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MKP Equitable Community Train Station
No. 19 • November 2019 • ManKind Project USA
Welcome back to the train station! On a recent road trip to Texas, I visited the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson and took in a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Brandon, MS. On the way home, I spent the day in Montgomery, Alabama at the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. In the last issue of the Train Station, I touched on my experience in Mississippi. In this issue, I continue with Part Two: Alabama...
andHope... part two
What I learned:
• With proximity to the fertile Black Belt region, slave-owners amassed large enslaved populations to work the rich soil, thus elevating Montgomery's prominence in domestic trafficking, and by 1860, Montgomery was the capital of the domestic slave trade in Alabama, one of the two largest slave-owning states in America. • To justify the brutal, dehumanizing institution of slavery in America, its advocates created a myth of racial difference. Stereotypes and false characterizations of black people were created to defend their permanent enslavement as “most necessary to the well-being of the negro” – an act of kindness that reinforced white supremacy. • The formal abolition of slavery did nothing to overcome the harmful ideas created to defend it, and so slavery did not end: it evolved by means of convict leasing, Jim Crow laws and segregation, lynching and other forms of racial terrorism and most recently, mass incarceration and inequitable justice. • The Montgomery Bus Boycott, organized in response to Rosa Parks' 1955 arrest after refusing to give up her seat to a white person, lasted just over a year. It was a powerful political and social protest and a seminal event in the dismantling of segregation. • The fight for voting rights became nationally focused in Selma, Alabama, where persistent and resisted attempts to register black voters culminated in violent and the ultimately successful march from Selma to Montgomery in March, 1965. These courageous protests were led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Hosea Williams and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Chairman John Lewis. • There are thousands of monuments in America that glorify the era of enslavement and its legacy. Many monuments were erected to maintain white supremacy long after the Civil War. See this interactive map of Confederate monuments. • The Legacy Museum sits on a site in Montgomery where slaves were warehoused and a block from one of the most prominent slave auction spaces in America. The Legacy Museum is only steps away from an Alabama dock and rail station where tens of thousands of black people were trafficked during the 19th century.
This Editor's experience:The Legacy Museum contains powerful exhibits that dramatize the enslavement of African Americans, the evolution of racial terror lynchings, legalized racial segregation and racial hierarchy in America. By often highlighting individual stories and first-person accounts, it made things personal. I was struck by how powerful, entrenched and popular the defense of white supremacy was; how what feels so wrong to me was clearly right and holy to most white people in the South at that time. I was further humbled by the courage, resilience, persistence and organization of those, mostly of color, who risked so much to effect change.
Again, where would I have stood? What am I prepared to do now?
“Our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape. This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice.”
Bryan Stevenson, Director
Equal Justice Institute
What I learned:
• Racial violence aimed at reestablishing white supremacy was widespread throughout the former Confederate states following emancipation and the Civil War.
• Over 4400 lynchings of black people have been documented by the EJI in the United States between 1877 and 1950. Over 800 US counties have documented lynchings. (GCA lynchings - NC: 123, SC: 185, TN: 233, VA: 84)
• Racial terror lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. It was a tactic for maintaining racial control. • The lynching era left thousands dead; it significantly marginalized black people in the country's political, economic, and social systems; and it fueled a massive migration of over six million black refugees out of the South. • Lynching - and other forms of racial terrorism - inflicted deep traumatic and psychological wounds on survivors, witnesses, family members, and the entire African American community. • Although many communities where lynchings took place have gone to great lengths to erect markers and monuments that memorialize the Civil War, the Confederacy, and historical events during which local power was violently reclaimed by white Southerners, there is an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss or address lynching.
This Editor's experience:I walked slowly through the Memorial with a deep sadness in my core, tears welling up most of the way. (It reminded me of my visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC several years ago.) How can people do this? How can such a thing happen? How can people suffer so?
About two-thirds of my way through the Memorial, a staff person came up to me and asked if I had any questions. I started sobbing and blurted out, "How can people do this? Would I have been one of that crowd? Do I have this kind of evil inside me?" She, a young black woman, looked at me and replied, "I ask myself those same questions."
Bryan Stevenson was a gifted young attorney when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system. Just Mercy shares some of those stories and provides a window into the widespread and powerful unfairness in our legal system. It is a searing indictment of American criminal justice and a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields. This is a deeply moving and disturbing read. Available on Amazon.
"America’s history of racial inequality continues to haunt us. The genocide of Native people, 250-year enslavement of black people, adoption of “racial integrity laws” that demonized ethnic immigrants and people of color, and enforcement of policies and practices designed to perpetuate white supremacy are all part of our difficult past. This country has witnessed great triumph, innovation, and progress, but we are burdened by a painful history that we have yet to adequately acknowledge."
Intro: Segregation in America
Equal Justice Institute Report