What is Remember 2019?
In 1919 in south Phillips County, Arkansas, arguably the largest mass lynching in American history took the lives of more than 232 African Americans in less than 72 hours. In their report on Lynching in America, The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) calls for the public acknowledgment and commemoration of mass violence. They believe that “formalizing a space for memory, reflection, and grieving” can help our communities recover from this traumatic history of mass violence.
As we approach the centennial of the massacre in south Phillips County, our goal is to create a community-engaged theater piece that will be in conversation with the other commemorative efforts that are seeking to help the people of Phillips County recover from their traumatic history. Furthermore, we will raise Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s timely question – “Where do we go from here?”
The legacies of belonging and dis-belonging in South Phillips County, Arkansas are deeply embedded in the legacies of enslavement and the under-compensated labor of the county’s Black residents. We understand South Phillips County, because of the mass lynching and the inequities that persist, to be an apt space to take the pulse of race-based belonging in the United States at large. We believe that facilitating spaces of belonging for the most marginal residents of South Phillips County, while imagining spaces of reconciliation between the larger communities of South Phillips County, can offer a model for similar interventions in the South and nationally.
Through this project, we are working to engage a body of local people who are committed to the work of witnessing testimonies of the mass lynching and its afterlife over time. This project offers a way of engaging collective memories of violence that range from the space of oral histories to more nuanced ways of remembering violence. At the same time, this project holds at its center the opportunities of a new story.We believe that the body of people most apt to learn and hold this dual practice of remembering and imagining is the young people of South Phillips County. Centering their voices will foster imagination toward a collective cultural future in the region. An honest and reverent narrative of South Phillips County has the capacity to instill in young people the desire to remain in the region as adults and invest in its future. Through play, the young people of South Phillips County invite the most innovate energy to underused and abandoned spaces in the region. We are interested in how we might build a process and series of events that also approach these indoor and outdoor spaces with innovation and invitation for community members.
To remember is to recall. We recall the mass lynching of 1919 and the intergenerational trauma that it caused for the Black communities of Phillips County.
To re-member is to reunite. As members of distant and different communities, we re-member these communities in order to self-determine, see one another and value our interconnectedness.
To remember is to remind. We center our work on the values and traditions that have brought us this far and are the wellspring of our enduring joy.
To remember 2019 is to call forth. We call forth community creativity and wisdom to encourage a re-imagining of our future, 100 years after the mass lynching.