A “More Inclusive National Parks System”: Constructing National Identity through Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument

Authors: Christine MacKrell*, George Washington University
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: National Monument, Public Memory, Identity, Commemorative Landscape, Civil Rights
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Roosevelt 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Monuments work to sculpt public memory and identity, as the commemorative process naturalizes certain historical narratives (Alderman, 2012, p. 356). National monuments managed by the National Park Service fold the spaces that they memorialize into the United States’ national identity. For much of U.S. history, national monuments predominantly protected sites of natural value. However, in recent years, there has been a shift in the narratives included at NPS sites to reflect a more inclusive American history. Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, designated by President Barack Obama in 2017, remembers the importance of the Civil Rights movement and honors those who fought against white supremacy in the American South. The current focus on monuments in the media as well as in geographic research tends to critique the exclusionary nature of monuments like Confederate memorials. This research instead focuses on a monument intended to be inclusionary and tell the story of those who have historically been excluded from the commemorative landscape. This research combines two literatures in order to understand the meaning a civil rights monument at the national level: research on symbolic landscapes and public memory, and work on national parks and national identity. This study analyzes Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument’s history, designation process, as well as the effects of its status as a national monument, in order to understand how the NPS interprets the civil rights movement and how this national monument may contribute to an expanded notion of American identity.

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