By Jamal Thomas
April 24, 2018- Monday was a day that I will never forget. Once again, I was able to witness history. I toured the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Legacy Museum. My heart left overwhelmed and my mind was transformed. What was once swept under the rug has now been revealed.
I first learned about EJI last year when I was going through Leadership Montgomery Legacy Class XXXIII (The best class ever!). Bryan Stevenson was the speaker for a Leadership Alabama Class Day and Leadership Montgomery was invited. Stevenson shared his vision for the memorial and showed a video. I was so excited to see something of such magnitude and significance coming to Montgomery. And now it’s finally here!
Entering the memorial was a breathtaking experience. As I walked down the entry path I could not help but notice the narrative panels on the wall. Reading them gave me a clearer picture of what really happened and how conditions were during 1877-1950. This picture quickly turned into a horror story once I saw the sculpture of slaves getting kidnapped from Africa.
As I approached the lynching monuments a somber feeling took over my soul. The path turned a corner and began to descend. The more the path descended, the more surreal it became. Then the path followed around another corner, and the monuments were now hanging overhead. I quickly became overwhelmed. I started hearing the cheers and chants of white mobs. Then I got angry as I read the narratives on the wall. Blacks were lynched for some of the pettiest things- looking at a white woman, being late to work, and being proven innocent just to name a few. I was deeply saddened to hear about the Black school teacher who was lynched here in Alabama. She was being taunted by a group of white children while walking home one day. They even threw rocks at her. The teacher was lynched because she scolded the children for messing with her.
I am not going to spill the beans about the Legacy Museum. You are going to have to see it for yourselves. I will say that I teared up when I read the narratives of former slaves.
Overall, I had a great experience. The memorial conveys the ugly truth of America. How can you make something great again that was never great in the first place?
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