Nora writes, “Memory is blind to all but the group it binds” but “History… belongs to everyone and to no one, whence its claim to universal authority.” MLK and Ali embody this difference. In the memories of the people they sought to liberate, they belong to Black people. In the corpus of History they now belong to everyone.
I found Silencing the Past really captivating and couldn’t help but think about how relevant it is today. As I was reading, one history that came to mind is the story of Martin Luther King Jr, a figure who is almost universally celebrated and whose birthday is a national holiday.
In chapter 2, Troulliot writes, “Inequalities experienced by the actors [of history] lead to uneven historical power in the inscriptions of traces. Sources build upon these traces in turn privilege some events over the others, not always the ones privileged by the actors.”
What does it mean when the history is documented and archived but then misrepresented? Comments like “Martin Luther King would be ashamed of Black Lives Matter” seem to be silences in fact retrieval (the misremembering and deliberate omission of facts) and also a silence in the retrospective significance, as the “corpus” (aka stock story) of Martin Luther King, has largely been whitewashed.
NRATV host Grant Stinchfield claims that MLK “would be ashamed” of Rep. John Lewis (who often marched with King).
As I continued on to Pierre Nora’s Between History and Memory, I was initially skeptical about Nora’s promotion of memory over history but in my preparation for my presentation, I thought about conversations I’ve had with family members about the way legacies and histories get warped. “Oh now everybody claims to love Muhammad Ali–“, my mom once told me over the phone days after Ali passed away. “You know, when I was younger white people hated Ali. Hated that he was Muslim. Hated that he refused to fight in Vietnam. Now 40 years later, everyone loves him– and they have the nerve to claim that he transcended race!” It is with this recollection that I discovered the true power of memory. My mom wasn’t taught about Muhammad Ali–, unlike me, she was there during the 1960s and 1970s. She remembers– and she knows the truth.