SAH News



Civil Rights Memorial Study Tour October 8-12, 200

by SAH News | Jun 29, 2012
There is still time to register for the Society's upcoming Civil Rights Memorial study tour. This October UCLA Professor Dell Upton will lead a study tour through Georgia and Alabama that will focus on the sites of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and beyond.


Organized for the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), the goal for this tour is both to highlight sites and monuments associated with the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) and to analyze them in terms of African-American life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Among the many sites to be visited in Atlanta, Montgomery, Selma and other sites are the first and final homes of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.; Ebenezer Baptist Church where King shared a pulpit with his father; the King Center housing his tomb; the route of the 1965 Selma-Montgomery March; and the Dexter Avenue-King Memorial Baptist Church, an architecturally significant 19th-century structure pastored by Dr. King during the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955.

SAH Second Vice President, Abby Van Slyck, a Professor at Connecticut College, provided insights into Dell Upton’s innovative approach to teaching about historic places: "Taking a cultural landscape approach to the CRM, Dell considers these memorials in their urban context and as part of an on-going process of social negotiation of urban space-both before and after desegregation. For instance, the memorials often mark conflicts that took place in a particular locale for a reason. A good example is Kelly Ingram Park (originally called West Park) inBirmingham, which was once restricted to white use only and became a buffer zone between white and black business districts. It was the place where white and black Birmingham came into closest contact and was thus the locus of many Civil Rights conflicts. In other words, racial segregation was not only the issue being protested, but it shaped the urban environment in which the issue was protested. That's probably pretty obvious. What is fascinating is that there is no longer a trace of that black business district. With desegregation, the businesses went into decline and the black business district became a prime target for urban redevelopment. So, just as segregation had a strong spatial/architectural/urban component, so did desegregation. That is the part of the  story that has been too often overlooked.

"Unique here are two closely interconnected things. One is that Dell investigates the spatial component of race relations in the U.S. and the other is that he treats the relationship between race and urban space as an on-going process. As a result, the tour doesn't deal with the CRM as a discrete moment in time, isolated from what came before and what has happened since. Instead it acknowledges that the CRM is deeply connected to a longer history of race relations in the U.S., and continues to shape the world in which we live. In fact, Dell is open about the politics involved in getting these memorials built, pointing out that white resistance is not the only issue; the memorials also speak to long-standing differences within the black community over how to achieve change."

Dell Upton, known as a champion of architecture that has been designed without the aid of an architect, has written, "I see architecture primarily a means for shaping society and culture and for annotating social action by creating appropriate settings for it, and the kinds of questions I ask have to do with the role of architecture in the social and intellectual evolution of societies and in the formation of the sense of self.

SAH is an AIA/CES Provider and Learning Units are offered for American Institute of Architects members.