Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama

Bernardine and I just returned from the official opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and a visit to the Legacy Museum, in Montgomery, Alabama, both projects of the Equal Justice Initiative. The experience was staggering, awe-inspiring, illuminating, breath-taking—beyond moving, it was life altering. Plan a visit, take the children and the students. The Memorial and the Museum tell the truth—hard, unblinking, trembling and real. And there is nonetheless a sense there that a more loving and just and peaceful world is in-the-making, and that we can choose to become the founding citizens of a country that does not yet exist. There’s a steady recognition that there can be no reconciliation without a reckoning with the truth, and that while the truth of history cannot be unmade, it can be faced honestly. The Memorial does the hard work of documenting and representing thousands of lynchings over many decades—it names the victims, person by person, name by name—and illustrates that the terror was systematic and pervasive, sweeping the South but including, for example, four counties in our home state of Illinois. The link between slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, voter suppression, segregation, and mass incarceration was made obvious. There was a deep sense that while the tragedy, shame, and pain of this country—slavery, kidnapping, rape, murder, torture, terrorism, predation, exploitation, and oppression, degradation and humiliation—was foundational, a new world could be built from that wreckage. The dialectic of horror and light, anger and love, was evident in every corner.

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