Dikes of courage: Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement and the aesthetics of protest

Dikes of courage: Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement and the aesthetics of protest

    23 Novembro, 2018 - 24 Novembro, 2018
    9:00 - 19:00



23/24 November 2018

Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Nova University of Lisbon



Keynote speakers:


Jeanne Theoharis  (Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of City University of New York)

Author or co-author of seven books and numerous articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements, the politics of race and education, social welfare and civil rights in post-9/11 America. Her widely-acclaimed biography The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks won a 2014 NAACP Image Award and the Letitia Woods Brown Award from the Association of Black Women Historians; it appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and was named one of the 25 Best Academic Titles of 2013 by Choice.  Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington PostMSNBCThe NationSlate, the Atlantic, Boston Review, Salon, the Intercept, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Her new book A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History came out in January from Beacon Press.


Isabel Caldeira (Associate professor of American Studies at the Faculty of Letters and Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal)

She teaches American literature and culture at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and Feminist Studies at the PhD level. Her research fields are African American Literature and Culture, literatures of the African Diaspora, Inter-American Studies, Comparative Studies, and Feminist Studies. Among her publications: “‘What moves at the margin’: Toni Morrison, bell hooks e Ntozake Shange”, The Edge of One of Many Circles, which she also co-edited (Coimbra: Imprensa da UC, 2017, 140-162); Toni Morrison and Edwidge Danticat: Writers-as-Citizens of the African Diaspora”, Companion to Inter-American Studies, ed. Wilfried Raussert, NY: Routledge, 2017, 207-218; with Gonçalo Cholant, “Homeland (in)security: African Americans in a ‘Racial House’ Called America”Anglo Saxonica III, 14, 2017; “Memory is of the Future: Tradition and Modernity in Contemporary Novels of Africa and the African Diaspora”, e-cadernos ces 26 (2016): 68-91; contributed to America Where? 20th-Century Transatlantic Perspectives (Peter Lang, 2012), which she also co-editedTranslocal Modernisms: International Perspectives (Peter Lang, 2008); Trans/Oceanic, Trans/American, Trans/lation: Issues in International American Studies (Cambridge Scholars, 2009). She is a former President of APEAA and a former member of the Board of EAAS. She was editor-in-chief of Op.Cit.: Journal of Anglo-American Studies. She is the President elect of the International Association of Inter-American Studies (IAS/EIA).

Fifty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s is frequently memorialized as a moment of almost inevitable national redemption, when a call to the better angels of American consciousness brought the country together to overcome injustices that no longer plague the present. As  historian Jeanne Theoharis argues in A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History (2018), this interpretative frame has frequently constructed a self-congratulatory discourse that whitewashes the immense obstacles and violence faced by the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders, rather than soberly remember the “dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear” that, in Dr. King’s words, the movement demanded of its activists, and measure the incompleteness of what was then achieved. This process is seen in the yearly appeals to depoliticize Martin Luther King Day in the name of national unity and reconciliation as well as in efforts to decouple the most successful social movement of the twentieth century from contemporary protests against lingering racial injustice (such as Black Lives Matter), often accused of distorting a sanitized version of its legacy.

The Conference invites reflections on the representation of the Civil Rights Movement not only in American historiography but also in public and media discourses, literature, visual culture, and filmic, musical and televisual texts produced in the last fifty years. It encourages an approach that goes beyond the understanding of these texts as artifacts that produce social memory to ask how they illuminate debates about the aesthetics of protest, the relationship between activism and art, the collective and the personal, the politics of identity and intergenerational remembering. It also welcomes approaches that identify the networks between pasts and presents, following Ashraf Rushdy’s concept in Remembering Generations (2001), of African-American cultural texts constituting a palimpsest where what has happened in other spaces and times becomes experientially available, examining both the creative dialogues between the Civil Rights Movement artists and their predecessors of the Harlem Renaissance and beyond, and the aesthetic frames used by the contemporary generations of “post-black” artists and writers   to invoke and reimagine that legacy. It is also interested in comparative approaches that explore the influence of the  African-American civil rights praxis and aesthetics of protest in other campaigns for equality that emerged during and after the 1960s, namely Native-American, Asian-American, Latino/a and LGBTQ movements.

The following topics are a sample of the broad scope of concerns the Conference welcomes:


African-American literature and the Civil Rights Movement

The Neo-slave narratives of the 1960s and after

The Black Arts Movement

African-American theater and civil rights: from Lorraine Hansberry to Suzan-Lori Parks

Music and civil rights: from “Mississippi Goddam” to Motown

Visual arts and civil rights: from the Spiral Group to Basquiat and Kara Walker

The Civil Rights Movement on the big and small screen

Civil Rights Movement in biography and memoir

African-American feminism in the Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement in African-American satire

Afrofuturism: The Civil Rights Movement and speculative fiction

Writing against race? Contemporary “post-black” literature

Representing the Civil Rights Movement in the media: journalism and photojournalism

Whitewashing the Civil Rights Movement: contemporary political discourses

The Civil Rights Movement in Southern literature

The influence of the Civil Rights Movement in other American Equal Rights campaigns

Black Lives Matter and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement

Looking from a distance: the international impact of the Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement in World Literature

The Civil Rights Movement in translation

International approaches to teaching the Civil Rights Movement


This Conference is organized by the `American Intersections’ strand of CETAPS.

A selection of papers presented at the Conference will be published in bookform



Registration fees:

  • 60 Euros (full fee)
  • 30 Euros (student fee)

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Av. de Berna, 26, FCSH, Lisbon, 1069-061


Where to stay:

Alif Hotel – Campo Pequeno

VIP Executive Zurique Hotel

VIP Inn Berna Hotel

Sana Executive Hotel

Sana Reno Hotel


Upon arrival:

At the airport you can catch the Aero Bus (between 7 am and 11 pm): you should stop at CAMPO PEQUENO.

UNDERGROUND (Metro) from the airport (only 1 change at Saldanha): CAMPO PEQUENO is the closest Metro (Underground).  One Metro Ticket costs 1.50 euro, you may consider buying a one day ticket if you arrive early and want to travel more on that day.

The TAXI fare from the airport to Campo Pequeno should not cost more than 15 euros. Sometimes, it is quicker to go to departures (right next to arrivals) to get a taxi. If you want to avoid (possible) long queues: just turn right as you come out into the main arrivals hall, keep going, go up the escalator, turn slightly left and go outside, you are outside departures, and there is no queue to get a taxi.

Once in the city, if you are using the public bus to travel around Lisbon, buy a pass (Zapping) and top it up at any underground (METRO) station, as tickets purchased inside the bus are more expensive.