'Light of truth': Lynching memorial exposing horrors of slavery opens in US

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Montgomery, Ala., has been a draw for history buffs for a long time. People in these counties can request them - dozens of such requests have already been made - but they must show that they have made efforts locally to "address racial and economic injustice".

Open to the public on April 26, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, will pay tribute to the racial terror lynchings in the American South.

The Equal Justice Initiative also opened a Legacy Museum that documents the struggle for black liberation from slavery to present-day issues like mass incarceration. "It's people in distress", Stevenson told NPR.

Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, said he wanted to create a space for people to confront and "deal honestly with this history", just as South Africa has sites about apartheid and Germany memorializes victims of the Holocaust. "And I think it's important for us to do this as an organization that has created an identity that is as disassociated from punishment as possible". EJI then leads visitors on a journey from slavery, through lynching and racial terror, with text, narrative, and monuments to the lynching victims in America.

Visitors to the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice first glimpse them, eerily, in the distance: Brown rectangular slabs, 800 in all, inscribed with the names of more than 4,000 souls who lost their lives in lynchings between 1877 and 1950.

STEVENSON: We're standing in front of a monument from Carroll County, Miss., where almost two dozen people were lynched.

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'Light of truth': Lynching memorial exposing horrors of slavery opens in US

The new memorial includes 6-foot pillars meant to replicate the way victims were hanged. There's a monument for each county where racial killings occurred. "The most troubling legacy of slavery in America", Stevenson recently noted, "is our continuing indifference to the victimization of black people".

Stevenson also wants the memorial to be a point of reconciliation for the descedants of the victims.

STEVENSON: They lifted these bodies up as a statement to the entire African-American community.

"So I think being in that proximity constantly should remind people of where we've been and - but who we are and that's the image that we want to project and I think if more lawmakers can grasp that and get that and get that into their heads, we would progress so far as a state". Short summaries of the horrors that these people had to endure, some of them incredibly graphic.

ELLIOTT: The memorial seeks to change that, an ambitious and most uncomfortable endeavor, says local historian Richard Bailey. Alabama now markets its civil rights trail, including the site in Montgomery where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus.

An artist's rendering of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

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