lynching memorial and legacy museum examine america's history of racial injustice
 

lynching memorial and legacy museum examine america's history of racial injustice

in april 2018, two separate sites dealing with the theme of racial injustice opened in montgomery, alabama. designed with MASS design group, the national memorial is an outdoor monument situated on a six-acre space where visitors walk a path through america’s history of racial injustice. meanwhile, just over half a mile away, the legacy museum serves an indoor narrative museum with audio, exhibits, art, videos, and comprehensive content about the legacy of enslavement through contemporary issues of mass incarceration.

lynching memorial
the central memorial space has been designed by MASS design group
image © equal justice initiative / human pictures (also main image)

 

 

both projects have been initiated by the equal justice initiative (EJI) — a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. in 2010, EJI began investigating thousands of racial terror lynchings in the american south, many of which had never been documented. this research produced ​a report, published in 2015, which documented thousands of racial terror lynchings in 12 different states.

lynching memorial
names of lynching victims are engraved on the columns
image © equal justice initiative / human pictures

 

 

in april 2018, as a way to memorialize this history, EJI opened the national memorial for peace and justice — a site described 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.

lynching memorial
in total there are 800 steel columns, one for each US county where a racial terror lynching took place
image © equal justice initiative

 

 

the memorial was conceived with the hope of creating a sober, meaningful site where people can gather and reflect on america’s history of racial inequality. set on a six-acre site, the memorial uses sculpture, art, and design to contextualize racial terror. a sculpture by ghanaian artist kwame akoto-bamfo confronts visitors when they first enter the site, before they encounter a memorial space designed by MASS design group.

lynching memorial
the memorial uses sculpture, art, and design to contextualize racial terror
image © equal justice initiative

 

 

this memorial structure comprises more than 800 corten steel monuments, one for each county in the united states where a racial terror lynching took place. the names of the lynching victims are engraved on the columns. however, the memorial is more than a static monument. in the six-acre park surrounding the memorial is a field of identical monuments, waiting to be claimed and installed in the counties they represent. over time, the national memorial will serve as a report on which parts of the country have confronted the truth of this terror and which have not.

lynching memorial
the memorial opened in april 2018
image © equal justice initiative

 

 

the equal justice initiative is inviting counties across the country to claim their monument and erect it in its permanent home in the county it represents. eventually, this process will change the built environment of the deep south and beyond to more honestly reflect our history. as part of this process, EJI staff are already in conversation with dozens of communities seeking to claim their monument.

lynching memorial
nkyinkim by kwame akoto-bamfo
image © equal justice initiative / human pictures

 

 

the memorial experience continues through the civil rights era made visible with a sculpture by dana king dedicated to the women who sustained the montgomery bus boycott. finally, the memorial journey ends with contemporary issues of police violence and racially biased criminal justice expressed in a final work created by hank willis thomas. the memorial displays writings from toni morrison and elizabeth alexander, words from dr. martin luther king jr., and a reflection space in honor of ida b. wells.

lynching memorial
raise up by hank willis thomas
image © equal justice initiative / human pictures

 

 

EJI believes that publicly confronting the truth about our history is the first step towards recovery and reconciliation. ‘our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the american landscape,’ EJI director bryan stevenson explains. ‘this shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice.’

 

EJI explains why it decided to build a lynching memorial
video © equal justice initiative

 

 

less than 4,000 feet away, the 11,000-square-foot legacy museum is built on the site of a former warehouse where enslaved black people were imprisoned. the museum is located midway between an historic slave market and the main river dock and train station where tens of thousands of enslaved people were trafficked during the height of the domestic slave trade. the museum employs unique technology to dramatize the enslavement of african americans, the evolution of racial terror lynchings, legalized racial segregation and racial hierarchy in america.

lynching memorial
the legacy museum explores the history of racial inequality
image © equal justice initiative / human pictures

 

 

relying on rarely seen first-person accounts of the domestic slave trade, EJI’s research materials, videography, exhibits on lynching, and recently composed content on segregation, this museum explores the history of racial inequality and its relationship to a range of contemporary issues from mass incarceration to police violence. visitors are confronted with slave pen replicas, that offer some insight into what it was like to be imprisoned awaiting sale at the nearby auction block.

lynching memorial
the display includes jars filled with soil from lynching sites
image © equal justice initiative / human pictures

 

 

elsewhere, EJI has curated sculptures from titus kaphar and sanford biggers, a wide range of videography and animated content from leading filmmakers and artists, and fine art pieces including works from elizabeth catlett, john biggers, yvonne meo, and kay brown, art which challenges and inspires visitors. design and creative partners also include local projects, tim lewis and TALA, Molly crabapple, orchid création, stink studios, human pictures, HBO, and google.

lynching memorial
the museum is built on the site of a former warehouse where enslaved black people were imprisoned
image © equal justice initiative / human pictures

 

 

modeled on important projects used to overcome difficult histories of genocide, apartheid, and horrific human rights abuses in other countries, EJI’s sites are designed to promote a more hopeful commitment to racial equality and just treatment of all people. find out more here.

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