First National Memorial Honoring Victims of Lynching Opens in Alabama
The first national memorial paying tribute to victims of lynching opened in Montgomery, Alabama on Thursday.
Over the weekend, visitors flocked to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice to view the 800 steel slabs that bear the names, dates and locations of individuals who were killed by lynching in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Each of the hanging steel markers hanging are roughly six feet long. Visitors can pass below them to view the names, which are organized to represent more than 800 counties where the crimes occurred.
Outside, sculptures depicting slaves chained together accentuated the injustices committed in Alabama and throughout the United States over centuries of slavery and segregation.
The concept of the monument was born by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit based in Montgomery that raised $20 million in private donations to fund the construction and design. The EJI provides legal aid to people who may have been falsely convicted and want to challenge the charges.
Research performed by the monument organizers uncovered the names of 4,400 people who lost their lives either to lynching or racial killings between 1877 and 1950.
Several blocks down the road from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the new Legacy Museum details the nation’s past and current racial injustices in an 11,000 square-foot facility built on the site of a former slave pen. This museum was opened in partnership with the monument and touches on the parallels between slavery and the modern mass incarceration of African Americans.
“We have things we want to say to people about what this means and what this represents,” EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson said in an interview prior to the opening. “I’m hoping they will be challenged, sobered but ultimately motivated to commit to a new kind of relationship to these issues.”
A three-day symposium on racial issues past and present was organized to coincide with the opening of the museum and monument.
Monuments honoring Confederate soldiers have been under scrutiny in the South, and a handful of local governments have already had them removed. Amidst a liberal call to remove these confederate monuments, certain locals and politicians have resisted the change.
One of four remaining Confederate monuments was taken down by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in 2017. Despite the support of much of the city’s African American community, which makes up 60 percent of the local population, the monument removal also drew pushback, which sparked protests that escalated into arrests and injuries. The contractors who performed the removal received death threats from the Confederate sympathizers.
Alabama governor Kay Ivey released a campaign ad last month which pledged her defense of a law protecting Confederate monuments. The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, which Ivey signed into effect in 2017, mandates that local governments receive state permission before altering or removing buildings and monuments over 40 years old.
This campaign ad was received as a blow to progress by the NAACP.
In Montgomery, the municipal history of slavery and civil rights movements make the erection of this even more poignant. There were more slave pens, depots and warehouses in 1860 than there were commercial establishments and banks, according to Stevenson. Nearly a century later, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King spearheaded the civil rights movement from the same city.
In the 21st century, the nation’s first monument for victims of lynching now commemorates that history, and hopes to invigorate the civil rights activism of 2018.