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Civil Rights Memorial: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

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In their article, Carole Blair and Neil Michel argue that the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama is an important cultural landmark because of the way it embodies the history, as well as present and future significance of racial injustice in the United States. They argue that the memorial has rhetorical performances that replicate the strategies used by civil rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960s, and that these rhetorical performances are catalysts for more progress to be made through political action. Blair and Michel’s rhetorical approach to analyzing the memorial differs from Daniel Abramson’s argument. 

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Abramson claims that memorials designed Maya Lin, which, in addition to the Civil Rights Memorial, include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Women’s Table at Yale University, are fundamentally conservative in relation to the civil rights movement and “reestablish points of traditional authority”. Abramson’s argument is largely rooted in the fact that there is a common theme in Lin’s works in that they all have inscribed timelines, but he fails to acknowledge other features of the memorials and how they give a rhetorical performance. The Civil Rights Memorial gives a rhetorical performance because of how its features impact people’s lives every day and stand out, just like the people and events it honors. It is important to analyze memorials rhetorically because many of the features of these memorials hold a deeper meaning that are not instantly obvious to a person simply reading the inscribed text.

One way Blair and Michel analyze the Civil Rights Memorial with respect to its rhetorical performance is by examining its physical dimensions and structure. Blair and Michel claim that one of the goals of the protests during the civil rights movement was to (nonviolently) inconvenience “the space of the everyday, of “business as usual,” so as to call attention to the participants and their political and moral claims to justice”. They claim that the Civil Rights Memorial accomplishes many of the same things as the protestors because of the way it obstructs pedestrians’ access to public spaces. Another example of rhetorical performance is the location of the Civil Rights Memorial. It is located within walking distance to several landmarks that glorify the Confederacy, which is commonly associated with racism. These two aspects of the memorial make it much more significant than if it were isolated somewhere else, like a park in Washington DC, for example.

One memorial I believe engages in a rhetorical performance is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is located in Arlington National Cemetery. The memorial is meant to honor all United States service men and women whose bodies were not recovered after being killed in action. I think the memorial is meant to instill a sense of patriotism and gratitude towards those who gave their life for their country in all visitors to the cemetery because of how significant the tomb appears. In a literal sense, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier performs the duties of those it honors, similar to the Civil Rights Memorial, because it is guarded by a military member all 365 days per year, regardless of weather. However, this is another reason why the Tom of the Unknown Soldier gives a rhetorical performance because it shows how highly regarded military service men and women who lost their lives in combat are. I think the simplicity of the monument itself contributes to its rhetorical performance because it doesn’t distract viewers from the point of the memorial- to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. 

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