The New Lynching Memorial rewrites American history

“A Memorial to those over 4,400 Lynched Black Men and Women between 1877 & 1950”

The memorial captures the brutality and the scale of lynchings throughout the South, where more than 4,000 black men, women and children, died at the hands of white mobs between 1877 and 1950. Most were in response to perceived infractions — walking behind a white woman, attempting to quit a job, reporting a crime or organizing sharecroppers.

Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard University-trained lawyer who created the Equal Justice Initiative in 1994 to fight for justice for people on death row, found himself transfixed by the South’s history of lynching African Americans.

Stevenson and a team of researchers spent years documenting those lynchings, combing through court records and local newspapers — which often notified the public that a lynching was coming — and talking to local historians and family members of victims.

Their findings yielded a roll call of names that have never had a place in the public memory or the public accounting of what happened:

  • General Lee, lynched in 1904, for knocking on a white woman’s door in Reevesville, South Carolina.
  • Jeff Brown, lynched in 1916, for accidentally bumping into a white girl as he was trying to catch a train in Cedarbluff, Mississippi.
  • Sam Cates, lynched in 1917, for “annoying white girls” in England, Arkansas.
  • Jesse Thornton, lynched in 1940, for failing to address a police officer as “mister,” in Luverne, Alabama.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a solemn site, where the naming, claiming — and, Stevenson hopes — healing can begin. His ultimate goal is truth first, and then reconciliation, the kind of processes undertaken after the Holocaust in Germany, the genocide in Rwanda and apartheid in South Africa.

“I hope it will be sobering but ultimately, inspiring,” Stevenson said. “I hope people will feel like they’ve been deceived a little by the history they’ve been taught and that they need to recover from that. Truth and reconciliation work is always hard. It’s challenging, but if we have the courage to tell the truth and to hear the truth, things happen.”

At the memorial, set on six acres of land, the truth is tactile and visceral. My first encounter is with slavery: A sculpture of a mother, chain around her neck, infant in her arms, registering a horror she can’t escape.

All at eye level. Enslaved black bodies, close up.

Make plans to see this exhibition on our Holocaust being played out during W.W.W. III, While Hitler killed the Jews, White Southern Americans were killing blacks without retribution and with the assistance of justice. Brother Stevenson we congratulate you for your perseverance and dedication.

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