A Powerful National Memorial Opens Dedicated to Racial Justice, Truthful Confrontation of American History and Healing

The new National Memorial of Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration which opened in Montgomery, Alabama on Thursday, April 26, promise to be lasting and powerful sacred spaces for remembrance and reflection about racial terrorism and its legacy. The first in the United States dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, the memorial, I can already feel before my actual physical visit from what I have reviewed, will be emotional with a haunting understanding and clarifying historical interpretation and experience.

Steve Wing, 71, reads the signage near a sculpture commemorating the slave trade by Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto Bamfo. The memorial is dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people and those terrorized by lynching and Jim Crow segregation in America. Conceived by the Equal Justice Initiative, the physical environment is intended to foster reflection on America’s history of racial inequality. Photography courtesy of the NBC News website / Bob Miller / Getty Images.

These new institutions are part of the Equal Justice Initiative’s work to advance truth and reconciliation around race in America and to more honestly confront the legacy of slavery, lynching, and segregation. The memorial and the museum were conceived to document, accurately reflect, and contextualize the impact of racial terror, the humiliation of racial segregation and Jim Crow on African Americans in U.S. history, and how these burdens continue to affect people of color in contemporary times.

The six-acres, national lynching memorial remembers more than 4,000 victims of racial terror that took place on United States territory from 1877 to 1950. Nearby, located in a place where African Americans were warehoused for their sale in the town square, the 11,000-square foot museum presents their experience from enslavement to widespread public executions, to Jim Crow, to the continued violence against black bodies through the current problems of mass incarceration and police violence.

Lynching memorial, corridor 3 of the National Memorial of Peace and Justice. Photography courtesy of Human Pictures / Equal Justice Initiative.

Designed to promote a more hopeful commitment to racial equality and just treatment of all people, EJI has modeled the sites on important projects used to overcome difficult histories of genocide, apartheid, and horrific human rights abuses in other countries. Several artists were involved in the creation of the memorial and the museum in partnership with EJI. Important writings by African Americans thinkers and activists are part of the memorial and museum displays. The project goal was to create a sober, meaningful site where people can gather and reflect on America’s history of racial inequality.

Equal Justice Initiative provides legal aid to people who may be wrongly convicted. This Montgomery nonprofit organization raised more than $20 million in private donations to fund this memory project. In the voluminous local, national, and international media coverage describing the memorial and the museum, below I have highlighted a few articles that resonated with me. I will be one of the many to visit these important sites in the Alabama River port city of Montgomery in the not too distant future.

Bailey, Issac. “Learning the History of Lynching Helped Heal My Wounds.” Time magazine, 26 April 2018.

Helm, Angela. “Happy Confederate Day! On Lynching Memorials and Winning the Narrative.” TheRoot.com, 23 April 2018.

Helm, Angela. “The New Lynching Memorial and Legacy Museum Forces Us to Bear Witness to Our Whole American Truth.” TheRoot.com, 25 April 2018.

60 Minutes/CBS. “Oprah Winfrey Goes Inside the Memorial to Victims of Lynching.” 27 April 2018.

Staples, Brent. “When Southern Newspapers Justified Lynching.” New York Times, 5 May 2018.

Other articles about the project can be found on the EJI website.

Interior of the Legacy Museum. Photography courtesy of Human Pictures / Equal Justice Initiative.


The bronze statue called “Raise Up” by American artist Hank Willis Thomas is part of the display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Photography courtesy of the NBC News website / Brynn Anderson / AP.

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