Montgomery, Al- Within seconds of entering The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, visitors are forced to reckon with a brutal chapter in American history. Bodies-chained and shackled…families ripped apart…silent screams…the weight of it all is massive. Much like the steel descending from the ceiling that bears the counties and names of thousands of lynching victims. Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative, says now is the time to speak their names.
“There will be many people who will be uncomfortable that we’re talking about slavery, that we’re talking about lynching, that we’re talking about segregation, that we’re talking about mass incarceration in this way. But that’s part of the purpose-to end the silence,” says Stevenson.
Ending the silence around the lynching of 16-year-old T.Z. McElhenny in Columbus in 1912 and Mary Turner and her unborn child in Georgia in 1918.
“The impact of these lynchings and to say they went far beyond, not even just the person or that family or that community, but it was widespread to tell black people everywhere-beware-don’t step out of line,” says Shirah Dedman, great-granddaughter of lynching victim Thomas Myles.
“I am persuaded that we’re not free yet in America,” says Stevenson. “We’re burdened by this kind of smog that’s in the air, and we all breathe it in. And if we’re going to get the freedom, we’re gonna have to talk about these things that we haven’t talked about.”
In just a few days, people from all across the country will walk out of The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama,” says News 3’s Darian Aaron. “Inside, visitors will go through years of history of the oppression of African-American people, from slavery to the civil rights movement, to Jim Crow and finally mass incarceration. It’s a somber reminder of where we’ve been as a country and where we hope to never end up again.”
“There’s a better America still waiting,” says Stevenson. “There’s a more just America still waiting. There’s a kind of equality we haven’t achieved yet. There’s a kind of community that we haven’t achieved yet. But we can’t achieve it if we’re unwilling to tell the truth about our past.”