Expanded Legacy Museum aims to confront racial history and promote equality |


MONTGOMERY, Alabama – At a time when the nation is fighting for racial justice, the recently expanded Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama seeks equality for all Americans.

Through first-person stories, films, 3D imagery and other forms of storytelling, The Legacy Museum’s “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration” offers an in-depth examination of the legacy of slavery. , from the transatlantic slave trade to its impact on the current issues facing black Americans.

“We must take this story into account and recognize it”, said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative which oversees the museum. “I believe there is something better ahead that is more like freedom, more like equality that awaits us. And to get there, we will have to talk about the challenges we face ”,

Montgomery, a central location for the slave trade and civil rights movement, was a suitable site for the museum, which is on the site of a former cotton plantation in Alabama where slaves were forced to work.

Stevenson – a lawyer who focuses his career on portraying death row inmates who have been wrongly and wrongly sentenced – moved to Montgomery in the 1980s, launching his interest in establishing the museum.

“At that time there were 59 Confederation markers and memorials, but you couldn’t find the word slave, slavery or slavery anywhere in this city. We idealized the architects of slavery but we did not recognize the brutality of slavery, ”he said. “… Because we didn’t do it here, we’re sitting in a space where the landscape is literally an iconography of Confederation, where we haven’t honestly confronted part of that history.” I think it makes us vulnerable to bigotry, anti-Semitism, racist behavior and to overcome what we need to engage in this calculation.

The Legacy Museum opened in 2018 on Coosa Street, along with the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a site dedicated to victims of lynchings in the United States at 417 Caroline St. The new and expanded Legacy Museum at 400 N. Court St. measures 40,000 square feet. , four times the size of the old location.

“The old museum was at full capacity most of the time and (many topics) hadn’t been covered,” Stevenson said. “There was more to the story.”

Some of the main exhibits at the new museum include:

Transatlantic and domestic slave trade

Unlike the old museum which focused more on the domestic slave trade, the new museum tells the chilling stories of the national and transatlantic slave trade.

Visitors are confronted with screens depicting the murderous oceanic journey of more than 12 million kidnapped black slaves in Africa. Hundreds of fake sanded bodies with an ocean floor on the big screen represent the 2 million slaves who were buried at sea during the voyage.

“I think the power and legacy of this trip hasn’t really been addressed,” Stevenson said. “The loss that this trip created for millions of black people, we did not take into account the tragedy of this horrible experience. I really wanted to engage people’s minds and hearts (with this exhibit). I wanted to dramatize the abduction and their disconnection from their identity.

Holograms of enslaved women, men and children locked in various cells can be seen at slave trade exhibits, which, through writing and video, explain the roles played by each of the cities. and coastal and southern states in the domestic slave trade, shaping the economy of the US

Violence and reconstruction

Visitors can learn about the experiences of blacks after the civil war, including the domestic terrorism that blacks faced in their struggle for civil rights.

As blacks protested for rights such as voting and attending schools, they often faced unprecedented violence, without any protection from government and police authorities, the museum shows.

Mass lynchings of blacks became commonplace as white southerners fought to establish superiority and deprive blacks of their rights.

The lynchings exhibit contextualizes the role of the media, as lynchings were common knowledge and often printed in newspapers.

Copies of some of these journals are on display in the museum, one indicating that a man was lynched for not saying “Sir”. Another triple lynching had been documented in Georgia because “the lynchers could not find the Negro they wanted and therefore took three others”.

The last words of some victims can be seen, some of them refusing to admit any wrongdoing before their death.

“The belief that you’re risking your life to advance justice that runs through all of this space is what I find most moving,” Stevenson said. “(They) retained their integrity and dignity, even though it cost them their lives. “

Segregation and discrimination

The museum details the Montgomery bus boycott and other civil rights protests and movements, noting the role of judges, governors and senators in the attempt to maintain segregation and white supremacy.

Forty-one states have made black and white interracial marriages illegal; in 2000, Alabama became the last state to allow interracial marriage.

“It says something really important about the ingraining of this narrative of racial difference,” Stevenson said.

Museum guests can participate in a simulation of completing a sample voter registration form with questions that blacks had to answer in order to vote. Some questions included guessing the number of jelly beans in an exposed pot and how many bubbles are in a bar of soap.

“Illiterate whites could vote, while blacks had to take these so-called literacy tests,” Stevenson said. “They were more than literacy tests, they asked unanswered questions that simply revealed people’s commitment to upholding the disenfranchisement of African American communities.”

Mass incarceration

The museum shows how today’s criminal justice system is rooted in the American history of racial injustice.

The legal system was used as a tool to suppress the civil rights movement, with more than 3,000 people arrested for sit-ins or protests in 1961, the museum notes.

This, and the “war on drugs” of the 1980s and 1990s, among other racial issues, led to the current struggles against mass incarceration. Two-thirds of those incarcerated for drugs across the country are people of color, the Equal justice initiative Remarks.

The museum attributes the era of racial terror and the mass incarceration of blacks to the racialization of crime, because “whites defended violence against blacks as necessary to protect property, families and the way of life. from South “.

“The presumption of dangerousness and guilt attributed to blacks is a real burden and a real challenge,” Stevenson said. “If you are black or brown, you will go to places in this country where you have to navigate a presumption of dangerousness and guilt.”

Heartbreaking letters from former and current black inmates serving life sentences for drug crimes, or children wrongly convicted and incarcerated are displayed in the museum, many asking for help and justice.

Model tour booths allow museum visitors to sit, pick up a phone, and hear stories of current and former black inmates expressing similar feelings.

“Our clients had hope and courage to educate people despite the harm they suffered as a result of wrongful convictions,” Stevenson said. “Create a first-person museum where you can hear the real words of people enslaved, people facing lynchings, people facing segregation, people in prison, these are really important because I don’t think so. that anyone can be more persuasive about the harms of injustice than those directly affected.

Talk about history

The self-guided museum tour ends with a large reflection room with music and photos of activists who risked their lives for black civil rights.

Stevenson said he wants people to leave the museum encouraged, inspired and he hopes the experience will go a long way in eliminating distorted and inaccurate views of blacks.

“As a community and as a nation, we have a role to play. I think most Germans who are not Jewish will tell you that they are in a better place honestly considering the legacy of the Holocaust, ”Stevenson said. “I want all Americans to be able to be proud of their community, without compromising the dirty secrecy we don’t talk about, namely lynchings, slavery or segregation. When we commit to this different future, we can all be truly connected and truly joined in a new vision of what it means to be a citizen. “

The new museum opened on October 1. Admission to the National Peace and Justice Memorial and the Heritage Museum costs $ 5. The Pannie-George Kitchen and Bookstore are also on-site for guests to visit. The museum and memorial are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.

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