In the wake of last year’s mass shooting of nine African Americans at South Carolina’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, a renewed movement arose to remove the Confederate flag from government spaces and Confederate monuments from public display.
Supporters of the monuments maintain they are simply emblematic of Southern pride and respect for their ancestors. Opponents view them as symbols of white supremacy, the fight to keep human beings as slaves, and respect for traitors to the United States. Now, a movement appears to be underway to memorialize the victims of lynching, a phenomenon that directly corresponds with the rise of the Confederacy. In Memphis, Tennessee, high school students led an effort to memorialize Eli Persons, the victim of a local lynching:
On a Sunday afternoon in May, more than 100 people gathered on a grassy knoll sandwiched between a swamp and a construction company lot on the eastern outskirts of Memphis, Tennessee. Two high school juniors, Khamilla Johnson and Khari Bowman, stood before them and described how, exactly 99 years ago, a crowd at least 50 times as large had come to this very spot to watch the lynching of a black man named Ell Persons.
After Johnson and Bowman learned about Persons during a history class project, they and their classmates rallied around [Bryan] Stevenson's call to unearth past racial violence and recognize its modern echoes. "History repeats itself," said Justyce Knowles, a classmate of Johnson and Bowman. "We were all so upset about Sandra Bland, about Trayvon Martin, about Tamir Rice. I feel like, let's keep it trending. Let's make it a hot topic."
In Montgomery, Alabama, known as the “cradle” of the Confederacy, a new monument is being proposed that lays bare both the hypocrisy and lunacy of Confederate monuments. The monument will memorialize the 4,000 victims of lynching in the United States.
The project is spearheaded by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, which works primarily with indigent prisoners on Alabama’s death row. The video below of the Equal Justice Project’s memorial scheduled to open next fall in Montgomery begins with these words that (should) put into context the difference between the proposed memorial and those memorials to the Confederacy that abound throughout the Southern U.S.
“We build monuments to remember the histories we cannot and should not forget. In the U.S. however, historical markers are sometimes used to distract us from our true history. This is the case in Montgomery, Alabama, where dozens of markers commemorate the history of the confederacy but very few mark the history of slavery.
There are almost no markers to the history of lynching.”