In the two most recent additions to the civil rights trail, I found both the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum to be powerful experiences. I was pleased to see and hear the respect that was being paid by the visitors at each location. Sculpture is an integral part of the site.
The six-acre Memorial site is designed to contextualize this horrific past of racial terror in our counties history. It is part of our collective history and these events should be remembered, recognized and reconciled.
Comprised of eight hundred and five Corten steel markers hung from the ceiling and etched with the names of the victims, one for each county where a lynching took place throughout the United States the Memorial is an impressive structure.
Upon entering, you start at eye level then the markers rise as you continue your journey through stories of those individuals lost to these horrific acts.
Over time the markers will weather in the elements and the site will continue to be transformed.
To the side of the Memorial is a field of markers waiting to be claimed and installed by the counties they represent. Leaving the grounds of the Memorial is another sculpture.
The Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum is located a short distance from the Peace Memorial, on the site of a former slave warehouse were the enslaved were imprisoned. The eleven thousand square-foot museum was erected midway between an historic slave market, main river dock and train station where tens of thousands of enslaved people were sold at the height of the domestic slave trade.
The exhibit takes visitors through an in-depth look from the beginning of slavery to the mass incarceration of African Americans today. Just before the Civil War, Montgomery was the capital of the slave trade and one of the state largest slave-owning states in the United States.
Some of the displays and recorded stories recounted here can be graphic and difficult to view but it is important to recognize and reconcile this into our mass consciousness. To date, the team at EJI has documented over four thousand lynching’s that occurred between 1877 and 1950.
Large jars of dirt that have been reclaimed from many lynching sites and are displayed in order to move toward reconciliation and to right the wrong done to the lynching victims and their families.
Both the Peace Memorial and Legacy Museum are the singular vision of Attorney and Author Bryan Stevenson; he is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.
A brief video from my visit to the Memorial.
Oprah Winfrey had an inside look at the Memorial and Museum before its opening in April on 60 Minutes.
“We want to tell the truth because we believe in truth and reconciliation but we know that truth and reconciliation are sequential. We can’t get to where we’re trying to go if we don’t tell the truth first.” Bryan Stevenson said of the Memorial and Museum.
Bryan Stevenson further explains. “This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice.”
If you are in Montgomery, I urge you to visit these two powerful monuments.
My thanks to the Equal Justice Initiative for providing pictures of the Legacy Museum.