On Visiting the National Memorial to Lynching Victims:

“Nothing will prepare you for what you will see and feel in person”

May 7, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


From a reader:

I read revcom.us/Revolution newspaper’s online article about the new Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice that opened in Montgomery, Alabama, last month. It is an excellent article and much appreciated. A couple of us from Atlanta went to Montgomery to participate in the Opening Ceremony and Summit. We visited the memorial but were unable to get tickets to the Legacy Museum because they were sold out.

I want to strongly underscore the importance of the memorial and museum developed by Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). I believe this is one of the most important exhibits in the country ever, and everyone should make every effort to go to Montgomery as soon as possible to see it. There is so much to learn from all the exhaustive research that went into unearthing the information about the 4,400 victims—those lynched—and the perpetrators. No article or photograph can really capture the weightiness and plethora of emotion one experiences.

We went not only to see for ourselves this important contribution, but to focus on distributing the New Call from RefuseFascism.org and the palm cards for the film of BA’s talk, THE TRUMP/PENCE REGIME MUST GO! In The Name of Humanity, We REFUSE To Accept a Fascist America. A Better World IS Possible, as well as participate in the accompanying Opening Ceremony and Summit. This was an opportunity to reach a good cross section of people from inside and mostly outside the “activist” world, from all over the country, numbering in the 1,000s, who came to learn and memorialize those who were lynched by this wretched country. It was a mixed crowd of mostly Black and white people, middle-aged and older, with some groupings of students who came from their colleges/universities.

Many renowned artists, activists, lawyers and intellectuals, and progressive/liberal politicians attended or participated in the events over two days. Some of the more well-known people were Common, Patti LaBelle, Michelle Alexander, Steve Bright, Gloria Steinem, Anthony Ray Hinton, Marian Wright Edelman, John Lewis, Cory Booker, Piper Kerman (Orange Is the New Black), Freedom Riders, and many more. Andra Day did an unbelievable rendition of “Strange Fruit” from inside the memorial.

Over the course of the two days, we were able to distribute a little over 1,000 new Refuse Fascism Calls and about 700 BA film cards, as well as several hundred palm cards with BA’s quote 5:5 from BAsics: “The ‘Bible Belt’ in the U.S. is also the Lynching Belt.” Most people had not heard about RefuseFascism.org but were very receptive and curious and exhibited visceral contempt for Trump and the regime.

At the opening ceremony, Bryan Stevenson, EJI founder, delivered a heartfelt speech on the need to stand up, move out of our comfort zone, and change the narrative. This outlook was highlighted at the opening event by recognizing the Freedom Riders; civil rights activists and icons; the young Black kids who bravely walked into all-white schools to desegregate them; and the four women, before Rosa Parks, who refused to give up their seats for white people on a Montgomery bus. It was very inspirational, and at the same time the thematic solution throughout the summit was to vote. It was very important to have a political intervention with RefuseFascism.org’s new Call to Action as well as the palm cards for the film of BA’s talk and his BAsics quote.

One morning we took a shuttle to the memorial. I had read an article about it in the New York Times before going to Montgomery, but nothing will prepare you for what you will see and feel in person. The architecture is very modern, stark but warm. Upon entering you are confronted with the history of slavery, ripping off Native American land, and mob lynching, torture, and violence, written succinctly on the cement walls. You see an intense sculpture by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo of men and women, one woman holding a baby, in iron neck collars, handcuffs, ankle cuffs and chains, with terror and horror on their faces.

You walk along the pathway as the written history continues on the walls until you reach the entrance: there you are confronted by row after row after row after row of tall, rectangular six-foot rusted metal boxes that could be interpreted as headstones or coffins. You enter on the ground level with daylight still apparent, and engraved on each box is the county and state where lynchings took place with the many names and dates, including “unknown” for those undocumented. They are carved through the metal, so when day turns to night and a floodlight shines up through the metal boxes, the names shine bright. You can imagine its effect.

The floor starts to descend as you start walking underground, the surroundings become darker, and the boxes begin to elevate above you until they are hanging from the ceiling like lynched brown bodies from the trees. Along the walls there are plaques citing all the unjustifiable reasons why someone was lynched. By studying the dates, you start to realize that not just one person but many people were often lynched on any given day, with several people being lynched on consecutive days—and in some cases, like the Elaine massacre in Arkansas, over 200 people were lynched within a few days’ time.

By the time you reach the end of this section of the memorial, there is a water feature and an acrylic box that looks like a see-through coffin filled with dirt elevated on one of the rusted brown boxes. A plaque reads, “The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Community Remembrance Project invites members to visit lynching sites and gather soil to honor the lives of those killed and terrorized by racial violence and injustice. The soil represents collections from over two dozen racial terror lynchings.”

One striking observation while walking through was overhearing people near me asking others to come find them if they see a particular name of someone or county. I realized people came to look for their kinfolk.

The last thing you see near the exit of the memorial park is the provocative sculpture called “Raise Up” of many Black men, women, and children submerged in cement from the chest or neck down, all with their hands in the air, by artist Hank Willis Thomas. This piece is a commentary on the continued racial violence in this country and continuing narrative that Black people are “dangerous,” justifying police murder of unarmed Black and Brown people, mass incarceration, and societal terror.

Revolution newspaper couldn’t have said it better:

The opening of the memorial and museum in Montgomery is very urgent and relevant in the situation we face today. The horror depicted so vividly there IS the history of this country. This terror and violence served to keep in place a whole system, which could not have existed without first slavery and then near-slavery and outright segregation centered in the South while a great majority of Black people lived there. White supremacy is built into the foundation of the USA—something that this system and those who rule it could not do without. And this has continued down to the present. As BA says, “There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth.” (BAsics 1:1) Segregation, discrimination and racism exist in housing, jobs, schools, healthcare, culture—in every part of society. And this continues to be backed up with brutality and violence—by the uniformed lynch mobs of the “officers of the law” who disproportionately target Black and other people of color for murder and brutality, and through mass incarceration of oppressed people.



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