Say their names: Lynching memorial to open in Alabama, bringing alive the realities of racial terror

The organizers of the Memorial for Peace and Justice say the monument will allow the country to take an unfiltered look at the horror of lynchings

Lynching Memorial
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a new memorial to honor thousands of people killed in racist lynchings, is scheduled to open Apr. 26. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The nation’s first museum/memorial dedicated to the victims of lynchings is set to open in Montgomery, Ala. On Thursday and it offers a very stark reminder of America’s shameful history with race.

The Memorial for Peace and Justice, which is similar to the Holocaust Museums as well as the Apartheid Museum in South Africa, will become the first memorial dedicated to the legacy of slavery, lynchings, and degradation of African Americans in the United States. It will be a very raw and stark reminder of this country’s issues with racism, which is the entire point.

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“Just seeing the names of all these people,” Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, the nonprofit organization behind the memorial, told the New York Times. Stevenson noted that many victims “have never been named in public.”

Who they were

Some names are well known throughout history. The most famous is Emmitt Till, who was lynched in Alabama in 1955 after supposedly catcalling a white woman. His death shined a hard light on racism and lynchings. The Memorial looks to amplify it in the hopes of moving forward to find answers and build a better understanding for the future.

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“I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America,” Stevenson said. “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.”

The museum will feature statues marking each of the countless lynchings around the nation and have jars of soil with the names of each known victim. The museum will also acknowledge African Americans who have been harassed, wrongly jailed, and abused by law enforcement.

Tickets to the Memorial for Peace and Justice go on sale on Thursday morning.