Monuments remember history we cannot and should not forget
September 8, 2016 11:06 PM   Subscribe

In Montgomery, Alabama, where dozens of markers commemorate the history of confederacy... We plan to build a national memorial to the victims of lynching The Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based racial justice group, announced that it will build the first-ever national memorial to lynching victims in Montgomery, Alabama.

This anti-racism group will build a memorial to lynching victims — and it's about time.

It features a facade that evokes a classical structure, like the Parthenon or St. Paul's cathedral at the Vatican. But once inside, the ground would drop. Columns hanging feet from the floor would evoke the lynchings; each column would have names of known victims engraved. Outside would be a field of temporary columns, and each column would be filled with actual soil from individual Southern cities and towns that were sites of lynchings. If and when those cities and towns decided it was time to acknowledge their history, they could take the column to use it as their own monument, linking the larger museum with smaller remembrances across the country.

Why America Needs a National Lynching Memorial

The Lynching Memorial in Alabama Will Be a Truth We Cannot Flee. What Stevenson is planning here is nothing more than a spur to a permanent and honest discussion of our history, and of what some Americans have done to other Americans. Lynchings are part of that. The national government couldn't even pass a federal law to criminalize extrajudicial murder.


Earlier this year:

A new report identifies some 1,500 memorials to the Civil War’s losing cause, from schools to state holidays, ranging from the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest. For all the high-profile removals, there remains a stunning number of Confederate Civil War monuments, memorials, and namesakes in public spaces around the country, as a new inventory taken by the Southern Poverty Law Center makes clear.

The "Alabama Heritage Protection Act." would ban the removal of any historic monument, marker or school name from public property unless a waiver is obtained from the Legislative Council, a committee of lawmakers.

Local governments would face a $100,000 fine if they remove an object without a waiver.

The bill doesn't specify Confederate symbols, but comes after controversy about their display.

Thursday, March 3, 2016, the Alabama Senate voted 22 to 9 in favor of Senate Bill 13, the Alabama Heritage Preservation Act – sometimes referred to as the “Monuments Bill.” SB13 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa).

Sons of Confederate Veterans Adjutant Mike Williams said in a statement, “I am very happy that the State of Alabama is moving with other states in an effort to preserve Southern Heritage. Senate Bill 13 moving out of the senate is a good first step...”

Sponsor, Senator Gerald Allen, said in a statement, “... This politically-correct movement to strike whole periods of the past from our collective memory is divisive and unnecessary.”


The commemoration movement was about more than honoring their fallen sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers. These groups helped forge the Lost Cause ideology that proclaims the righteousness of the Confederacy, the valiance of its soldiers, the greatness of its leaders, and the denial of slavery as a cause of the Civil War.

Take down the confederate flag - now.
That the Confederate flag is the symbol of of white supremacists is evidenced by the very words of those who birthed it.

posted by Cozybee (10 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Wonderful! Hopefully it's cool to have some of this will be built next time I get to do an East Coast Road Trip.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:44 PM on September 8, 2016

Wow, it looks like it would be a very intense experience. I wish I could get down to Bama to see it.

Did I miss why they didn't include all the 'race riots' that were actually massacres?
posted by ridgerunner at 11:59 PM on September 8, 2016

I live in Montgomery and I'll definitely head down there to take photos as soon as it's built.

If I'm guessing correctly, the location they're talking about is just a stone's throw from the main police station. Since lynchings generally happened with the support of law enforcement, maybe this is an historically accurate jab at the MPD.
posted by Clay201 at 12:03 AM on September 9, 2016

Bryan Stevenson, the head of the Equal Justice Initiative, also gave a great interview about his history with death row inmates and civil rights work on the Criminal Podcast a few months back - episode link.

Great to see EJI active and growing. Despite plenty of shade being thrown toward minorities and BLM lately, projects like this and the recent news of closing private prisons give me hope that on the larger scale, things are generally moving in the right direction.
posted by p3t3 at 12:06 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is such an important undertaking. There's a tacit condoning when the lynchings aren't condemned loudly and without apology. This is an amazing and crazy part of the US - the way history just moves by and society kind of pretends that what happened wasn't that bad and its over now anyways... Or else the sad truth is that as a society change has come about not because of necessity in order to attain greater equality and a sense of moral balance, but because the pressure to change was too great and capitulation was easier than actual reform, acknowledgement and resolution.

In Berlin there are 'Stolperstein' (small memorials to where people persecuted by the nazis lived). The logic behind them is so resolutely healthy and intelligent, it always struck me America could benefit from the same thing.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:39 AM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

[Swapped out the post's "Previously" link for the correct one.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:17 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think that the specific plans for the memorial, as well as the general idea, are very well thought out and moving. The part where there are county-specific markers that remain at the site until the places where the lynchings happened step up to acknowledge the murders that took place on their soil is really an important piece of this.

One of the links suggested it would take $5 million to build the memorial, but I didn't see any link to a fund raising initiative. Does anyone know if there is a way to support this work?
posted by layceepee at 6:34 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

Alabama is one of 4 states I have not visited (along with Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas). I'm very glad they are doing the work to build this memorial, and would love to make it a part of the reason for my first visit.

With regard to the Alabama Heritage Preservation Act precluding the removal of public monuments and place names without legislative approval - I wonder if there is any thought of local governments just covering up monuments to avoid running afoul of the law (not that there is much political will to do anything about the remaining confederate monuments, but should there be, it occurred to me that it might be a viable path). Thinking about it some more, the idea of a permanent black shroud around a statue of Jefferson Davis might actually be a better way to memorialize this countries past compared to just removing it and leaving nothing behind.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:00 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thinking about it some more, the idea of a permanent black shroud around a statue of Jefferson Davis might actually be a better way to memorialize this countries past compared to just removing it and leaving nothing behind.

I say we take them and put them in a museum, all together, in one vast room, like a shameful Terracotta Army.

Members of the public look down on them from raised walkways. Arrange them by figure—put all the Jefferson Davises here, all the Nathan Bedford Forrests there. Enumerate their crimes. Tell their victims’ stories. Plot the monuments’ original locations on maps, like a pox on the land. List who installed each monument, and in what context (it is no coincidence that many date from the Civil Rights era).

Finally, allow them to collect dust.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 11:00 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Wow. Thank you so much for letting us know about this and thank you for all the supporting info.
posted by eggkeeper at 9:36 PM on September 15, 2016

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