The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration
The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is situated on a site in Montgomery where enslaved people were once warehoused. A block from one of the most prominent slave auction spaces in America, the Legacy Museum is steps away from an Alabama dock and rail station where tens of thousands of black people were trafficked during the 19th century.
The new, interactive museum employs unique technology to dramatize the enslavement of African Americans, the evolution of racial terror lynchings and legalized racial segregation and racial hierarchy in America. Relying on previously undisclosed first-person accounts of the domestic slave trade, EJI’s critically acclaimed materials, research videography and exhibit on lynching and recently composed content on segregation, this museum will explore the history of racial inequality and its relationship to a range of contemporary issues from mass incarceration to police violence.
The Legacy Museum
115 Coosa Street
The Story: Slavery Evolved. To justify the brutal, dehumanizing institution of slavery in America, its advocates created a myth of racial difference. Stereotypes and false characterizations of black people were created to defend their permanent enslavement as “most necessary to the well-being of the negro” – an act of kindness that reinforced white supremacy. The formal abolition of slavery did nothing to overcome the harmful ideas created to defend it, and so slavery did not end: it evolved.
In the decades that followed, these beliefs in racial hierarchy took new expression in convict leasing, lynching, and other forms of racial terrorism that forced the exodus of millions of black Americans to the North and West, where the myth of racial difference manifested in urban ghettos and generational poverty.
Racial subordination was codified and enforced by violence in the era of Jim Crow and segregation, as the nation and its leaders allowed black people to be burdened, beaten, and marginalized throughout the 20th century.
Progress towards civil rights for African Americans was made in the 1960s, but the myth of racial inferiority was not eradicated. Black Americans were vulnerable to a new era of racial bias and abuse of power wielded by our contemporary criminal justice system. Mass incarceration has had devastating consequences for people of color: at the dawn of the 21st century, one in three black boys are projected to go to jail or prison in his lifetime.
The Experience. The 11,000-square-foot museum was built on the site of a former warehouse where enslaved black people were confined in Montgomery, Alabama, located midway between the former slave market and the main river dock and train station where tens of thousands of enslaved people were trafficked during the height of the domestic slave trade.
By 1860, Montgomery was the capital of the domestic slave trade in Alabama, one of the two largest slave-owning states in America. Montgomery's proximity to the fertile Black Belt region, where slaveowners amassed large enslaved populations to work the rich soil, elevated Montgomery's prominence in the slave trade.
Visitors will feel a powerful sense of place when they enter the museum and step into a recreation of a slave warehouse, where you can see, hear, and get close to what it was like to be imprisoned awaiting sale at the nearby auction block.
First-person accounts from enslaved people animate the sights and sounds of the domestic slave trade. Extensive research and videography helps visitors understand the racial terrorism of lynching, and the humiliation of the Jim Crow South. Compelling visuals and data-rich exhibits give visitors the opportunity to investigate America's history of racial injustice and its legacy, drawing dynamic connections across generations of Americans impacted by the narrative of racial difference.
EJI has curated sculptures from Titus Kaphar and Sanford Biggers , a wide range of videography and animated content from leading filmmakers and artists, and fine art pieces including works from Elizabeth Catlett, John Biggers and Kay Brownwhich will challenge and inspire visitors. Design partners also include Local Projects, Tim Lewis and TALA, and Google.
An unparalleled resource for researchers, the museum houses the nation's most comprehensive collection of data on lynching. It will also present previously unseen archival information about the domestic slave trade brought to life through new technology.
As a physical site and an outreach program, The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is an engine for education about the legacy of racial inequality and for the truth and reconciliation that leads to real solutions to contemporary problems.