Some Montgomery, Alabama residents were seething with anger last Thursday as thousands of tourists and activists flooded the city to mark the opening of the country’s first memorial to lynching victims.
“It’s going to cause an uproar and open old wounds,” said Mikki Keenan, a 58-year-old longtime Montgomery resident. “It’s a waste of money, a waste of space and it’s bringing up bull—t”.
“It keeps putting the emphasis on discrimination and cruelty,” chimed in her friend, who requested to remain anonymous out of fear that her child would disapprove of her remarks.
Despite the resistant (and at times blatantly racist) reactions, below is a quick list of why we think the Legacy Museum is not only important but also a must-see on your list of places to check out this summer.
1. History has been whitewashed enough
Revisionist history is quickly becoming the norm as both textbooks and educators alike get increasingly bold about making slavery seem like an unfortunate blip in our otherwise pristine American culture.
Earlier this year a Wisconsin teacher came under fire after she gave students a homework assignment where they needed to list three good and three bad reasons for slavery.
This tone deaf approach where slavery is discussed with our children as something that may actually have had merit is not only irresponsible but dangerous. It marginalizes the generational trauma that Black people in this country have experienced while also setting the stage for our current day grievances to be dismissed as well.
If you have children who you think are mature enough to handle this message, then a trip to Montgomery is an excellent way to supplement whatever they’re being taught (or not taught) in school.
2. The victims deserve to finally be acknowledged
These days when an injustice is done against someone we can use social media as a launchpad for activism. We can #SayHisName or #SayHerName and remember those who were senselessly killed with just a few strokes of the keyboard.
Both the museum and the memorial are a powerful way to acknowledge the lives of those who were violently brutalized well before we had hashtags.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is larger than life installation that commemorates 4,400 Black Americans who were killed in lynchings and other racism-related murders between 1877 and 1950. The names of the victims are engraved on 800 columns that are stunningly suspended in the air.
And the columns themselves are meant to represent each county where lynchings occurred, further reminding us that that these acts of terror were not limited to just the South.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and for those who are tired of just reading about these atrocities – there’s something to be said about simply showing up and silently taking in the magnitude of what our community lost. A loss we are constantly being rushed to forget or skim over for fear of making the mainstream uncomfortable.
3. It gives greater context to why MAGA is so dangerous
Edmund Burke once famously said, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Nowhere is that quote more chillingly accurate than during this current rise of MAGA that’s emboldened racists from all over the globe to come out of hiding and admit they still live amongst us all along.
“There are forces in America today trying to take us back,” Congressman John Lewis said, while attending the opening of the museum alongside other notables like filmmaker Ava DuVernay and Rev. Jesse Jackson. “We’re not going back. We’re going forward with this museum.”
Kanye West has recently come out in support of MAGA and Donald Trump in a dubious bid to rebrand himself as a “free thinker” who who applauds original thought. And while Trump and his administration are a lot of things, original certainly isn’t one of them. They’ve already borrowed pretty heavily from the past to get ideas about how to screw us over in the present.
That’s why it’s particularly urgent that we (especially folks like Kanye) look back and educate ourselves on what tactics were used to rob Black Americans of our civil rights, so that we can take proactive steps to make sure we don’t experience a repackaged version of Jim Crow.
Slavery was NOT a choice. And if we really want to “stay woke” that includes putting our support behind spaces that seek to elevate the truth – no matter how ugly.
You @kanyewest need to visit the new memorial of the lynching victims, Whitney Plantation of Louisiana, Goreé Island, the Slavery museum of Liverpool and learn about the suffering of this nightmare of human history.
— Wendell Pierce (@WendellPierce) May 2, 2018
4. Some of us still need closure
For many, slavery is seen as a distant myth and/or treated like a tired old excuse that’s exploited to give Black people a way to shirk their responsibilities. And as a result, lynchings also feel like a barbaric practice tied to ancient times.
But there are those of us in this country who can actually trace our enslaved ancestors back over just a few generations and who still remember loved ones who were found hanging from trees. For those families in particular, a visit to this museum could prove to be life altering and give them closure they may not have even realized they needed.
Josephine Bolling McCall was only 5 years old when her father’s lynching took place, leaving her and her six older siblings fatherless in Lowndes County, Alabama. “My memory is of my father deceased in a ditch with his eyes open,” she says.
And after spending a decade of her life piecing together exactly what happened to her dad, she even wrote a book entitled The Penalty for Success: My Father Was Lynched in Lowndes County, Alabama, to call out America’s track record of racialized violence.
After decades of mourning her father, on April 23rd of this year, life came full circle when Bolling McCall and her husband, Charlie, visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
There are countless others with stories similar to hers, who will finally get to see the world admit that who (and what) they lost due to racism matters.
5. Your allies need to a reality check
This may seem counterintuitive, but if you go visit the museum you may want to consider bringing a white friend.
White privilege gives even the staunchest of allies rose tinted glasses that at times makes it difficult to understand the severity of our cause.
The impact of racism is much more complex than just black women not wanting you to touch their hair or lamenting about how “PC” the world has become. What is a mere inconvenience for them, is literally a matter of life and death for the rest of us.
So if you have a brave white friend who sincerely wants to get some insight on how deeply this issue is baked into the fabric of this country – take them to the lynching museum. Let them see with their own two eyes the magnitude of what you’ve inherited.
“Whites wouldn’t talk about it because of shame. Blacks wouldn’t talk about it because of fear,” Rev. Jesse Jackson said of how the memorial will help end the country’s silence on the subject of lynching.
It’s time we stopped allowing shame and fear blind us to what’s as clear as day.
When you’re ready to check out the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum, feel free to check out their website for information on upcoming events and how to plan your visit.