On Monday, March 7, Congress approved legislation banning lynching and making it a federal hate crime. It has only taken 200 attempts to approve such legislation. The bill now goes to President Biden to sign into law.
On April 26, 2018, I attended the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
The 11,000-square-foot Legacy Museum is built on the site of a former warehouse where enslaved black people were imprisoned. It is located midway between a historic slave market and the main river dock and train station. Slavers trafficked tens of thousands of enslaved black people there during the height of the domestic slave trade.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a memorial to the victims of “racial terror lynchings.” The site includes a memorial square with 800 six-foot columns that include the names of victims and the counties and states where racial terror lynchings took place.
The columns are suspended from above, representing public lynchings that happened in town squares across America. The hanging columns evoke the image of hanging brown bodies. They force visitors to grapple with the vast number of lynching victims in America.
The memorial had a profound impact on me during my visit.
As I found myself surrounded by 800 hanging columns, I was reminded that in 1959 — just four years after 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in Money, MS — a 17-year-old boy, who would later become my father, was sent from his home in Mississippi to live with his mother’s sister in east central Indiana.
My grandparents feared their eldest son would become another victim of racial terror lynching. White men came to their home one evening accusing my not-yet father of speaking “disrespectfully” to white men earlier. Knowing the repercussions of such accusations and certain the men would return later, my grandparents sent their son away.