“In Berlin, Germany, you can’t go 100 meters without seeing markers or stones or monuments placed near the homes of Jewish families abducted during the Holocaust.
But, in this country, we don’t talk about slavery. We don’t talk about lynching. We don’t talk about segregation. And our silence has condemned us.” -Bryan Stevenson
Alabama is enveloped in years of history; some of which can be hard to take in. In the capital of Montgomery, there is a museum and memorial that has compiled history and stories that have long been overlooked and silenced.
“The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is situated on a site in Montgomery where enslaved people were once warehoused. A block from one of the most prominent slave auction spaces in America, the Legacy Museum is steps away from an Alabama dock and rail station where tens of thousands of Black people were trafficked during the 19th century.”
-Equal Justice Initiative
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a non-profit organization founded by Bryan Stevenson, created The Legacy Museum and Memorial which opened in April of 2018. With $20 million raised from both private and charitable donations, both the museum and memorial acknowledge the history and impact of slavery, lynching, and segregation in this country.
One of the first things you will see when you walk into the museum is a sign, that reminds you, “You are standing on a site where enslaved people were warehoused.” It is a reminder of the unspeakable horrors that occurred to other human beings in this place.
No images are allowed after this point as visitors walk through a detailed timeline of the history of this country from its beginnings to today. You learn personal stories of those who were enslaved, the terrors of the lynching era, the fight for civil rights, and mass incarceration. Some of the most gut-wrenching details you will read about are of children who are incarcerated today.
EJI states that this country has done little to acknowledge the history of, “slavery, lynching, and racial segregation.” And because of that, “people of color are disproportionately marginalized, disadvantaged and mistreated. The American criminal justice system is compromised by racial disparities and unreliability that is influenced by a presumption of guilt and dangerousness that is often assigned to people of color. For more than a decade, EJI has been conducting extensive research into the history of racial injustice and the narratives that have sustained injustice across generations.”
You will leave the museum with the motivation to learn more and do more to help mend this country and to ensure justice and equality for all. However, this is not the end of your visit.
Just a few blocks away from the museum is the first national memorial for those who were victims of the lynching era in America. EJI has compiled an extensive list of names and places of those who were terrorized by the lynchings. Each block you pass will have names of victims and either a specific state or county they were from. The lists will feel like they are never-ending, and reading the names of each individual is incredibly sobering. One feels a great sense of mourning as one walks through the memorial.
Under a fountain of water where visitors can sit and ponder, you are reminded that, “Thousands of African Americans are unknown victims of racial terror and lynchings whose deaths cannot be documented, many whose names will never be known. They are all honored here.”
You will leave with a sense of hope as you read:
“For the hanged and beaten
For the shot, drowned and burned.
For the tortured, tormented, and terrorized.
For those abandoned by the rule of law.
We will remember.
With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice.
With courage because peace requires bravery.
With persistence because justice is a constant struggle.
With faith because we shall overcome.”
For those that are able, it is well worth your time to visit and learn at the Legacy Museum and Memorial. Not only is it one of the few places you can visit that tell the real story of our country’s past and the effects of our past on our country today, but its exact location and knowing what occurred there makes for an experience you will not forget.
Learn more about the memorial and museum here.
You can also visit the EJI website to learn more of their work here.