An Alabama-based civil rights organization will construct a monument in Montgomery to commemorate victims of lynchings across the South. The Equal Justice Initiative will also construct a museum nearby focused on African-American history, the group announced in a press release on Monday. Both are scheduled to open in 2017.
The memorial will be the first in the country to pay tribute to the more than 4,000 black victims of lynching who were killed between 1877 and 1950. The 6-acre monument will feature a series of columns, each representing a county where “racial terror lynchings” took place, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. The names of the victims will be engraved on the columns.
Bryan Stevenson, the organization’s director, said in an interview with the Associated Press, that by acknowledging the darker aspects of the country’s history, hopefully the U.S. can work toward a more unified future.
“I don’t think we can afford to continue pretending that there aren’t these really troubling chapters in our history,” Stevenson said. “I think we’ve got to deal with it.”
A few blocks away from the memorial in Montgomery, a new museum, called From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, will rise on the site of a former slave warehouse, near a former slave auction house and a river dock and train station from which slaves were trafficked. The museum will trace the history of slavery to the mass imprisonment of black Americans today, which scholar Michelle Alexander has dubbed the “New Jim Crow.”
News of the museum comes days after the grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the first Smithsonian Institution dedicated to the contributions of black Americans. During remarks at an opening ceremony on Saturday, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama said the museum helps America acknowledge the full truth of its past.
“As President Bush just said, a great nation doesn’t shy from the truth. It strengthens us. It emboldens us. It should fortify us,” Obama said. “It is an act of patriotism to understand where we’ve been.”