Memorial dedicated to USA victims of lynching opens in Montgomery, Ala

Memorial dedicated to USA victims of lynching opens in Montgomery, Ala

Elmore Bolling defied the odds against black men and built several successful businesses during the harsh era of Jim Crow segregation in the South.

Victims were also often maimed, dragged, or shot to death.

Most of Wisconsin's lynching victims were white, European settlers. Daughter Josephine Bolling McCall is anxious to see the monument, located about 20 miles from where her father was killed in rural Lowndes County.

The summit, museum and memorial are projects of the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based legal advocacy group founded by attorney Bryan Stevenson. Beyond lynching, the memorial also explores other aspects of racial inequality and injustice as they relate to the African American experience. And we don't talk about it.

McInnis, who is white, is third generation in a family that exemplifies the forces that have shaped Montgomery - one grandfather was an ally of segregationist Gov. George Wallace, the other a friend of Frank Johnson, the Alabama federal judge who dismantled segregation.

"I'm not interested in talking about America's history because I want to punish America", Stevenson told The New York Times. The museum's creation was overseen by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, who says more than 4,400 black people died by lynching throughout USA history. All but about 300 were in the South, and prosecutions were rare in any of the cases. "We put markers about the Confederacy in front of these courthouses, but we don't say a word about the thousands of people that were lynched, hundreds of whom were lynched on courthouse lawns". It's scheduled to open on Thursday. "It's a shocking and disturbing reality that lynches were not isolated murders committed only by men in white hoods in the middle of the night", says Orpah in her opening monologue.

For the past year and a half, residents say they have watched the Memorial for Peace and Justice rise from the ground up. "Part of the healing process, the first step is to acknowledge it".

"It's important that the people to whom the injustices have been given are actually being recognized and at least some measure - some measure - of relief is sought through discussion", said McCall.

This interest led to the 2015 EJI report Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, which documented thousands of lynchings in 12 states. With almost 7 million people behind bars or on parole or probation nationwide - a disproportionate number of them minorities - the NAACP says blacks are incarcerated at a rate five times that of whites.

"America in general is not prepared for what they're going to see here", says Bailey, the author of a book about the Reconstruction era in Alabama. "There was just an incredible amount of violence taking place during that period of time", said Beck, sociology professor emeritus at the University of Georgia. The memorial starts with a series of sculptures that depict the horrors of slavery, then proceeds with a selection of texts and individual monuments that craft a historical narrative culminating with the MASS-designed central memorial, which features 800 suspended weathered steel columns.

Numerous counties are in the Deep South, where, in some places, a monument to the victims of lynching, prominently displayed, would provide an apt counterpoint to the Civil War monuments that dot the landscape. "In the six-acre park surrounding the memorial is a field of identical monuments, waiting to be claimed and installed in the counties they represent".

Not all lynchings were by hanging. The names of the victims are etched into the sides.

The monument's April 26 opening will be marked by a two-day summit focusing on racial and social justice, to be followed by an April 27 concert featuring top acts including Common, Usher, the Dave Matthews Band and The Roots.

The Legacy Museum houses the nation's most comprehensive collection of data on lynching.

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