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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

New Memorial to Lynching Victims in Montgomery, Alabama

Memorial to Peace and Justice. Rendering by MASS Design.
New Memorial to Lynching Victims in Montgomery, Alabama
by Samuel D. Gruber

The Memorial to Peace in Justice, A new project to commemorate the victims of decades of systematic American terrorism - the lynching of innocent African-Americans throughout the south (and through much of the rest of the country, too) is underway in Montgomery, Alabama. This is an important, timely and overdue commemorative and educational initiative. The MASS Design Group, which is designed the memorial, writes:
The Memorial to Peace and Justice will sit on six acres of land in Montgomery and become the nation's first national memorial to victims of lynching. The structure will contain the names of over 4000 lynching victims engraved on concrete columns representing each county in the United States where racial terror lynchings took place. Counties across the country will be invited to retrieve duplicate columns with the names of each county's lynching victims to be placed in every county. The project is planned to open in 2017.
Memorial to Peace and Justice. Rendering by MASS Design.
 Read about it here in the New York Times.
Last year, the group [the Equal Justice Initiative released a report documenting more than 4,000 lynchings between 1877 and 1950. After that report, Mr. Stevenson launched a project to collect soil from unmarked lynching sites around the country. The soil will be placed in glass jars that will be on display at the museum.
I have not digested the aesthetics yet, but it clearly takes a lot form conceptual and interactive Holocaust memorials of the 1980s and 1990s, especially some of those in Germany. Americans tend to be literalists, so how will this resonate in Alabama? The precedent of the Oklahoma City Bombing memorial is encouraging, but more often we are given the stirring neo-classicism or gigantism of DC (WWII & MLK monuments) - and don't get me wrong, sometimes literalness works, as with the popular Jerry Rescue Monument in Syracuse, commemorating a local uprising against the Fugitive Slave Act ....but that is essentially an upbeat, affirmative and optimistic story. The new Montgomery monument builds on the momentum created by the installation of historical signage in Montgomery about the history of the slave trade. 

Syracuse, NY. Jerry Rescue Monument with Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument behind. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012
 As a paper I once gave asked "How do we remember places [events] we'd rather forget?" for America,this new work may be a big step forward. Now, if only a fraction of people would be interested, aware and outraged over the history of lynching as are out looking for Pokemans we'd really be making progress!

The decades-long history of lynching is a history - and America's legacy - of tolerated terrorism against thousands of innocent African-Americans - not just in the south, but across much of the country. Because as a white society we have never truly confronted this legacy - and in fact have exhibited a blase complacency - the culture of violence against blacks has not gone away, it has merely shifted into a more (but equally lethal) structured aspect of our criminal justice system. If lynching was called "terrorism" - would there be a different response?


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