Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Communication (MA)

Degree Level





Ryan Neville-Shepard

Committee Member

Lisa Corrigan

Second Committee Member

Thomas Rosteck


Bill Clinton, Fort Smith, Public Memory, Rhetoric, Space and Place, Wilson


This thesis provides a rhetorical analysis of public space in Arkansas and examines the ways in which the myth of Southern Atonement is constructed within those spaces. Three formal elements characterize Southern Atonement: absolution from the past, distinctiveness in constructed authenticity, and hope for a post-racial future. The analysis develops over three case studies which I argue contribute to the construction, engagement, and actualization of this cultural myth. The first chapter looks at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and The Unexpected art project as a source of identity construction and place attachment. Then I examine The Billgrimage, or the monuments and museums attributed to Bill Clinton’s Arkansas legacy. I argue that this journey functions as a source of engagement for the community and asks the visitors to use Southern Atonement as a political and cultural toolkit. Finally, I explore the town of Wilson, Arkansas, and examine the ways in which Southern Atonement has been actualized as a cohesive identity through community revitalization and public memory. Southern Atonement, as developed through the rhetoric of public space and place in Arkansas, posits the statewide community towards a future that both acknowledges the historical sins of the past while moving forward through political and cultural reimagining of what it means to be Arkansan and Southern. In doing so, some voices – particularly those of minority and low-income populations – are often omitted from the public memory narrative in order to alleviate hegemonic guilt without actual policy and social reform. In an effort to atone for the past, some efforts of displacement and disenfranchisement are occurring to support a political agenda.