Warning: This piece contains disturbing images.
A new memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, looks to confront one of this country’s greatest shames: its brutal history of racial terror and the systematic lynching of thousands of African Americans.
The National Memorial to Peace and Justice is a tribute to those victims. It’s the brainchild of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson and his organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that offers legal representation to the poor and those wrongfully convicted.
“Most of us have no understanding about the legacy of slavery, we have no understanding about the era of lynching,” Stevenson told the NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown. “Black people were routinely pulled out of their homes and hanged, and burned, and drowned, and mutilated, and tortured, sometimes on the public square with thousands of people cheering on that torture and violence.”
The memorial is made up of more than 800 rusted, steel columns that are suspended from the ceiling. Each represents an American county in which a lynching took place between 1877 and 1950. Etched on each of the markers are the names of victims and the dates they were killed. Some have only a few, others have dozens.
Stevenson says instead of facing this period in our history, we’ve ignored it and its legacy. In doing so, he says, we’ve been unable to meaningfully address the racial injustice plaguing America today.
“It’s only when we find a way to talk about these things, when we tell the truth about these things, that we can create new relationships. That’s what truth and reconciliation is about,” Stevenson says. “We are constrained by the smog created by this history and to deal with that we’re going to have to clean the air. We’re going to have to talk about some things we haven’t talked about before.”