The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration
The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is situated on a site in Montgomery where Black people were forced to labor in bondage. Blocks from one of the most prominent slave auction spaces in America, the Legacy Museum is steps away from the rail station where tens of thousands of Black people were trafficked during the 19th century.
The Legacy Museum provides a comprehensive history of the United States with a focus on the legacy of slavery. From the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its impact on the North and coastal communities across America through the Domestic Slave Trade and Reconstruction, the museum provides detailed interactive content and compelling narratives. Lynching, codified racial segregation, and the emergence of over-incarceration in the 20th century are examined in depth and brought to life through film, images, and first-person narratives.
Situated on a site where enslaved Black people were forced to labor in bondage, the Legacy Museum offers an immersive experience with cutting-edge technology, world-class art, and critically important scholarship about American history.
Along with the critically acclaimed National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the museum presents a unique opportunity for visitors to reckon with challenging aspects of our past. A Transatlantic Slave Trade wing includes more than 200 sculptures and original animated short films narrated by award-winning artists Lupita Nyong'o, Don Cheadle, and Wendell Pierce.
An entire wing of the museum explores the economics of enslavement, the violence of slavery, sexual violence against enslaved Black women, the commodification of people, and the desperate efforts enslaved people made to stay connected to loved ones.
An expansive exhibit on Reconstruction documents the important 12-year period in American history with a detailed timeline, short films, and first-person narrative accounts.
The museum's expansive content on lynching is housed in a wing that examines the role of media during the era of racial terror violence. The last words of lynching victims dramatize the suffering racial terrorism imposed on entire communities. Facts about the lynching of children help visitors understand the scale of terror and violence many families endured.
Visitors will hear first-person accounts from descendants of lynching victims and witnesses to lynching violence and learn about the heroic effort to challenge lynching violence that was led by Ida B. Wells and student activists who protested against lynching for years.
A stunning exhibit containing 800 jars of soil collected around the country as part of EJI's Community Remembrance Project is a unique and powerful display of the growing community response to reckoning with this painful past.
The Jim Crow era and the courageous movement to confront racial segregation is presented with an extensive exploration of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the work of legendary civil rights activists. The iconography of Jim Crow is dramatically presented in a collection of actual signs and notices collected from around the country. EJI also compiled laws and statutes that codified racial apartheid in America for visitors to read and experience.
Barriers to voting for Black people are featured in the museum as a central component of how equal rights were undermined throughout this era. Visitors can take a poll test and experience how these arbitrary and humiliating tests were used by local officials to disenfranchise Black people.
A wing on mass incarceration features more voices of people who have been wrongly condemned, unfairly sentenced, and unjustly treated in the American legal system. Visitors will learn about the plight of children prosecuted as adults, people with mental illness, people experiencing poverty, and those suffering brutal conditions in some of our nation's prisons and jails.
The Reflection Space honors hundreds of people who worked throughout their lives to challenge racial injustice. In a grand space that features music and powerful images, the history of struggle inspires all to reflect on what we can do to make a difference.
The Legacy Museum includes a world-class art gallery with major works from the most celebrated Black artists in the country, including Glenn Ligon, Elizabeth Catlett, Alison Saar, Gordon Parks, Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold, Deborah Roberts, Nelson Makamo, Carrie Mae Weems, Whitfield Lovell, Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, Sandrine Plante, Paul Briggs, Titus Kaphar, Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Dawn Williams Boyd, Kay Brown, Yvonne Cole, Simone Leigh, and the extraordinary vernacular artist Winfred Rembert.
The gallery includes pieces created specifically for the Legacy Museum, and its entire collection is curated in dialogue with the museum's historical narrative. Collaborations with Wynton Marsalis, Jon Booz, Lil Buck, The Aeolians, Chrystal Rucker, and Brandie Sutton explore the role of music and dance in understanding our nation's history and the role of the arts.
As a physical site and an outreach program, the Legacy Museum 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.
The Legacy Museum
400 N. Court 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 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.