A new museum, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, is set to open in Montgomery, Alabama on April 26th and it tells the story of a horrific American past that continues to scar and tear the American social fabric. Historians and activists hope it will help unveil the truth and bring healing to the American public.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is set to honor the lives of 4,000 black men, women and children, who died at the hands of white mobs between 1877 and 1950.
Historians say most of the lynchings were in response to perceived infractions such as walking behind a white woman, attempting to quit a job, reporting a crime or organizing sharecroppers.
The memorial is the first public structure to capture both the brutality and scale of lynchings throughout the South of America. More importantly, it is the first to honor the victims of America’s lynching episode by memorializing them.
Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard University-trained lawyer who spent years combing through court records and newspapers documenting these lynchings explained:
“If I asked the question, “Name one African American lynched between 1877 and 1950. Thousands of black people were lynched. Can’t name one. Why? Because we haven’t talked about it. And there are names that we can call from history for all of these other things. But not that.”
Some specific cases of lynching Stevenson and his team uncovered are as follows:
General Lee, lynched in 1904, for knocking on a white woman’s door in Reevesville, South Carolina.
Jeff Brown, lynched in 1916, for accidentally bumping into a white girl as he was trying to catch a train in Cedarbluff, Mississippi.
Sam Cates, lynched in 1917, for “annoying white girls” in England, Arkansas.
Jesse Thornton, lynched in 1940, for failing to address a police officer as “mister,” in Luverne, Alabama.
“I hope it will be sobering but ultimately, inspiring. I hope people will feel like they’ve been deceived a little by the history they’ve been taught and that they need to recover from that. Truth and reconciliation work is always hard. It’s challenging, but if we have the courage to tell the truth and to hear the truth, things happen,” Stevenson expressed.
Lynching “was intended to terrorize communities of color, and that’s why all black folks in these communities were victims. Sometimes they would leave the body hanging on a tree, and the family would come to claim it, and they wouldn’t let them. It was the optic of this raised violence that made the threat, the menace even more powerful,” Stevenson explained.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice includes 805 steel markers, each bearing the names of lynching victims from a particular county.
Take a virtual tour of the memorial below. The video also details the importance of this monument in the historically and politically charged center of the American South, Montgomery, Alabama.