The majority of the U.S.' most important memorials are located in Washington D.C. However, that's officially changing Thursday with the opening of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Photos of the lynching victims memorial will absolutely give you the chills and convince you to make time to see it as soon as you possibly can.
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a Montgomery nonprofit that deals with racial injustice and criminal justice reform and works to help marginalized community, is the organization that made the memorial happen, the New York Times reported. EJI's founder, Bryan Stevenson, told the Times that the idea for the memorial came from the fact that nothing like it exists — despite the fact that thousands of black people died over decades of racial terror.
"Our nation's history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape," Stevenson said in a statement, according to the architecture website De Zeen. "This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatised people of colour, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice."
Understanding the monument's mission, though, is only part of it. Seeing pictures of it — or visiting yourself — will give you a far deeper grasp of what exactly it's attempting to do.
The monument is comprised of several sections, but the central piece is the memorial to those who were killed in lynchings. According to Curbed, the design of the steel columns with the names of lynching victims on them was inspired by world famous memorials like the Holocaust memorial in Berlin.
As visitors walk among the hanging slabs of steel, their perspective is forced to shift. The slabs start close to the ground, but then the ground descends — and when visitors get to the other end of the monument, they're staring up at them, seeing the names from below. The visitors thus start at eye-level with the victims — and then end up in the position of the lynch mob.
According to what Stevenson told the New York Times, some of the victims listed on the columns have never had their names memorialized anywhere.
Some of the victims' names aren't known, so they're simply memorialized as "unknown" under the name of the county where the lynching happened.
Elsewhere on the memorial's grounds, you'll find statues of chained people depicted in various states of anguish.
Rather than giving visitors an idealized, whitewashed version of the slave trade, these statues bring them face to face with the physical and emotional horrors that African slaves were subjected to.
The Washington Post also reported that there's a dynamic, ongoing element of the memorial as well. For every hanging steel column with the name of a county and the names of the people lynched in that county, there's a duplicate copy on the grounds. Once the county listed has submitted documentation on how they will be grappling with their local history of racial terror, they can claim their column and display it locally. Any column remaining at the monument, then, effectively shames the county in question for not facing its past.
According to those behind it, this doesn't come from a punitive spirit. “I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America,” Stevenson told the New York Times. "I want to liberate America."
In the eyes of EJI, America is bound by this dark chapter in its history — and liberation can only come from facing it openly and experiencing the harsh feelings that come with that. Although Montgomery may be out of your way, visiting the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is an important trip to make.