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





Call for Papers

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.

Participants should submit abstracts by September 8, 2018, accompanied by a brief bio-note.

Notification of acceptance will be sent by September 30, 2018.

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



Registration fees:

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


Please go to http://www.cetaps.com/events/dikesofcourage for more information.








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