MU­SE­UMS EX­POS­ING HIS­TORY

Lynch­ing me­mo­rial and mu­seum in Alabama draw crowds, tears

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - LIVING - By Beth J. Harpaz AP Travel Editor

MONT­GOMERY, ALA. » Tears and ex­pres­sions of grief met the open­ing of the na­tion’s first me­mo­rial to the vic­tims of lynch­ing Thurs­day in Alabama.

Hun­dreds lined up in the rain to get a first look at the me­mo­rial and mu­seum in Mont­gomery.

The Na­tional Me­mo­rial for Peace and Jus­tice com­mem­o­rates 4,400 black peo­ple who were slain in lynch­ings and other racial killings be­tween 1877 and 1950. Their names, where known, are en­graved on 800 dark, rec­tan­gu­lar steel col­umns, one for each U.S. county where lynch­ings oc­curred.

A re­lated mu­seum, called The Le­gacy Mu­seum: From Enslave­ment to Mass In­car­cer­a­tion, is open­ing in Mont­gomery.

Many vis­i­tors shed tears and stared in­tently at the com­mem­o­ra­tive col­umns, many of which are sus­pended in the air from above.

Toni Bat­tle drove from San Fran­cisco to at­tend. “I’m a de­scen­dant of three lynch­ing vic­tims,” Bat­tle said, her face wet with tears. “I wanted to come and honor them and also those in my fam­ily that couldn’t be here.”

Ava DuVer­nay, the Os­car-nom­i­nated film di­rec­tor, told sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple at a con­fer­ence mark­ing the me­mo­rial launch to “to be evan­ge­lists and say what you saw and what you ex­pe­ri­enced here . ... Ev­ery Amer­i­can who be­lieves in jus­tice and dig­nity must come here ... Don’t just leave feel­ing like, ‘That was amaz­ing. I cried.’ ... Go out and tell what you saw.”

As for her own re­ac­tion, DuVer­nay said: “This place has scratched a scab. It’s re­ally open for me right now.”

An­gel Smith Dixon, who is bira­cial, came from Lawrenceville, Ge­or­gia, to see the me­mo­rial.

“We’re pub­licly griev­ing this atroc­ity for the first time as a na­tion . ... You can’t grieve some­thing you can’t see, some­thing you don’t ac­knowl­edge. Part of the heal­ing process, the first step is to ac­knowl­edge it.”

The Rev. Jesse Jack­son, a long­time civil rights ac­tivist, told re­porters af­ter vis­it­ing the me­mo­rial that it would help to dis­pel Amer­ica’s si­lence on lynch­ing. “Whites wouldn’t talk about it be­cause of shame. Blacks wouldn’t talk about it be­cause of fear,” he said.

The crowd in­cluded white and black vis­i­tors. Mary Ann Braubach, who is white, came from Los Angeles to at­tend. “As an Amer­i­can, I feel this is a past we have to con­front,” she said as she choked back tears.

DuVer­nay, Jack­son, play­wright Anna Dea­vere Smith, the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock, Con­gress­man John Lewis and other ac­tivists and artists spoke and per­formed at an open­ing cer­e­mony Thurs­day night that was by turns somber and cel­e­bra­tory.

Among those in­tro­duced and cheered with stand­ing ova­tions were ac­tivists from the 1950s Mont­gomery bus boy­cott, Free­dom Rider Bernard Lafayette, and one of the orig­i­nal Lit­tle Rock Nine, El­iz­a­beth Eck­ford.

“There are forces in Amer­ica to­day try­ing to take us back,” Lewis said, adding, “We’re not go­ing back. We’re go­ing for­ward with this mu­seum.”

Singer Patti La­belle ended the evening with a soul­ful ren­di­tion of “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Other launch events in­clude a “Peace and Jus­tice Sum­mit” fea­tur­ing celebri­ties and ac­tivists like Mar­ian Wright Edel­man and Glo­ria Steinem in ad­di­tion to DuVer­nay.

The sum­mit, mu­seum and me­mo­rial are projects of the Equal Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive, a Mont­gomery-based le­gal ad­vo­cacy group founded by at­tor­ney Bryan Steven­son. Steven­son won a MacArthur “ge­nius” award for his hu­man rights work.

The group bills the project as “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.”

Sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple gave Steven­son a two-minute stand­ing ova­tion at a morn­ing ses­sion of the Peace and Jus­tice Sum­mit. Later in the day, Edel­man, founder of the Chil­dren’s De­fense Fund, urged the au­di­ence to con­tinue their ac­tivism be­yond the day’s events on is­sues like end­ing child poverty and gun vi­o­lence: “Don’t come here and cel­e­brate the mu­seum ... when we’re let­ting things hap­pen on an even greater scale.”

For more in­for­ma­tion, check https://mu­se­u­mand­memo­rial.eji.org/

BRYNN AN­DER­SON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This photo shows a bronze statue called “Raise Up” as part of the dis­play at the Na­tional Me­mo­rial for Peace and Jus­tice, a new me­mo­rial to honor thou­sands of peo­ple killed in racist lynch­ings, Mon­day in Mont­gomery, Ala. The na­tional me­mo­rial aims to...

BETH J. HARPAZ — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Toni Bat­tle stands in­side a dis­play at the Na­tional Me­mo­rial for Peace and Jus­tice, a new me­mo­rial to honor thou­sands of peo­ple killed in racist lynch­ings, which opened to the pub­lic Thurs­day in Mont­gomery, Ala. Bat­tle, who drove from San Fran­cisco to...

BETH J. HARPAZ — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

An­gel Smith Dixon stands in­side a dis­play at the Na­tional Me­mo­rial for Peace and Jus­tice, a new me­mo­rial to honor peo­ple killed in racist lynch­ings, which opened to the pub­lic Thurs­day in Mont­gomery, Ala.

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