The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened to the public on April 26, 2018, is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.
Work on the memorial began in 2010 when EJI staff began investigating thousands of racial terror lynchings in the American South, many of which had never been documented. EJI was interested not only in lynching incidents, but in understanding the terror and trauma this sanctioned violence against the black community created. Six million black people fled the South as refugees and exiles as a result of these "racial terror lynchings."
This research ultimately produced Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror in 2015 which documented thousands of racial terror lynchings in 12 states. Since the report’s release, EJI has supplemented its original research by documenting racial terror lynchings in states outside the Deep South. EJI staff have also embarked on a project to memorialize this history by visiting hundreds of lynching sites, collecting soil, and erecting public markers, in an effort to reshape the cultural landscape with monuments and memorials that more truthfully and accurately reflect our history.
The Memorial for Peace and Justice was conceived with the hope of creating a sober, meaningful site where people can gather and reflect on America’s history of racial inequality. EJI partnered with artists like Kwame Akoto-Bamfo whose sculpture on slavery confronts visitors when they first enter the memorial. 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. In the center of the site, visitors will encounter a memorial square, built in collaboration with MASS Design Group. The memorial experience continues through the civil rights era made visible with a sculpture by Dana King dedicated to the women who sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Finally, the memorial journey ends with contemporary issues of police violence and racially biased criminal justice expressed in a final work created by Hank Willis Thomas. The memorial displays writing from Toni Morrison and Elizabeth Alexander, words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and a reflection space in honor of Ida B. Wells.
Set on a six-acre site, the memorial uses sculpture, art, and design to contextualize racial terror. The site includes a memorial square with 800 six-foot monuments to symbolize thousands of racial terror lynching victims in the United States and the counties and states where this terrorism took place.
The memorial structure on the center of the site is constructed of over 800 corten steel monuments, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. The names of the lynching victims are engraved on the columns. The memorial is more than a static monument. It is EJI’s hope that the National Memorial inspires communities across the nation to enter an era of truth-telling about racial injustice and their own local histories.
The Community Remembrance Project is one tool EJI offers to support communities looking to engage in this work. EJI’s community remembrance work is part of a larger movement to create an era of restorative truth-telling and justice that changes the consciousness of our nation. We work with communities to erect historical markers, organize soil collection ceremonies, and hold essay contests for local high school students to support the development of local, community-led efforts to engage with and discuss past and present issues of racial justice. After active Community Remembrance work, EJI will also collaborate to place a monument—identical to the monument found at the National Memorial—in the community. EJI believes that markers and monuments can help transform our national landscape into a more honest reflection of the history of America and reflect a community’s ongoing commitment to truth-telling and racial justice.
When a county’s memorial monument is installed, as a culminating feature of that community work and dialogue, we hope that it can represent the accomplishment of the work done so far, and stand as a symbolic reminder of the community’s continuing efforts to truthfully grapple with painful racial history, challenge injustice where it exists in their own lives, and vow never to repeat the terror and violence of the past.
The process of local communities claiming their memorial monuments is thus about much more than transporting and installing the physical monuments themselves. Rather, it first requires an effort to encourage communities across the nation to engage in genuine and sustained work that advances a new era of truth and justice by confronting racial history in a way most communities have never done. EJI’s Community Remembrance Project is one form that work can take, and we are proud to offer our tools and resources to communities interested in using that partnership to advance those goals. Community coalitions who complete community soil collection and narrative historical marker projects, or pursue other, independent community efforts to foster dialogue and remembrance, help raise local consciousness of racial history and help foster dialogue about the connections to contemporary issues and further develop a communal identity that prioritizes historical truth-telling and repair.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
417 Caroline Street
Lynching in America
In the report, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, EJI documented more than 4400 lynchings of black people in the United States between 1877 and 1950. EJI identified 800 more lynchings than had previously been recognized.
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. Lynchings in the American South were not isolated hate crimes committed by rogue vigilantes. Lynching was targeted racial violence at the core of a systematic campaign of terror perpetuated in furtherance of an unjust social order. These lynchings were terrorism.
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 black refugees out of the South. In addition, lynching - and other forms of racial terrorism - inflicted deep traumatic and psychological wounds on survivors, witnesses, family members, and the entire African American community.
Why Build a Memorial to Victims of Racial Terror?
EJI believes that publicly confronting the truth about our history is the first step towards recovery and reconciliation.
A history of racial injustice must be acknowledged, and mass atrocities and abuse must be recognized and remembered, before a society can recover from mass violence. Public commemoration plays a significant role in prompting community-wide reconciliation.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice provides a sacred space for truth-telling and reflection about racial terrorism and its legacy.
The museum and memorial are part of EJI’s work to advance truth and reconciliation around race in America and to more honestly confront the legacy of slavery, lynching, and segregation. “Our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape,” EJI Director Bryan Stevenson explains. “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.”
Modeled on important projects used to overcome difficult histories of genocide, apartheid, and horrific human rights abuses in other countries, EJI’s sites are designed to promote a more hopeful commitment to racial equality and just treatment of all people.
The April 26 opening was accompanied by several days of educational panels and presentations from leading national figures, performances and concerts from acclaimed recording artists, and a large opening ceremony. Thousands of visitors traveled to Montgomery to celebrate the launch of these important new American institutions.
The Peace and Justice Memorial Center
Built to enhance the public and community education goals of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the center is home to a new monument that honors victims of racial terror lynchings and racial violence between 1950 and 1959. The center is located on Caroline Street, directly across from the entrance to the National Memorial.
EJI staff offer presentations for museum and memorial visitors at the center at 2:30 PM daily (except Tuesdays and Sundays).
And the center will be hosting community events with nationally-acclaimed artists, writers, and scholars, films, and other programming to address a range of topics and issues related to the work of EJI, the Legacy Museum, and the National Memorial.