Honoring Victims of Racial Lynchings and Injustice 

On August 16 the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) of Montgomery Alabama announced plans for two projects honoring victims of U.S. racial lynchings and injustice.[1]

One is the Memorial for Peace and Justice to honor the over 4,000 black victims of lynchings that will sit on six acres, the highest spot in Montgomery, the first capital of the Confederacy. The memorial will be a large, four-sided gallery of 801 six-foot columns hanging in the air as if from trees like a lynching. Each column will represent a U.S. county where a lynching took place and be etched with the name(s) of the person(s) lynched. Here is a rendering of the memorial and a map showing the locations of the lynchings.

national-lynching-memorial-2

map-of-73-years-of-lynching-1423543271115-master495

An adjacent field will have duplicates of those columns, which will be offered as a challenge to be moved to the home counties of the lynchings; those that remain will be silent rebukes to the places that refuse to acknowledge their history of lynching.

The other project is a museum, “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration,” which is scheduled to open completely next April in EJI’s 11,000-square-foot headquarters in Montgomery. Tracing the country’s racial history from slavery to the era of mass incarceration, it will contain high-tech exhibits, artifacts, recordings, and films, as well as a comprehensive database and information on lynching and racial segregation. Its virtual reality stations will enable people to understand what it was like to be in the cargo hold of a slave trafficking ship, to endure angry taunts during a lunch counter sit-in and to sit in a contemporary overcrowded prison. Below are photographs of one part of the museum and of jars of dirt from sites of lynchings.

 

from-enslavement-to-mass-incarceration

 

jars of dirt

As reported by Montgomery’s newspaper, the founder and Executive Director of EJI, Bryan Stevenson, said, “Our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape. 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.”

StevesnsonStevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer. (To the right is a photograph of Stevenson and the cover of his highly acclaimed book, Just Mercy.) His work fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system has won him numerous awards including the ABA Wisdom Award for Public Service, the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Award Prize, the Olaf Palme International Prize, the ACLU National Medal Of Liberty, the National Public Interest Lawyer of the Year Award, the Gruber Prize for International Justice and the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, has been awarded 16 honorary doctorate degrees, and is a Professor of Law at New York University School of Law.[2]

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[1] EJI, EJI Announces Plans To Build Museum and National Lynching Memorial (Aug. 16, 2016); Robertson, Memorial in Alabama Will Honor Victims of Lynchings, N.Y. Times (Aug. 15, 2016); Troyan, National memorial to lynching victims to be built in Montgomery, Montgomery Advertiser (Aug. 16, 2016); Edgemon, Nation’s first memorial to lynching victims set for Montgomery, al.com (Aug. 16, 2016); Toobin, Justice Delayed, New Yorker (Aug. 22, 2016).

[2] There is a lot about Stevenson in the previously cited New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin and in two previous blog posts: Bryan Stevenson’s Amazing Advocacy for Justice, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 19, 2016); Evaluating Bryan Stevenson Through the Prism of President Obama’s Howard University Speech, dwkcommentaries.com (May 4, 2016).

TODAY on Minnesota Public Radio: Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy: Reforming the Criminal Justice System”

Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson

Today (November 26th) Minnesota Public Radio will broadcast at Noon (CST) and 9:00 p.m. (CST) Bryan Peterson’s presentation yesterday at the Westminster Town Hall Forum, “Just Mercy: Reforming the Criminal Justice System.” It is great! Listen![1]

I was at the Forum yesterday and heard one of the most inspiring and articulate presentations I have ever heard on any subject. I was expecting to hear a detailed agenda for making legal changes in our criminal justice system. Instead, Stevenson delivered this powerful message to every citizen in this country:

  1. Everyone needs to get closer to the poor people and the incarcerated.
  2. Everyone needs to reflect on the history of racial injustice in our country and change the narrative on race. We need truth and reconciliation on race.
  3. Everyone has to find a way to stay hopeful about changing this injustice. It is not easy. It requires a reorientation of the spirit.
  4. Everyone needs to choose to do uncomfortable things. Go inside prisons, for example. The opposite of poverty is justice, not wealth. The quality of a society is judged by how it treats the poor.

Book

Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, which is committed to eliminating bias against the poor and people of color in the criminal justice system. A professor at New York University Law School and a graduate of Harvard Law School, he argued for and won the historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. His new book, Just Mercy, profiles the lives of men, women, and children who are at the mercy of a broken criminal justice system.

Stevenson grew up in Alabama. He started school in a “colored school” and only after desegregation of his town’s schools was he able to obtain a high school education. His great-grandparents were slaves, and his parents daily were subjected to humiliation because of their race.

Thank you, Bryan Stevenson for inspiring and challenging us.

[1] An oral recording of the Town Hall presentation is available on the web.