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Monument To Lynching Victims Opens. No, Not Clarence Thomas Or Bill Cosby
For many African Americans, the southern states still evoke nights filled with scents of magnolia blossoms, the burnings of lawn crosses, and the lynchings our families suffered. The “heritage not hate” crowd seems to think that black people forgot exactly what that heritage was really about: Hate & Slavery. Of black people. We did not forget. And why did they need to monumentalize their "heritage" in the form of statues of old white supremacists who fucking lost lost lost the Civil War? To scare black people into quiet submission? To remind us of our place so we'd stop getting all uppity? Yep, pretty much.
Carrying on the legacy of legends like journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, the Equal Justice Initiative has created the first memorial dedicated to the African-American victims of lynching. If you have been hiding under a rock all of your life, or were educated in one of those school districts that give assignments asking if slavery wasn't such a bad thing, you may need more info on lynchings. Good thing that the "National Memorial for Peace and Justice" is now open and ready to take you down some dark paths through US history. We finally have a lynching museum. Why would we want to go to a lynching museum? To learn things we never knew, obviously.
The magnitude of the killing is harrowing, all the more so when paired with the circumstances of individual lynchings, some described in brief summaries along the walk: Parks Banks, lynched in Mississippi in 1922 for carrying a photograph of a white woman; Caleb Gadly, hanged in Kentucky in 1894 for “walking behind the wife of his white employer”; Mary Turner, who after denouncing her husband’s lynching by a rampaging white mob, was hung upside down, burned and then sliced open so that her unborn child fell to the ground.
We'll just leave that there.
Montgomery, Alabama, is the location they chose, which makes sense; lynching was implemented to terrorize former slaves, and Montgomery was known for both slave trading and the Civil Rights Movement . This is black history concentrated, and the monument here makes an impactful statement about our progress. Unlike the Confederate monuments, this memorial is not about glorifying the lostest of causes, ego stroking, or revisionist history. There will be no statues of your great-great-great uncle there in his Rebel uniform, no accolades to the antebellum society that once flourished, and no plaques extolling the virtues of “states rights” (to own human beings). Basically, no lying. Also, there will be no tiki torches or "very fine people" there because they will probably all be busy protecting some idiotic statue elsewhere.
This memorial is actually telling the truth about America and the godawful shit we have done to black people throughout the years, and it will break your heart! Unlike the Confederate monuments that show some slavery-defending soldier in a victorious pose like a mighty undefeated warrior, this one lives in harsh reality. In our heritage of hate.
Life-sized bronze statues of six shackled slaves greet visitors as they arrive. Is this the heritage part or the hate part? Or do they mean the same thing? So confusing.
One thing to know about lynchings is this: Lynchings are not that thing where you get accused of raping scores of women, finally get convicted on three counts, then go on an angry tirade blaming anybody but yourself, Bill Cosby. That is not a lynching. Some would simply call it justice.
For a nation that prides itself on the notions of freedom and equality, we are never very honest with ourselves. We rarely live up to the exceptionalism we unfailingly give ourselves credit for. Lynchings get talked about in society like an afterthought. A talking point. So it remains that the impact on the collective consciousnesses of all Americans is brushed off by extolling the virtues of our contemporary lives. How much better things are now. It is difficult to discuss. But we remember. And hopefully with this monument and the upcoming museum, America will remember that "heritage not hate" was a lie yesterday, it is a lie today, and it will always be a lie.