The Gut-Wrenching Lynching Memorial And Museum Opens In Alabama To Acknowledge The 'Pain And Agony' Of Black People

The memorial opened today and is housed in a building that was used to hold enslaved people.

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| April 26 2018,

4:57 pm

A new memorial dedicated to acknowledging the horrors of lynching in America opened today in Alabama.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is in Montgomery and begins with a jarring image of six enslaved black people chained by their necks, including a mother gripping a baby.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, the organization responsible for the memorial, believes it will force America to confront a history it wants to forget.

“You see the agony and the anguish and the suffering in these figures. It's people in distress," Stevenson told NPR.

"And I don't think we've actually done a very good job of acknowledging the pain and agony, the suffering, the humiliation, the complete denial of humanity that slavery created for black people on this continent."

Stevenson also wants the memorial to be a point of reconciliation for the descedants of the victims.

"I think for many people of color they've had to endure the pain of this era, this history, in silence," Stevenson said. "It wasn't safe to talk about all of that anguish."

The memorial documents incidents beginning in slavery, through the Civil War and before the Civil Rights Movement. Inside of the exhibit, there are 6 feet long steel blocks suspended from the ceiling inscribed with the names of victims. The blocks are hung at varying levels to represent the public spectacle that often followed a lynching.

"They lifted these bodies up as a statement to the entire African-American community," Stevenson said. "They wanted to lift up this violence this terror this tragedy for others to see."

Acknowledging these crimes has been a significant part of The Equal Justice Initiative’s work. The organization has documented over 4000 lynchings from 1877 to 1950.

The Equal Justice Initiative also opened a Legacy Museum that documents the struggle for black liberation from slavery to present-day issues like mass incarceration.

"There's a lot of conflict. There's a lot of tension," Steven said. "We're dealing with police violence. We deal with these huge disparities in our criminal justice system. You know, if everything was wonderful you could ask the question 'why would you talk about the difficult past?' But everything is not wonderful."

The museum is housed in a building that was used to hold enslaved people.

“When people come in and they see the statement on the wall that says 'You are standing on a site where enslaved people were warehoused,' it just puts a different consciousness in your mind of the connection and the history," said Sia Sanneh, a senior attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative.