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Sunday, June 19, 2022

Bearing Witness

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.

Reflections From The Bell Curve: National Memorial For Peace And Justice

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.  

https://news.yahoo.com/murder-mingo-jack-eatontown-njs-090059339.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall

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.


7 comments:

  1. Amen. Thank you for drawing our attention to this. Several years ago I heard a lecture from a local historian about slavery in New Jersey. Prior to that, I had no idea. (I've lived in NJ since 1991. Previously I lived in PA, ME and NY.). We must all bear witness!

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    1. Ines; You are more than welcome. It's gratifying to know there are people like you who take the time to educate themselves and don't avoid learning aspects pointing to the dark side of U.S. history. We are entitled to celebrate our achievements and - at the same time - obligated to remember where we've failed to live up to our ideals.

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  2. Visiting that memorial was the most viscerally moving part of our trip through the south. Like the Holocaust, we must never forget.

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  3. I really appreciated your blog about the sad American history regarding lynchings and the dedicated work of Bryan Stephenson. Attached is an article about one of the worst domestic massacres that took place in LA. No ethnic group is safe and today it still continues. You are damn right- the education of our horrific past is so important in order for us to learn and enhance our ability to be a dignified society. Thank you again for your continual and contributing efforts to expand our minds- reflections indeed!!!!!
    https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/chinese-massacre-1871

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    1. Anonymous; Thanks for the comment and support. Appreciate the link you included; hope some other readers will check out that article, disturbing as it is.

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  4. Good morning, Pat. After hearing you talk of this memorial previously, I did visit the web site and was very moved by all it has to offer .. the stories to tell. I hope to one day be able to visit in person. I am sure it will be extremely emotional, as it should be. And Thank You for the last paragraph. Very well said !!!
    Be well,
    Bob

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    1. Bob; Three comments in one day, again; thanks so much for that and more thanks for the nice feedback about my final paragraph.

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