On April 20, the Department of Journalism and Strategic Media (JRSM), in partnership with the Institute for Public Service Reporting (IPSR), unveiled an exhibit titled “Look Back to Live Ahead”, centered around the Memphis Massacre of 1866.
The exhibit, part of the IPSR’s ongoing Civil Wrongs series, was hosted by JRSM Professor Taylor Nicole Ackerman, coordinated by Distinguished Journalist in Residence Laura Kebede, and aided by the JRSM event planning and reporting class.
“Our goal was to get people to be inspired, to interact with the history in a way that they have not before and to be informed,” Ackerman said. “A lot of people in Memphis do not know about the Memphis Massacre. So our goal is to, one, inform them, and two, for them to feel inspired to take action in some way.”
The exhibit contained general information on the Memphis massacre as well as sections that described more specified aspects of the massacre, including police brutality, sexual violence, victim stories and why the Memphis massacre is largely unrecognized.
“We want to bring awareness and recognition to lost history that is right underneath our nose,” said journalism student and event planner Kara Blue. “Everyone’s able to walk away from this event learning important history.”
Based on his findings, journalism student BJ Gibs shared his thoughts on sexual violence and the similarities of present-day issues.
"I want to highlight the fact that for so long, there was neglect around this subject,” Gibs said. “So we are bringing this to light to show that this is a problem, and honestly needs to stop.”
Currently, the Memphis Massacre is not taught in Tennessee and is not included in Tennessee School Curriculum, as the event falls too close to the end of the Civil War and gets overshadowed. While the State of Tennessee has never publicly acknowledged this event, in 2016 the NAACP erected a marker in Army Park chronicling the massacre to the public.
The exhibit also displayed a vast art collection concerning racial injustices linked to present-day issues such as police brutality and ignorance.
A Nigerian-born artist and cancer survivor Ephraim Urevbu has contributed his art to the Memphis community since the late 1990s, exploring complex and visual representation.
His most recent collection, entitled "Naked Truth," which was displayed at the exhibit, is inspired by America's civil unrest and harsh social realities. He aims to create conversations and discuss painful historical moments with a new perspective.
"This is a project I have been working on for seven years," said Urevbu. "An American story in red, white and blue. The idea behind this show is to use art as a tool for engagement. How can we begin to tell our stories without intimidation and do it in such a way that you can touch people's consciousness?"
Urevbu's most recognized piece, The Cancer Within, visually likens racism to cancer, spreading throughout an American flag and creating fragmentation with transgressions such as ignorance, greed and selfishness.
In conjunction with the event, the IPSR will be releasing the next episode in its Civil Wrongs podcast series, which focuses on the massacre, written and hosted by Kebede’s class. The episode will be released in early May.
Through exhibitions, art and research, “Look Back to Live Ahead” brought new information to the Memphis community, and through a unique visual representation, highlighted a dark moment in Memphis’ history.