On Thursday, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opens in Montgomery, Alabama, along with its accompanying Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. The two sites will be the nation's first "comprehensive memorial dedicated to racial terror lynchings of African Americans and the legacy of slavery and racial inequality in America," according to the organization behind it, the Equal Justice Initiative. The memorial features 800 brown metal slabs inscribed with the names of 4,400 African Americans lynched or otherwise killed in "racial terror" incidents from 1977 to 1950. Each 6-foot-tall slab represents one of the 800 U.S. counties where the lynchings occurred.
Bryan Stevenson, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, said Monday that his legal advocacy group wanted to create a place for Americans to confront and "deal honestly with this history," like South Africa and Germany did to face their legacies of Apartheid and the Holocaust, respectively. "We don't have many places in America where we have urged people to look at the history of racial inequality, to look at the history of slavery, of lynching, of segregation," he said, adding that he expects some people to be "uncomfortable" visiting the memorial and museum.
The Legacy Museum starts with the enslavement of Africans and continues through today's criminal justice system. First thing you read in the museum is: "You are standing on a site where people were warehoused" — a reference to the site being a former Montgomery slave depot. And along with the slabs, the memorial includes a sculpture of six slaves in chains. "I think there is a better America still waiting, there is a more just America waiting," Stevenson told The Associated Press. "There's a kind of community that we haven't achieved yet. but we can't achieve it if we are unwilling to tell the truth about our past." Peter Weber