We packed a lunch, and snacks, and set off for Alabama. Why? Glad you asked. The Peace and Justice Memorial Center and Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama had been calling my name for quite some time.
From the New York Times, April 25, 2018:
“In a plain brown building sits an office run by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, a place for people who have been held accountable for their crimes and duly expressed remorse. Just a few yards up the street lies a different kind of rehabilitation center, for a country that has not been held to nearly the same standard.”
The Center, which opened in April of 2018, is a small building in the city that was the center of the slave trade in the United States and was itself a slave warehouse for those brought by river and train.
The old brick wall at the entry to the warehouse building reverberates with the chains of the imported, calling out for justice. The center is a museum that is overwhelming with the physical evidence of the cruelty and evil that is part of the American heritage. Glass jars filled with sand from the known sites of lynchings, some with names, some unknown. And so much more.
The signs collected from everywhere segregation and hatred were overt were startling but not unexpected in retrospect. One sign in particular I will never forget:
“No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs”
You will forgive the word, but it is what the sign said and it would be cowardly to edit it. As a Jew, this resonated in a more personal way. My thought was this – of the three, the dogs had experienced the least oppression.
The Memorial itself is both beautiful and grim, a field of 800 hanging metal coffin shaped boxes in a roofed area that includes fountains and quotes. The metal coffins hang at varying heights, at first at eye level, like a grave monument and finally above, as the lynched would be hanging. Each is inscribed with a county, and the names of those lynched in that place, some simply marked as unknown, most not. It is stunning and horrifying and important.
The Memorial stands in a rolling green field, quite beautiful in stark contrast. Just as the lynched might have, and did, hang from a beautiful tree in bloom in a green field. You cannot help but cry, and feel shame at what this represents, and pride that it is memorialized now in a way that cannot be ignored.
Bryan Stevenson said:
“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is Justice.”
In that field, aside from the structure of the Memorial, are enormous “tables”. These are raised areas that hold duplicate metal bars, exactly like those that hang. They are not affixed, they are just lain in these beds. The point is that each and every county has been invited to take the one marked with their name and erect it as a memorial in that county.
My hope is that I will visit there again someday, and all the bars in that beautiful green field will be gone, raised against racism, bigotry and intolerance.