Collective memories are key to social movements. Activists draw on a shared history to build identity, create movement cohesion, and focus political purpose. But what happens when marginalized communities do not find their history in dominant narratives? How do they create a useable past to bind their political communities together and challenge their exclusion?
In Clio’s Foot Soldiers, Lara Leigh Kelland investigates these questions by examining 1960s and 1970s social movements comprised of historically marginalized peoples: Civil Rights, Black Power, Women’s and Gay Liberation, and American Indian. These movements sought ownership over their narratives to create historical knowledge reflective of their particular experiences. To accomplish their goals, activists generated new forms of adult education, published movement newspapers, and pursued campus activism and speeches, public history efforts and community organizations. Through alternative means, marginalized communities developed their own historical discourses to mobilize members, define movement goals, and become culturally sovereign. In so doing, they provided a basis for achieving political liberation and changed the landscape of liberal cultural institutions.