we build monuments to remember the histories we cannot and should not forget.
at the end of september we took our leadership council students on a day trip to montgomery, alabama to visit the legacy museum and the national memorial for peace & justice. i have been wanting to visit both sites since they opened in the spring, and there is a branch of bridge builders in montgomery, so this seemed like a win-win situation for us.
the museum focuses on the history of african americans from enslavement to mass incarceration, highlighting the racial divides that continue to plague our country. the interior itself is small, but there is a ton of information to take in, including interactive exhibits and videos to watch. i was not able to absorb everything the way i would have liked had i been there on my own, but it still packed a punch. the exhibits that particularly had an impact were the stories from inmates and the soil samples from places where known lynchings took place. those visuals will stay with me.
after lunch we walked to the memorial, about a mile away from the museum. set on a quiet hill, the memorial allows a lot of space for reflection, which i appreciated. as you walk up to the memorial, you see hundreds of metal slabs hanging; as you get closer you see that inscribed on each slab is the name of a county and the names of people who were lynched in that county. as you make your way through the slabs remain at the same height while the path slopes down so that by the end the slabs hang above the heads of visitors, creating a very powerful visual.
both the museum and the memorial were powerful in their own way. i knew inherently that montgomery has a complicated racial history, but i had no idea of the extent of it until our visit. according to one statistic i saw, montgomery at one point had more slave holding spots and auction houses than it did churches and hotels combined. i also learned more about the elaine massacre, considered to be one of the deadliest race riots in u.s. history and which took place in helena’s backyard in 1919.
going there and back in one day was exhausting, but i’m glad we were able to go. i would like to go back for an overnight trip and have the opportunity to take my time going through the museum and absorb all of the information. it’s not an easy place to visit, but i believe it is a necessary one.