The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, informally known as the National Lynching Memorial, is a national memorial to commemorate the victims of lynching in the United States. The memorial was constructed in order to acknowledge the past of racial terrorism and further the continual search for social justice in America. Founded by the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative, it opened in downtown Montgomery, Alabama on April 26, 2018.
The memorial includes 805 hanging steel rectangles, representing each of the counties in the United States where a documented lynching took place
|Established||April 26, 2018|
|Founder||Equal Justice Initiative|
The memorial was built on six acres in the downtown area of the state capital by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a non-profit based in Montgomery. Also under the auspices of EJI is The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, which opened the same day. It is built near the Montgomery site where enslaved African Americans were auctioned at market. The development and construction of the memorial complex cost an estimated $20 million, raised from private foundations. The EJI's founder, Bryan Stevenson, was inspired by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany, and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, to create a single memorial to victims of white supremacy in the United States.
By studying records in counties across the United States, researchers documented almost 4400 "racial terror lynchings" between 1877 and 1950. An error with the name of a victim from Duluth, Minnesota, was corrected. The mistake, according to Kiara Boone, deputy program manager for EJI, evidences both error and fabrications in contemporary newspaper reports: "Oftentimes the mainstream press's coverage of these lynching events was something that would not hold up to journalistic integrity by today's standards".
In central position is the memorial square with 805 hanging steel rectangles, the size and shape of coffins, representing each of the counties in the United States where a documented lynching took place, as compiled in the EJI study, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror (2017, 3rd edition). There were more than 4300 documented lynchings of African Americans between 1877 and 1950 concentrated in 12 Southern states, but several other states are now covered. The monument is the first major work in the nation to name and honor these victims. Each of the steel plates is marked with the name of the county and state, and the names of the documented lynching victims (or "unknown" if the name is not known).
The central memorial was designed by MASS Design Group with Lam Partners lighting design, and built on six acres purchased by EJI. Artwork in the museum includes a sculpture on slavery by Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, at the beginning; a sculpture "dedicated to the women who sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott" by Dana King to help illustrate the Civil Rights period; and a piece about today's police violence and the biased criminal justice system, by Hank Willis Thomas.
In Hank Willis Thomas' piece, Rise Up, the focal point is a wall, and emerging from the wall are statues of black heads and bodies raising their arms in surrender to the viewer. The piece brings up the notion of visibility, which is the aim of the entire monument. The viewer is asked to focus and see the subject of the artwork. This is a more current piece commenting on the police violence and police brutality prevalent in the years preceding the memorial. Hank Willis Thomas says in an interview about his art work, “I see the work that I make as asking questions.”
Outside of the structure, in the surrounding landscaped area, are benches where visitors can sit to reflect. Reflecting areas are dedicated to honor and memorialize people such as Ida B. Wells, who in the 1890s risked her life to report on the truth about lynchings. Laid in rows are corresponding steel columns identical to the ones hanging in the Memorial. These columns are intended to be temporary, and the Equal Justice Initiative is asking representatives of each of the counties to come and claim their monument and establish a memorial on home ground. A month after the opening the Montgomery Advertiser reported that Montgomery County, after receiving a petition from citizens, was considering asking for their column; both the county and the city of Montgomery had already been discussing this.
Importance for Montgomery tourismEdit
Prior to the 1990s little attention was paid in Montgomery to the painful legacy of slavery and racism, though the city is now marketing a Civil Rights trail and the buildings and locations associated with slavery, and the city became a New York Times Top 2018 Destination. Lee Sentell of the Alabama Department of Tourism acknowledged that the National Memorial offers a different and painful encounter: "Most museums are somewhat objective and benign...This one is not. This is aggressive, political. ... It's a part of American history that has never been addressed as much in your face as this story is being told". Mayor Todd Strange suggested that the memorial offered "our nation's best chance at reconciliation".
The opening celebrations, in May 2018, drew thousands of people to Montgomery, perhaps as many as 10,000. Artists that performed included Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, and Usher; speakers included John Lewis.
The memorial and its attendant museum are expected to provide Montgomery with a great boost in tourism, even if it is dark tourism. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that with the addition of the memorial and the museum Montgomery and Atlanta together provide a narrative of African-American history. Tourism officials said that possibly 100,000 extra visitors per year, though the infrastructure of Montgomery and Alabama might not provide easy access to the city.
The Legacy MuseumEdit
Opened on the same date as the outdoor memorial, The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is a museum that displays and dramatizes the history of slavery and racism in America. The progress through the museum is chronological, beginning with slavery, and progressing through the heyday of lynching, the Civil Rights era, and the present. This includes the enslavement of African-Americans, racial lynchings, segregation, and racial bias. The memorial complex features artwork by Hank Willis Thomas, Glenn Ligon, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Titus Kaphar, and Sanford Biggers. One of its displays is a collection of soil from lynching sites across the United States. This exhibit stands to show the vast impact of slavery, lynching, and black oppression across state lines. The exhibits in the 11,000-square-foot museum include oral history, archival materials, and interactive technology.
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- The Memorial for Peace and Justice
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- Lyman, Brian (April 20, 2018). "'There will be lynchings': How the Advertiser failed victims of racial terror". Montgomery Advertiser.
- Montgomery Advertiser Editorial Board (April 26, 2018). "Our shame: The sins of our past laid bare for all to see". Montgomery Advertiser.
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