Images at lynching memorial tell the story

Words attempt to describe and explain, but they only go so far in capturing the spirit and emotion of a place and experience.

Last week The Champion Newspaper ran an article on the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum, both of which opened in Montgomery, Ala., last April. We complete our story this week with a gallery of photographs of the memorial that almost speak for themselves.

Water feature at the memorial pays homage to the unknown African Americans who were lynched in America. Photos by Gale Horton Gay

The memorial and museum are projects of the Equal Justice Initiative, which is dedicated to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States. The memorial is the first of its kind “dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow…,” according to the memorial’s website.

Sculpture, writings and other art and display pieces make up the memorials but at its heart is a series of suspended rusted oblong columns bearing the state, county and names of 4,400 known lynching victims. Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia Texas and Georgia are among states represented. And DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Henry counties are included as well. While the steel piece representing DeKalb County had the names of Reuben Hudson Jr., who was lynched in 1887, and Porter Turner, who was lynched in 1945, and two other unknown individuals, Fulton County’s had two columns of names, totaling more than 30.

One of the several sculpture displayed at the memorial.

While the six-acre memorial site in Birmingham commemorates the lives lost due to “racial terror lynchings,” EJI also wants counties throughout the country to acknowledge this part of their history and claim one of the 800 duplicate steel columns that represent their county and have it installed in a local place of prominence and remembrance.

Corten steel structures suspended from above denote the names and counties in America where “racial terror lynchings” occurred at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala.

The EJI website contends that the process will eventually change the environment of the Deep South and beyond to more honestly reflect our history. EJI staff are already in conversation with dozens of communities seeking to claim their monuments. EJI approaches these conversations — and all of our community education work — with thought and care. EJI shares historical and educational material with community members, encourages participation from communities of color, and works with partners to find an appropriate geographic location for each monument to ensure that the process of claiming monuments helps local communities engage with this history in a constructive and meaningful way.”


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