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Reviewed by:
  • Graphic Memories of the Civil Rights Movement by Jorge J. Santos
  • Joanna Davis-McElligatt (bio)
Jorge J. Santos, Jr. Graphic Memories of the Civil Rights Movement. University of Texas Press, 2019. 256 pp, $90, $29.95.

Jorge J. Santos, Jr.'s Graphic Memories of the Civil Rights Movement: Reframing History in Comics is a compelling exploration of graphic novels and memoirs published since the mid-1990s that document the civil rights movement from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s. Graphic narratives, Santos explains, can reframe long-established histories of the movement by highlighting habitually overlooked people, places, and narratives central to its successes. In this way, graphic texts representing the classical period of civil rights history have the power to expand and reshape readerly (mis)conceptions of the movement's legacies. Of particular interest to Santos is the way graphic narratives resist simple representations of historical figures and events, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Selma to Montgomery marches. In doing so, graphic histories can challenge our understanding of the subjects and moments that have become preserved in our collective memories of the movement. Most important are the ways these "civil rights graphic memories" encourage readers to think critically about the movement's historical archive by calling into question [End Page 237] what forms of evidence—Santos discusses primarily photographs and film—we accept as truthful or accurate portrayals of the movement (3). Reinforced for the public by monuments, street signage, and national holidays, the invocation of memories of the civil rights movement is always a political act. Careful reading of civil rights graphic memories, however, can push back against our "consensus memory" of the movement, a term defined by Renee C. Romano and Leigh Raiford and deployed by Santos in reference to the received state-sanctioned narratives evoked in popular memory which are thus widely subject to revision and appropriation in graphic narratives (4). Through an expansion of the visual and textual narratives that underpin consensus memories of the civil rights movement, Graphic Memories demonstrates how comics can be fruitful in reenvisioning the history of civil rights in various ways.

In addition to an introduction and appendix featuring an interview with Ho Che Anderson, Graphic Memories includes five chapters and a chapter-length epilogue which are thematically linked. Though the chapters and the epilogue cover unique intellectual terrain, the throughline Santos draws throughout the monograph is the way each graphic text troubles or reinforces consensus memories of the movement. The first two chapters detail how Ho Che Anderson's King: A Comics Biography and John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell's March trilogy, respectively, deliberately challenge consensus memories of iconic King-centered civil rights narratives. Anderson's King resists the figuration of an iconic MLK and defies simple categorizations of his legacy by constructing a narrative out of a complex bricolage of comics styles, photographs, and imagined dialogues which highlight King's essential unknowability. Lewis, Aydin, and Powell, conversely, elide the iconic King by troubling the relationship between the past and present through the use of panel bleeds, which encourage readers to conceive of history of the movement as ongoing rather than past. Chapters three and four explore how Lila Quintero Weaver's Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White and Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell's The Silence of Our Friends engage with perspectives beyond those typically associated with the consensus memory of the movement. Santos claims that, as a Latinx woman, Weaver provides readers with an alternate perception of the movement beyond the black-white binary, whereas Long, Demonakos, and Powell's Houston-based graphic narrative shifts reader's consensus memory to an unconventional civil rights southscape. The final chapter and epilogue take up Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby and a number of different series runs of Marvel's X-Men. Despite the fact that Cruse's examination of intersecting anti-gay and antiblack sentiments in the civil rights South challenges master narrative consensus memories, Santos argues that the lynching of the white gay activist Sammy Noone whitewashes and appropriates the movement's history. In his high-spirited and deeply personal epilogue, however, Santos suggests that X-Men...


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pp. 237-239
Launched on MUSE
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