To the Editor:
The legal threat that halted the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice’s planned Rosa Parks exhibit is truly disappointing (“Rosa Parks Exhibition Canceled,” March 15). But as an alumni supporter of CSSJ’s vital work, I am disappointed that The Herald’s coverage and the remarks of those upset with the decision leave readers with a false impression: that the Parks house is all there was to CSSJ’s plans for this topic.
In fact, the house was scheduled to be on display alongside a CSSJ-curated exhibition: “The Civil Rights Movement: Unfinished Business,” which would advance similar themes. That exhibition will now be on display in the fall and will broadly examine the black political organizing tradition in the struggle for equal rights. It will serve as an important resource for local schools and the wider community.
On the occasion of the Center’s fifth anniversary, the CSSJ will also be organizing a major conference to which the Brown community is invited: “Race, Memorialization and Memory.” This conference, held May 3 to 5, will examine the activism behind the Southern Freedom Movement and critically question the way the Civil Rights Movement has been represented through memorials and exhibitions. Those in attendance will also explore the question of how to create a memorial/marker/museum to the racial injustices of the present moment.
In focusing on the loss of a chance to challenge the dominant narrative of Rosa Parks — one examining her radical legacy and the demands it places on us today — the media and those upset with the University risk, ironically, essentializing that one opportunity and Parks’ sizable contributions. A legal cloud and the specter of family dissension would have sadly hung over the Parks house. Examining the context and legacy of the freedom struggle’s unsung heroes is not a consolation prize but an opportunity to achieve the exact same end.
I hope that the Brown community, and those who pledged their financial support for the Parks house exhibit, will move on from this disappointment and support these endeavors just as surely.
Sean Siperstein ’05
Steering Committee, Friends of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice