The Equal Justice Initiative is planning a monument in Montgomery to pay tribute to the 4000 black victims killed between 1877 and 1950.
An Alabama-based civil rights organization will construct a monument in Montgomery to commemorate victims of lynchings across the South. The Equal Justice Initiative will also construct a museum nearby focused on African-American history, the group announced in a press release on Monday. Both are scheduled to open in 2017.
The memorial will be the first in the country to pay tribute to the more than 4,000 black victims of lynching who were killed between 1877 and 1950. The 6-acre monument will feature a series of columns, each representing a county where “racial terror lynchings” took place, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. The names of the victims will be engraved on the columns.
Bryan Stevenson, the organization’s director, said in an interview with the Associated Press, that by acknowledging the darker aspects of the country’s history, hopefully the U.S. can work toward a more unified future.
“I don’t think we can afford to continue pretending that there aren’t these really troubling chapters in our history,” Stevenson said. “I think we’ve got to deal with it.”
A few blocks away from the memorial in Montgomery, a new museum, called From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, will rise on the site of a former slave warehouse, near a former slave auction house and a river dock and train station from which slaves were trafficked. The museum will trace the history of slavery to the mass imprisonment of black Americans today, which scholar Michelle Alexander has dubbed the “New Jim Crow.”
News of the museum comes days after the grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the first Smithsonian Institution dedicated to the contributions of black Americans. During remarks at an opening ceremony on Saturday, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama said the museum helps America acknowledge the full truth of its past.
“As President Bush just said, a great nation doesn’t shy from the truth. It strengthens us. It emboldens us. It should fortify us,” Obama said. “It is an act of patriotism to understand where we’ve been.
October 1910, a mob of white people in Montgomery, Ala., tried to seize and lynch several black men who were being held in a downtown jail on suspicion of interracial sexual relations.
Unsuccessful, the angry mob found a black man named John Dell sitting nearby in the taxi cab he drove. They shot him dead. No one was prosecuted, and Mr. Dell, as with roughly a dozen other lynching victims in the city’s history, was essentially unacknowledged.
Next year, not far from the site of Mr. Dell’s death, one of the first — and certainly the largest — memorials to the victims of the thousands of racial lynchings in United States history is scheduled to open.
The Equal Justice Initiative, a legal rights organization in Montgomery, is to formally announce the plans on Tuesday.
The group will also unveil plans for a museum to open in April, in its roughly 11,000-square-foot headquarters, that will trace the country’s racial history from slavery to the era of mass incarceration.
The memorial will sit on six acres, the highest spot in the first capital of the Confederacy, on the site of what used to be a public housing complex.
“Our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage,” said Bryan Stevenson, the director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
BRANDON THIBODEAUX FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
“Our goal isn’t to be divisive,” said Bryan Stevenson, the director of the Equal Justice Initiative. “Our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage.”
The museum and memorial project, for which Mr. Stevenson said he had raised about 40 percent of a projected $20 million, is the latest and most ambitious undertaking in a continuing effort by Mr. Stevenson to change public awareness of the nation’s racial history.
Contributors to the project include the Ford Foundation and Google.
Designed in partnership with MASS, a Boston-based design group, the memorial will be made up of two parts.
One is a large, four-sided gallery of 801 suspended six-foot columns, representing a county where a lynching took place and etched with the name of the person or people lynched — a term not limited to hangings.
Duplicates of those columns will be placed in an adjacent field.
People will be encouraged to retrieve the columns in the field and place them as markers in their home counties.
The aim, he said, mentioning the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, is to be forthright about the horrors that were part of the nation’s racial history and their continuity from slavery through Jim Crow to the present day.