Recently, I visited the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice at Montgomery, Alabama. Whether our ancestors were slaves or slave owners, or whether they were lynched or those who did the lynchings, these facilities help us learn about their experiences and reflect on injustices of the past and present. Only by acknowledging and confronting the past can we change.
Similar to holocaust museums, the facilities use architecture, art and artifacts to create a sobering experience that helps visitors understand conditions that lead to violence and injustice. The facilities also help us understand the repercussions on those who suffered, their families, descendants and communities. The facilities were founded by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit group that provides legal representation to protect basic human rights.
Both facilities have metal detectors, security guards and exceedingly thoughtful, knowledgeable employees. A shuttle runs every 20 minutes between the two.
The 6-acre memorial is about lynchings that occurred between 1882-1968. Those in western states were mostly of white people, while lynchings in the rest of our country were mainly of black people. Overall, 72% of lynchings were of blacks and 27% were of whites. So far, the names of 4,400 victims have been identified. As research continues, more names are added.
States with the highest number were Mississippi with 581, Georgia with 531 and Texas with 492. Missouri had 122, Arkansas had 284, Oklahoma had 122 and Kansas had 54. Some states had no lynchings.
As visitors walk up the hill, they pass by bronze sculptures of a shackled black family who are being auctioned.
At the top of the hill, 800 steel panels hang from a large roof. Each panel represents a county where lynchings occurred. The names of victims and the dates they died are engraved. The panels provide a visceral vision of people hanging from trees.
The museum is located in a warehouse where slaves were kept before an auction. One area has holograms of men and women slaves behind bars. The eerie white figures move and tell about their experiences. In another area, one can pick up a phone and listen to incarcerated individuals (on a screen) describe their experiences.
Another area has jars of soil collected from sites where people were lynched. Each jar has labels that identify the location. Paintings, sculptures, newspaper clippings, films and drawings also provide powerful imagery.
The two are closed on Tuesdays and major holidays. Hours are 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
If possible, purchase tickets prior to the visit because the museum has timed entry. Online tickets have a discount price.
Comments or suggestions? Contact Frankie Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.