During my junior year of college, one of my most intense classes was Anthropology of Gender. The words and stories told in one particular book that we read, Lila Abu- Lughod’s Writing Women’s Worlds: Bedouin Stories, were crafted so uniquely that they left a lasting impression. In this ethnography Abu-Lughod did what she called “Writing against culture.” For Abu-Lughod this stood as a counter to the ordinary ethnography and helped to avoid the “othering effect” that may creep into writing when the author is expressing ideas about a culture other than their own. Throughout the ethnography Abu-Lughod quoted directly the words of the women and the men that she studied, therefore allowing their stories to resonate on a personal level, and most importantly allowing for the human condition to shine through. The ideas present in the beliefs surrounding “Writing against culture” have stayed with me through my anthropological education and application. And when I was brought onto the Hidden Histories II project at the beginning of June, I was able to see these ideas applied first hand.
There are many levels present throughout the Hidden Histories II project that include, community empowerment, engagement, partnership, and education about local Memphis and Southwest Memphis history. At its core, this project revolves around expressing and publishing the voices of the community. Through collaboration with Freedom Preparatory Charter School in Memphis, TN, three students were selected to participate in the Hidden Histories II project. Loreal Jones, Miracle Clark and Jamal Jones, were asked to collect interviews from family members. Through these interviews the students wrote a detailed biography about each person, and about their individual ties to the Southwest Memphis community. From there the students also produced a biography about themselves expressing their ideas about the area and their educational goals post graduation from Freedom Prep. Although we did not specifically write against culture in the Hidden Histories II project, our focus like Abu-Lughod in Writing Women’s Worlds was on the individual voice and story, so much so that the students involved in the project were given creative reign as authors.
After the students collected their stories, a week was spent at Freedom Prep editing, revising, and examining the information present in every text. Individual stories from parents and grandparents held information about Memphis and Southwest Memphis, and as a collective group we were able to discuss, analyze, and digest this information. For instance, we discussed the John Gaston Hospital, as Rosie Jones, Loreal’s grandmother, recalled being born there. The hospital is now apart of the MED located downtown, but it was once the only location where African American babies could be born. Rosie Jones also recalled her participation in the Cotton Makers Jubilee, which was the African American counterpart to the Cotton Carnival, an event that was established to stimulate the buying and wearing of cotton products in the 1800s. Students were also able to learn more about the Memphis Sanitation Strike as Jamal Jones’ grandfather, Aubrey Payne, recalled marching along with the striking sanitation workers.
Historical textbook events like Jim Crow Segregation, The Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam and Iraqi Wars, were brought full circle, coming to life thanks to firsthand accounts provided by parents and grandparents alive during these times. Students engaged with these events in a new way, learning of the activists, supporters, and leaders present in their own families locally.
In its last stages of completion, Hidden Histories II: Young Voices from Freedom Preparatory, looks to give the pen back to the community to express its personal voices and views. In this case we speak specifically of the youth voice, one that may be overshadowed and looked down upon, however, a voice that should be heard nonetheless. The youth are the backbone of our communities and our cities and when they speak we should all listen. The talented group of students selected from Freedom Preparatory Charter School have already shown that they wish to make their own impact on history both locally and nationally, and the Hidden Histories II e-book goes into detail about how these students wish to achieve this. Thanks in full to Dr. Cynthia Sadler, project coordinator and University of Memphis professor, and the faculty at Freedom Preparatory Charter School. Most importantly, thanks to our young leaders, Miracle Clark, Loreal Jones, and Jamal Jones, youth tasked with the important role of being the authors and keepers of history.
In the coming weeks the Hidden Histories II e-book and related materials will be available at southwestmemphis.com
Contact Lyndsey at firstname.lastname@example.org