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National Memorial for Peace and Justice dedicated to victims of lynching

Alabama

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 4/10/2018, 9:26 a.m.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opens to the public on April 26 in downtown..

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opens to the public on April 26 in downtown Montgomery, Alabama. The museum is dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people terrorized by lynching, as well as the humiliation of racial segregation and police violence. Construction began in 2010 with staff looking into the thousands of lynchings that took place in the American South, which project builders say led the exodus of six million Blacks relocating to the North. The site holds a memorial to thousands of African American men, women and even children lynched over a 70-year period. Oprah Winfrey profiled the place on last Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” taking viewers inside one of the ugliest chapters in American history. The project is being led by criminal defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, who is determined to shed light on a dark period in our past that most people would rather forget. It's a shocking and disturbing reality that lynchings were not isolated murders committed only by men in white hoods in the middle of the night. Often, they were public crimes, witnessed – even celebrated – by thousands of people, reported the CBS show. Stevenson believes if we want to heal racial divisions we must educate Americans – of every color and creed. Some of the facts Stevenson and his crew have uncovered in their research is shocking. For example, at last count, they had found more than 4,300 lynchings. Stevenson explained how lynching became a new weapon against Blacks once they were “legally” freed. “At the end of the Civil War black people are supposed to get the right to vote. And the only way people who were white could maintain their political control was to intimidate Black people. And lynching was especially effective because it would allow the whole community to know that we did this to this person. It was intended to send a message that if you try to vote, if you try to advocate for your rights, if you insist on fair wages, if you do anything that complicates white supremacy and white dominance and political power, we will kill you.” The memorial was paid for through private donations. It contains 805 steel markers, one for each county, where lynchings took place. Each marker contains several names.