OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Glenn T. Eskew

Portrait of Glenn T. Eskew

Glenn T. Eskew has an abiding interest in southern history having taught the subject at Georgia State University since 1993. Currently he heads the university's World Heritage Initiative, an effort to develop a serial nomination of U. S. civil rights sites for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List. His But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle (1997) received the Francis Butler Simkins Award from Southern Historical Association and Longwood College for the best book in southern history by a new author. His biography, Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World (2013), received the Bell Award from the Georgia Historical Society and was selected as a Choice outstanding academic title. Currently he is writing a history of civil rights monuments, museums, and institutions in the Deep South. Eskew serves on a number of national, regional, state, and local boards, and promotes historic preservation and public history.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In documenting how communities in the U. S. South built monuments and museums to the modern struggle for race reform, Memorializing the Movement: Civil Rights Commemorations and America’s Ideology of Tolerance considers a variety of outcomes resulting from the public engagement with the contested past in Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, and Memphis, but also Little Rock, Albany, Oxford, Greensboro, Farmville, and Washington. In many cases movement veterans initiated the drives that federal, state and local leaders took up. Funding came from public, private and corporate sources. These memorials serve as shrines for pilgrims and fuel a heritage tourism industry. Bifurcated missions celebrated civil rights victories while advocating for social change, sending out ambiguous messages. The grassroots embraced civil rights memorials as vehicles for telling local stories that had a global impact, while national leaders saw in them opportunities to promulgate international values of tolerance. Having told separate stories of southern communities using public memory to memorialize the movement, a conclusion offers analysis of an American expression of tolerance as a form of personal identity in an era of transnationalism.
The jazz infused music Savannah native Johnny Mercer (1909-1976) produced as the writer of nearly 1,500 songs, as president of Capitol Records which he cofounded in 1942, and as one of the country’s foremost midcentury performers, helped transform popular song at home and abroad, as he joined other southern diaspora entertainers with whom he worked such as Billie Holiday, Dinah Shore, Nat “King” Cole, and Harry James, in creating the global soundtrack of the American Consensus. Written for Hollywood musicals, Broadway shows, and radio, such Mercer standards as “Skylark,” “Laura,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Satin Doll,” “Black Magic,” “Moon River,” continually regenerate as each generation discovers anew these immortal contributions to the Great American Songbook.
The Georgia State University Center for Neighborhood and Metropolitan Studies, Department of History, and Heritage Preservation Program are developing a Serial Nomination of U.S. Civil Rights Sites for potential inscription on the World Heritage List. This project expands the initial proposal of the three Alabama churches on the 2008 U. S. World Heritage Tentative List by adding additional National Historic Landmarks and possibly other sites associated with the Modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Initiative is preparing materials for the National Park Service (NPS) to determine if the nomination should move forward. Ultimately the decision to inscribe the sites on the World Heritage List will be made by the World Heritage Committee of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The GSU World Heritage Initiative coordinates the efforts of property owners, stakeholders, scholars, and preservationists by working with them to prepare a draft Serial Nomination for the National Park Service Office of International Affairs to submit to the World Heritage Committee.