The Macksey Journal


Historians have long studied the concept of a “usable past,” understood as the selective application of the past to the present to establish identity or achieve a goal. In the twenty-first century, this concept has become pertinent to social media platforms, which have changed the way humans engage in activism. One important intersection of history, social media, and activism converges in a Twitter account titled “St. Louis Manifest.” The account is a curated site of memory, and as the most recent evolution of the story of the 1939 Jewish refugee ship, the M.S. St. Louis, it serves as a powerful case study of the impact of social media on activism. The account’s use of timing, text, and photographs are used to curate a unique space in which memory of the St. Louis penetrates dialogue about refugees in the present. The account first became active on January 27, 2017—International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the day President Trump’s “Muslim Ban” went into effect. Despite its politically-charged genesis, however, it has largely remained silent when presented with opportunities to draw parallels to the present-day refugee crisis at America’s southern border. In addition, the account was widely overlooked in the midst of the 80th anniversary of the M.S. St. Louis. This research presents a case study of the once-viral “St. Louis Manifest” Twitter account and, building on an original interview with the account’s creator, critically examines the limitations and potentialities of social media to affect present-day political issues.