A few weeks ago I went down to Montgomery, Alabama to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which educates about lynching in America and how its legacy of racial violence echoes through our society today. Unsurprisingly, the visit was such a powerful experience. As a result of the research I’ve done over the past decade, some of which is posted here, I arrived knowing many of the facts about lynching in America, but the memorial is an effecting piece of art in the way your physical perspective changes while walking through, so that the hanging casks (each of which represents a county where a lynching was committed, and which features the names and dates of those murdered) start off at eye-level and are hanging above you by the end. It’s a devastating piece, in a necessary way. Here are some photos I took:
For almost a year now I’ve had the privilege of working with a coalition of folks here in Omaha to bring a replica of the Douglas County cask that’s on display in Montgomery. Thanks to the tireless work of people like Vickie Young, Chris Whitt, Franklin Thompson, the Kingfisher Institute at Creighton, and many others with the Omaha Community Council for Racial Justice and Reconciliation, there will hopefully be a dedication of the cask near the site of the Will Brown lynching this September, which of course is the centenary. Keep an ear out for that.
Here is the poem “Invocation” by Elizabeth Alexander, which is featured at the end of the memorial and is of an emotional coda for the experience.
The wind brings your names.
We will never dissever your names
nor your shadows beneath each branch and tree.
The truth comes in on the wind, is carried by water.
There is such a thing as the truth. Tell us
how you got over. Say, Soul I look back in wonder.
Your names were never lost,
each name a holy word.
The rocks cry out—
call out each name to sanctify this place.
Sounds in human voices, silver or soil,
a moan, a sorrow song,
a keen, a cackle, harmony,
a hymnal, handbook, chart,
a sacred text, a stomp, an exhortation.
Ancestors, you will find us still in cages,
despised and disciplined.
You will find us still mis-named.
Here you will find us despite.
You will not find us extinct.
You will find us here memoried and storied.
You will find us here mighty.
You will find us here divine.
You will find us where you left us, but not as you left us.
Here you endure and are luminous.
You are not lost to us.
The wind carries sorrows, sighs, and shouts.
The wind brings everything. Nothing is lost.