Living Memorials? Re-Enactments and Memorial Mania

“Memorial Mania” is particularly relevant in this moment in American history. As college campuses and cities across the country examine the weight of names and images of people connected to slavery and white supremacy, debates of history and memorialization are particularly relevant. Both Doss and Sandage show that history, memory, and memorials are political touchstones. I’m particularly interested in where re-enactment fits into modern memorials. Doss addresses living memorials as libraries, museums, and other physical spaces devoted to public welfare but where do individuals, acting out a moment in time, fit in?
The last mass lynching in America occurred at Moore’s Ford, near Athens, Georgia, on July 25, 1946 when two African-American couples were lynched on a dirt road in rural Georgia. Like many other lynchings in the South, the killers never paid for their horrendous crimes. This moment in Georgia history was largely silenced. However, in the 1990’s a biracial committee formed, perhaps out of shame and “shared understandings of civic morality”, to acknowledge this moment in history. One of the outcomes was a re-enactment that’s become an annual tradition in Monroe, Georgia. In the South re-enactments are most often used to commemorate the Confederacy and the Civil War. Choosing to re-enact a lynching flips that common trope on its head. Instead of celebrating the “Lost Cause”, it memorializes a painful moment, and becomes a teaching tool. Using costumes and actors, and drawing a crowd, it acknowledges the history of lynchings as spectacles and events that people chose to witness. The re-enactment of the events at Moore’s Ford is a loud and sombering thing to witness. It evokes different emotions than a physical monument. Being a witness forces you to think about the events at Moore’s Ford differently than looking at a historical marker. This type of memorial is acting in the name of education and makes me think about how other re-enactments and costumed interpretation can memorialize moments. What if Civil War re-enactments were about more than simply living out the “Lost Cause” mentality in the modern era? Instead, it was about the realities of slavery and the 19th century South? How can and do living people memorialize an event in public spaces? How are memorials more than simply a space?

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