I have put this on my list of things to do in my lifetime; visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The National Memorial is “the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.” I intend to honor the memory of my ancestors by never forgetting what was done to them, as enslaved people who were humiliated, beaten, terrorized, and murdered. My mission is to work for the creation of the beloved community without whitewashing the truth of our past and present reality. Anyone who questions the need to say, “Black Lives Matter,”
Should do two things, visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, located at 417 Caroline Street, Montgomery, Alabama, and read the research produced by the Equal Justice Initiative entitled “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” which documents thousands of racial terror lynching’s 12 states in the Deep South, and many states outside of the South.
In one section of the report entitled “Lynching’s Targeting the Entire African American Community,” it is reported that most lynching’s involved the killing of one or more people, but many lynch mobs often targeted an entire Black community by forcing Black people to watch the lynching’s, and then demanding that they leave the community or face a similar fate. The report gives chilling details of Black people who were murdered by a self-appointed mob of white men, usually with no official authority, who took “justice” in their own hands with no fear of consequences. These tactics were also used against African American individuals and organized groups who protested their treatment as second-class citizens.
The report outlines that when Black people moved to communities outside of the Deep South, they were targeted and violently terrorized in response to racialized economic competition, unproven allegations of crime, and violations of the racial order. One example cited is of two Black men named Horace Duncan and Fred Coker, who were accused of rape in Springfield, Missouri. Although both men had alibis confirmed by their white employer, a mob of white men refused to wait for a trial. Instead, the mob burned and shot their corpses while a crowd of 5000 white men, women, and children watched. When I read this, I am reminded that the killing of George Floyd was no anomaly or accident. No, the killing of George Floyd and countless other Black people is the direct result of a historical mentality with deep, deep roots that refuses to go away.
Whenever we think of racial hatred and lynching’s we think of the Deep South, however, the report makes it clear that: “The lynching era was fueled by the movement to restore white supremacy and domination, but Northern and federal officials who failed to act, as Black people were terrorized and murdered, enabled this campaign of racial terrorism. For more than six decades, as Southern whites used lynching to enforce a post-slavery system of racial dominance, white officials outside the South watched and did little.”
There is also a museum in Montgomery, Alabama, called the “Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration,” which opened the same day of the National Memorial. This is also on my bucket list to visit. The museum displays and interprets the history of slavery and racism in America, with a focus on mass incarceration and racial inequality in the justice system.
The Memorial is organized in three different sections. The first section is a sculpture by Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo entitled Nkyinkyim, meaning “twisted,” a term referring to a Ghanaian proverb, “Life is a twisted journey.” The sculpture, seven shackled figures of all ages and genders interlocked together, is a part of a larger project Akoto-Bamfo began in Accra Ghana.
The second section is called Guided Justice by Dana King. Guided by Justice is a rendering of the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the Civil Rights Movement. King’s sculpture reminds viewers that thousands of Black people were responsible for the success of the bus boycott.
The third section is entitled “Raise Up” by Hank Willis Thomas, which gives a powerful depiction of policing in America, and a call to action that the fight for justice and liberation is ongoing.
I hope there is never ending support for this much need Memorial