I recently had the opportunity to visit the city of Atlanta Georgia and one the highlights of the trip was a tour of the National Center For Civil and Human Rights. Of particular and personal interest to me was a draft of the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" penned by Martin Luther King, Jr. An small excerpt of the text reads as follows:
"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider…"
These letters capture a moment, serendipity allowed that moment to be written in the margins of an old newspaper which were hidden and snuck out of jail to preserved and later published. This moment where the frustration of incarceration and the backlash of "allies" conspired to produce a seminal text that inspire many people to this day.
One of the obvious byproducts of past social movement is that many pivotal voices are never heard or published. Otherwise towering figures speak only to intimate crowds and in classrooms, they speak in living rooms and on buses. A myriad of voices that may not have been blessed with the polished oratory skills of a Baptist preacher but have non the less produce the ripples that helped create a wave of change.
There is always countervailing force to the beautiful struggle, insidious blots in history, hate filled moments that are, mercifully, also lost to us. No one really mourns the passing of silent and reckless hatred, however, some of those moments have been caught on display, consider the following pictures linked to below (trigger warning):-
- Little Rock Integration protests
- Duluth Postcard [This links to a violent image of lynching]
- Red Summer
Captured in it are victims and aggressors, people with families, friends and loved ones, no doubt some of these folks have children and grandchildren that are with us today. This is who they were … this was their captured moment.
With the emergence of social networks we have almost unfettered access to voices that, fifty years ago, would have been lost in that moment. Today we have the opportunity to search, parse and collate the voices of the masses as they demand justice. This new historic record in digital form is capturing unedited moments of the American democratic experiment. Timelines can be cross referenced with images, locations, hash tags or simple keywords:-
While the data may currently appear scattered randomly or buried within poorly indexed timelines it seems inevitable that these moments and voices will be easily and intimately connected to discussions and records that heretofore would exist solely in newspapers, books and museums.
The question I am asking of myself and everyone else is, what are we choosing to say in our moment? What do our pictures say? What does our silence say? How will our progenitors regard our (in)actions? I sincerely hope they will be proud.