By Wenjia Xu, ‘14

Winston Churchill once said, “History is written by victors.” While this philosophy describes battles and wars fairly well, it is not as straightforward when it comes to human rights and social movements. After all, the fight for civil rights remains very much active and far from victorious. Thus, how can we proclaim victory when signs of social stagnation or even retrogression can be seen readily throughout the US and the world? Yet, American society is built upon and relies much on progress (and victory), or at least an image of it. We like to pat ourselves on the back and convince us that we’re doing better than before.

20140129-IMG_6308The History 109 class (“Introduction to the History of Human Rights and Social Movements,” Prof. Stephen Milder) witnessed such a phenomenon on their field trip to Greensboro, NC last Tuesday. Self-proclaimed to be a city of “young people with progressive attitudes,” Greensboro is often considered to be a starting point of the sit-in and other “progressive” movements [1]. The Greensboro Historical Museum and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum certainly painted a picture of “progress” and “victory,” a path marked with “milestones” and “key events” in the course of history. The tour at the International Civil Rights Museum in particular stood out, featuring a very charismatic retelling of the civil rights movement (up to 1963, that is). While the museum and tour did immerse visitors in a part of history with its real artifacts and narratives, it is nevertheless a (somewhat predictable) story that most of us learned in grade school. And when we left the museum, we felt that we (as modern, twenty-first century citizens) have come a long way in terms of history and that we have overcome a great obstacle and can breathe a sigh of relief.

20140129-IMG_6394We were soon brought back to Earth, however, upon our visit to the Beloved Community Center (BCC), a local community geared toward “social and economic relations that affirm and realize the quality, dignity, worth and potential of every person.” [2] We had an opportunity to speak with Executive Director and activist Rev. Nelson Johnson, who informed us that the fight for civil rights is far from over and that there are large pieces of history left out of history textbooks and museums. He spoke of the 1979 Greensboro massacre in particular, which none of us knew about or saw in either of the museums we visited. The façade of Greensboro’s progressivism seemed to peel away in front of us, exposing an image few people want to accept or confront. The museums themselves almost seemed superficial, and we felt an urge to look deeper for answers. What does it mean to be on the “right” side of history, anyways? The filtered, clean history or the ugly, raw version that nobody wants to hear about? – you decide.