Emory University Students and Faculty Reflect on Visit to Memorial and Museum

Water wall memorializes thousands of lynching victims whose names will never be known.

Emory University's Journey Toward Justice: Confronting America's Legacy of Slavery and Lynching Prepares Students to Lead Communities on the Road to Racial Reconciliation is a powerful story that follows more than 150 students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Emory's Candler School of Theology as they travel to from Atlanta to Montgomery to experience the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.


This was the second visit to the sites for third-year master of divinity student Julian Reid, who has worked as a prison chaplain for youth detention centers in Atlanta.


"Putting the issues of slavery and lynching in your face helps you think about what this country has long sought to protect — the ability of those who are white to maintain economic, religious and social power," he reflected. "Too often, they've used race to get there."


Carol Tucker-Burden, a lab manager in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute who is also pursuing a master's degree in religious leadership, saw the visit as an opportunity to learn more about facilitating hard conversations.


"We have to bother to have the difficult conversations," she said. "Stepping into issues at a critical level, instead of just circling the block."


Candler invited pastoral care experts on the trip to provide emotional support, but speaking about their experience took some time. "First, there is just an overwhelming sense of the pain — pain yet to become fully articulated," Professor Robert Franklin, a co-leader on the trip, explained. "We are all searching for words."


“What we’ve seen prompts an inner search for empathy and for courage. Part of the courage is asking ‘What would I have done then, observing this, being aware of the violence and horror?’ And then, ‘What am I prepared to do now?'"

 — Professor Robert Franklin


Charles Hamilton, a third-year master of divinity student interested in pursuing military chaplaincy, said he came on the trip to learn more about the history of lynching and to pay homage to his ancestors.


"Memorials like these stir emotions — but knowing these lives have not been forgotten brings some comfort," he said. "It's through the healing act of being able to acknowledge the past that we move forward."


Back on campus after the trip, a series of conversations about the experience continued for weeks. During one such dialogue, a faculty member observed that the "pervasiveness of lynching created a deep capacity to see this fully and not respond to it."


"Where are the theological ideas that allowed people to see suffering, to participate in suffering, and not act differently?" she asked.


A student remarked,


“There is a danger in forgetting, a danger in denial. And that pushes me to a place of hopeful vocation. . . . It reminds me that we can't have healing and reconciliation without justice and truth. It all starts with truth."