The aim of the protest movement “Black Lives Matter” in the US is to draw public attention to the upsurge in the incidence of institutional racism and police brutality against African Americans in recent years. A multimedia exhibition put together by LMU students sets out to place these developments in the context of the civil-rights agitation against racial segregation and discrimination in the 1950s.
While conducting research in New York, Master’s student Constanze Sabathil experienced at first-hand how charged the issue of race relations has once again become. The very fact that she was wearing a T-shirt bearing the “Black Lives Matter” logo was enough to provoke emphatic reactions from other pedestrians. “Simply because I as a white person was wearing the T-shirt,” she says, “I got to hear comments ranging all the way from ‘all lives matter’ to ‘traitor!’ And one of my black friends in the US told me that she no longer wears the shirt in public, after having been verbally abused on the street.”
With the aid of a travelling fellowship from Lehre@LMU, Constanze had flown to New York to conduct research for her Master’s thesis. She had arranged to interview Hawk Newsome, President of the New York branch of “Black Lives Matter”. But on the appointed day Newsome was scheduled to appear in court – in connection with his part in a demonstration organized by Black Lives Matter – and the meeting had to be postponed. When she finally had the opportunity to speak with Newsome, the conversation yielded some striking insights into the everyday lives of the African American community in the US and the background to the current wave of public protest. The interview is featured in Constanze’s film ‘“We Are Not Thugs’: Black Lives Matter Activism in New York”, which can be seen at the upcoming exhibition “Black Protest” at the Amerikahaus in Munich from July 19th to 21st.
‘“We are not Thugs’: Black Lives Matter Activism in New York” by Constanze Sabathil.
The pop-up exhibition highlights the history of black resistance to slavery, segregation and other forms of discrimination in the US, and is based on the results of student projects undertaken by majors in American Studies at LMU. Particular phases of this story – slave revolts in the 19th century or the civil rights movement that began in the 1950s and culminated in culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – are often presented as isolated episodes, inspired by charismatic black leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. However, by examining less well known activist movements, and analyzing the role of women, the exhibition demonstrates that the fight for equality continues to this day. The projects featured in the show illuminate the significance of music, iconic images of black protest, and various other forms of the artistic representation of resistance, as well as considering how expressions of black protest have been received and reflected in the media.
In fear of the Ku-Klux-Klan
LMU student Niall Conn took a very personal approach in his project for the exhibition. He embarked on a series of conversations with Ernest Butler, a lecturer at LMU, whose father was deeply involved in the civil rights movement in the America South in the 1950s. “I was fascinated by the stories that Ernest had to tell,” Niall says. “In one of our talks he recalled how his father had come home one day to find a cross on the front lawn. He immediately interpreted it as a warning from the Ku-Klux-Klan that his family was at risk of being lynched. It later turned that the cross had been put there for legitimate religious reasons.” The incident nevertheless underlines the atmosphere of dread that African Americans experienced – and these anxieities have re-emerged in many places today. Niall’s conversations with Ernest Butler will also be broadcast on the student radio station m94.5 under the title “Butler on Butler: A Son's Recollections”.
Excerpt from “Butler on Butler: A Son's Recollections” by Niall Conn.
The exhibition is open daily on July 19- 21 between 5 PM and 11 PM. To learn more about the projects from the authors themselves, visitors are invited to take part in student-led tours each day from 5 PM to 7 PM. Raoul Peck’s documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” will be screened at 7 PM on July 19th. On the following day, a panel discussion will take place in the Amerikahaus, which will consider the history of African American protest and its contemporary relevance. On the panel are the actor Ron Williams, researcher Luvena Kopp, activist Modupe Laja and LMU student Constanze Sabathil. The main event on the final day is devoted to the performng arts, with and poetry readings, and live music performed by Mel Canady and Chessboard. Admission is free.