Historian to discuss civil rights in G.R.E.A.T. Day keynote

The ninth annual Geneseo Recognizing Excellence, Achievement & Talent Day will be held Tuesday April 21, during which keynote speaker James T. Campbell will discuss his work regarding the Civil Rights Movement in American memory, titled “Freedom Now: The Mississippi Freedom Movement in History and Memory.” According to Campbell, he will be talking about what happened during the Civil Rights Movement, but also about the way the stories have fixed themselves in the nation’s memory.

“My current focus is that there are certain events in the past that, because of their nature, become part of the story that we Americans have to tell ourselves about what it means to be American,” Campbell said. “I think that the Civil Rights Movement—like the Second World War or the American Revolution—is destined to become one of those stories.”

Campbell is a historian with a specialization in African-American history and an interest in public history.

“I’m interested not only in what happened, but in what people imagined had happened; in the ways that we remember and also the ways in which we forget,” he said.

Campbell is the Edgar E. Robinson Professor in United States history at Stanford University. He previously taught at Northwestern University, Wits University in Johannesburg and Brown University. He also serves as one of the consulting historians for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture that will be opening in 2016 in Washington, D.C.

Campbell explained that today’s generation is in a unique position regarding its ties to the Civil Rights Movement. He explained that we are watching the Civil Rights Movement gradually being removed from the memory of living people into what he called “the realm of history,” comparing this to the way the Second World War is now perceived.

“I think for college students in particular, this is a historical moment,” he said. “You still have the opportunity to speak with Civil Rights veterans and also have the opportunity to watch the unfolding political struggle of how the movement will be remembered.”

While Campbell is looking forward to his presentation, he plans on attending the student presentations at G.R.E.A.T. Day as well.

“I think the whole day sounds like it will be a blast,” he said. “The idea of a community coming together to converse and learn, I can’t imagine a more wonderful way to spend a day. So I’m as much looking forward to attending the various sessions as I am to my own session.”