we bombed “little brown children” in Vietnam has been conveniently swept under the rug, hidden behind the curtain, left out of the story.

Our remixes, and our annotations, permit us to pull back the curtain and highlight the hidden activist rhetoric of King. Through highlighting the unseen King—the side not in our history texts, the side not memorialized in museums or statues, the side for whom the holiday is not named—we restore the depth and breadth of his message, and permit a fuller understanding of who we are, and who we were—both essential in understanding where we are going.

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