Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Kelly M. Young


This dissertation examines public memories of civil rights injustice and resistance as constitutive rhetorics of urban culture and spatiality for the city of Detroit. By studying the city of Detroit as it navigates an ongoing period of dramatic change and redevelopment, this study demonstrates how material manifestations of memory become the constitutive forces that define what many describe as “Detroit’s heart and soul.” This project illustrates the embedded cultural logics produced from sites of public memory, thereby arguing city spaces as locations bound to their legacies and beholden to material and symbolic consequences of their past. This dissertation proceeds through four analytical focuses on memory sites in Detroit, demonstrating the mnemonic features of haunting memory, emergent memory, forgetting, and disruptive memory that mold the city space as a whole. While previous scholarship on the relationship between memory, rhetoric, and cities introduces the network of mnemonic narratives that produce our singular ideological frameworks, they fail to extend such conclusions to complicated cultural amalgamations, such as city spaces and the cultures that define them. This dissertation closes with a look to Detroit’s future and an extended conclusion detailing the cautions that Detroit’s public memories of the civil rights struggle suggest, particularly in the context of ongoing controversies in contemporary Detroit. From the cases explored across this project, the author argues Detroit and city spaces like it are a social, assemblage of cultural palimpsests, spaces bound to public memories that continue to shape, inform, and influence the manner in which these locations move forward.