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Wills, John S. “‘Some People Even Died’: Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Movement and the Politics of Remembrance in Elementary Classrooms.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 18(1) (2005): 109-31.


This article examines the interpretive practices and cultural texts that shape what teachers and students remember and forget during the annual observance of the King holiday in two second-grade classrooms. Drawing on data from an ethnographic case study of the curriculum in use and theory and research on collective memory, the author analyzes the contest between two commemorative narratives, one focused on King's boyhood experiences of discrimination and his advocacy of non-violent protest to end segregation, the other on remembering discriminatory practices in the South and the violence perpetrated by Whites against civil rights protestors. After discussing the nature of mnemonic socialization in these classrooms and the consequences of this struggle over collective memory for students, the paper concludes with a call to reconceptualize classrooms as 'critical mnemonic workspaces' where teachers and students are able to draw on a diversity of cultural resources for remembering multiple, even contradictory, pasts.