Before visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama for the first time in May 2021, I was familiar with it, via a segment on 60 Minutes featuring Bryan Stevenson, the social architect and creator of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), who first envisioned the memorial. Also, not long before watching that segment I'd finished Stevenson's exceptional book Just Mercy (2014).
But despite my familiarity with the memorial and Stevenson's important work, I was unprepared for the experience of facing over 6,500 suspended concrete slabs, each memorializing a black person lynched between 1866-1950 somewhere in the United States. Each slab represents a documented lynching. Indeed, many of the lynchings were publicized in the press of the time. Gruesomely, some were even boasted of in advance. I published the blog post directly below soon after my disturbing visit to the memorial.
And though I felt numb with grief and shame walking among those slabs last May, I took small solace in one paltry fact. At the time, my beloved home state shared a dubious distinction with several others - no documented lynchings had yet been 100% verified as having taken place in New Jersey. Then I happened upon the front page of Asbury Park Press (APP) two days ago and learned about Samuel "Mingo Jack" Johnson in Eatontown, NJ in 1886.
Given the current state of our disunion, with elected officials decrying the teaching of any history that might point to any shameful aspect of our national history, and deeply disturbed malcontents using assault weapons to wage war against an invented phenomenon called "replacement theory", drawing attention to the work being done by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice might seem to some a futile effort. I refuse to surrender to that cynicism. Visit the website for the memorial embedded in my blog post. Read the APP article about "Mingo Jack". Talk to others about what you've learned. Then, tell anyone who questions why you want to "re-visit" the past or denies that the scourge of lynching is a stain in our national fabric that you are doing what decent people must always do to avoid repeating our worst failures. You are bearing witness.