Beyond debates over keeping statues up or tearing them down and changing the names of schools and streets lie more fundamental questions at the intersection of personal and public memory. We know how to honor and memorialize idealized heroes; we know less about remembering complicated, real people, who did extraordinary things—let alone how to remember historical figures who changed the world for the better but also contributed to systems of oppression. And we struggle to lift up the people and places that don’t appear in history books, or fit in with the bigger narratives of our shared past. How do we decide whom we remember and how? What do we owe those who lived before us, and those who will come after us? How can we expand our definition of monuments to include not just physical, public works, but other types of remembering?
Artist and sacred placekeeper Chief Free Bangura Sankoh Yillah, civil rights historian Daphne Chamberlain, visual and performance artist Richard Lou, and Patrick Weems, executive director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, visit Zócalo to discuss what public memory looks like in the 21st century, and how future generations might experience the act of looking back.
“How Should Societies Remember Their Sins?” is a two-year editorial and event series supported by the Mellon Foundation. Blending scholarly essays and personal stories, we will explore how societies around the world collectively remember their transgressions and make attempts at repair, and how we might imagine new paths forward. Register here for updates on events in the series.
More Events in this Series
Why Isn’t Remembering Enough to Repair?
The Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel did not believe in collective guilt. Instead, he asked for repair, and for holding the post-World War II generation of Germans responsible “not for the past, but for the way it remembers the past. And for what it does with the memory of the past.” Other societies and communities have taken up Wiesel’s call—at the …
Does Confronting Our History Build a Better Future?
Recent attempts to confront difficult history appear to be dividing the United States and entangling communities in cultural and legal conflict. But historians, social justice activists, and many others argue that grappling with the sins of the past, and the way they reverberate into the present, is a necessary foundation for reimagining the future. What are the best and most …