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Injustice and Invisibility: A Legacy of Media Oversight – Allison Graham (Public Lecture: Truth & Reconciliation)

When Sep 14, 2015
from 07:00 PM to 08:00 PM
Where Palmer Lipcon Auditorium, Palmer Museum of Art
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Allison Graham
Professor of Media Studies, University of Memphis

Allison Graham is Professor of Media Studies at the University of Memphis and the author of Framing the South: Hollywood, Television, and Race During the Civil Rights Struggle. She was a producer and director of At the River I Stand, a documentary film about the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., associate producer of Hoxie: The First Stand, and co-editor of the “Media” volume of the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. She holds an honorary professorship in the School of Cultures, Languages, and Area Studies at the University of Nottingham, and has published widely on American media's representation of race, region, and the civil rights movement.

Injustice and Invisibility: A Legacy of Media Oversight

In 1968, 1300 sanitation workers in Memphis walked off their jobs to protest starvation wages and inhumane working conditions.  For two months, the workers peacefully picketed City Hall wearing signs that said, "I Am a Man."  The deceptively simple four-word phrase challenged centuries of ingrained beliefs concerning personhood, freedom, race, and labor, and introduced a new chapter in the civil rights movement.

"All labor has dignity," Martin Luther King told the strikers one month before he was murdered in Memphis, knowing that the workers were largely invisible to white residents and often marginalized by black residents. Even before he came to Memphis to support them, however, the "garbage" workers had courageously insisted on being seen by the public, on being photographed in third-hand clothes by the press, and, as uncollected trash filled the streets, on making the significance of their work visible.

Although the news media were ill equipped to detect this shift in the civil rights narrative, the workers' slogan transcended its moment to become an iconic declaration of human and economic rights across the country. In this century alone, "I Am a Man" and "I Am a Woman" have emblazoned the protest signs of indentured Asian laborers on the Gulf Coast, locked-out workers at a Tennessee factory, impoverished fast-food workers from New York to Los Angeles, and angered citizens in Ferguson, Charleston, and Baltimore.

The modern civil rights movement has been marked by the struggle against invisibility--of injustice, of poverty, of working conditions, and of dignity.  This talk will explore the complicated role of media in this struggle, and in particular the role of television, movies, and surveillance in revealing and obscuring the visible presence of social realities.