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In the century after the Civil War, more than 4,000 black Americans were lynched. Men, women, and children were publicly tortured and killed in acts of mob violence meant to incite fear.
“These lynchings were terrorism,” says a report from the Equal Justice Initiative.
The 2015 report found that there had been hundreds more lynchings than previously thought, because “there is an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching.”
Many of the 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. These communities celebrate and honor the architects of racial subordination and political leaders known for their belief in white supremacy. There are very few monuments or memorials that address the history and legacy of lynching in particular or the struggle for racial equality more generally. Most communities do not actively or visibly recognize how their race relations were shaped by terror lynching.
Now the EJI is changing that. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, opens this week. It is the first national memorial for the victims of lynching. In it, 800 pillars represent counties where lynchings took place. Some of those counties are using this moment to revisit their past. Others are not.
Lynchings are part of America’s history. How should we grapple with that history?
- Sia Sanneh Senior attorney, Equal Justice Initiative; @eji_org
- E.M. Beck Professor emeritus, sociology, University of Georgia
- Hank Willis Thomas Artist; @hankwthomas
- Shirah Dedman Filmmaker; attorney; she was featured in a short documentary about her family’s return to the site of her great-grandfather’s lynching; @shirahdedman
The Hank Willis Thomas sculpture at the memorial
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