The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, opening this week in Montgomery, Alabama, is a memorial for the victims of American white supremacy. There is no other memorial like it in the country, the New York Times reports. Inspired by memorials for the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, the memorial is intended to visually depict the atrocity of lynching in this country.
As described by the Times, the memorial consists of a walkway with 800 weathered steel columns hanging from the roof. Each column represents a county in which lynchings occurred. Engraved on the columns are also the more than 4,000 names of people who where lynched. They are either listed by name or as “unknown.” The columns begin at eye level, but as the walkway continues, it descends, and soon, the columns are above your head. The resulting positioning is reminiscent of public lynching photographs, in which spectators are shown looking up at a body.
Each steel column at the memorial has an exact duplicate currently placed just outside the main complex. These were made to be sent to and prominently displayed in the counties in which the lynchings occurred as a kind of grave that the victims never received. People in those counties must request the columns, but they must first demonstrate local efforts to “address racial and economic injustice.” The idea is that these monuments would help us remember the painful history so as to not repeat it.
Montgomery has dozens of monuments dedicated to the Confederacy. Before this memorial, it had few monuments to remember the history of slavery and none for lynching. Alabama closed state government offices earlier this week in celebration of Confederate Memorial Day yesterday.
The memorial is situated near its companion piece, the Legacy Museum. The Times describes the museum as “an argument, supported by firsthand accounts and contemporary documents, that the slavery system did not end but evolved: from the family-shattering domestic slave trade to the decades of lynching terror, to the suffocating segregation of Jim Crow to the age of mass incarceration in which we now live.”
The memorial has been built by the non-profit organization Equal Justice Initiative, which offers legal services to poor people in prison. Bryan Stevenson, the organization’s founder, is a descendant of slaves himself and believes that even the white America that committed the brutalities remembered in the memorial can be redeemed.
“If I believe that each of us is more than the worst thing he’s ever done,” he told the Times, “I have to believe that for everybody.”
“I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America,” Stevenson continued. “I want to liberate America. And I think it’s important for us to do this as an organization that has created an identity that is as disassociated from punishment as possible.”
Common, The Roots, Usher, and more will perform at The Concert for Peace and Justice to commemorate the memorial's opening this Friday, April 27.