It should be expected, I guess, that a museum and a memorial devoted to America’s awful history of lynchings and general mistreatment of minorities would touch a few nerves.
It’s hard to look in the mirror sometimes.
That’s what the Equal Justice Initiative’s museum — The Legacy Museum — and memorial — The Memorial for Peace and Justice — are doing to the State of Alabama and the City of Montgomery.
Two gigantic mirrors have been erected. And the reflections are not pretty.
For far too long, the people of this state have whitewashed the true injustices carried out against black Americans. The story they tell — one they profess to believe — assigns little blame to white people and glosses over huge inconvenient truths.
Yeah, sure, slavery was awful, they’ll tell you, but it’s been over for a hundred years!
Except, the last recorded lynching in America occurred in 1981. In Mobile.
- I’m no math wiz, but I think that’s less than 100 years ago.
This is one of dozens of similar stories that white people like to tell in order to justify a lack of empathy — to justify never acknowledging the roadblocks and injustices and unfairness and flat out criminal behavior that were inflicted upon American citizens who merely had the misfortune to be born black.
There’s also the tale of the happy slave. The one about how it’s better if the races keep to themselves. The one about separate but equal. The one about how blacks were worse off in Africa. The one about how “they” have had equal rights for decades. The one about how the black president meant everything was fair.
All of it to avoid the simple act of understanding.
I’ve never understood why this is so hard for some people — to acknowledge a wrong committed by people who you didn’t even know. To say, “You know, those few decades when we wouldn’t give a job to a qualified black person if any white person at all also applied might have something to do with the high levels of black unemployment and poverty today, and I’m sorry that happened.”
That ain’t hard.
But we can’t do it. And as long as we can’t do it, we’ll continue to fail.
Hell, just look at the failing city where these EJI sites reside. Montgomery is a mess, thanks almost entirely to racism.
No city in America has treated its black citizens worse. From hosting one of the biggest slave markets in America to being the site of multiple lynchings to denying blacks jobs to cutting off thriving black neighborhoods with an interstate to providing purposefully awful public transportation to historically promoting an atmosphere of police violence against minorities to all but ensuring black children would attend underfunded, underperforming public schools.
And the divide is more prominent than ever.
In Montgomery today, it is very likely that white kids and black kids will go their entire childhoods without ever spending meaningful time with a person from the opposite race.
That ain’t normal.
Neither is a state with a governor that speaks highly of confederate monuments and blows off the opening of a nationally-recognized museum and memorial.
But that’s what Kay Ivey has done. A week after her campaign released an ad that featured her talking about protecting confederate monuments from “out-of-state liberals,” Ivey this week blew off the EJI events. Her staff noted that she was returning from a trip to Japan on Thursday, but it also was fairly hazy on when she would return on Thursday. And there’s also the small fact that the events surrounding the opening stretch into Friday evening, when several big name performers are set to appear at a concert.
But no Ivey. Who lives in Montgomery.
That she’s apparently not worried about any voter blowback is terribly depressing.
But it’s also why The Legacy Museum and The Memorial to Peace and Justice are so necessary in this town and state.
So people can see. Especially young people.
They can see how the sins of the past affect the people of today. How the stories they’ve heard were maybe a tad incomplete.
And maybe the mirrors in their futures won’t be so hard to look at.