Day 13: Blood drenches this fair nation

Montgomery, AL to Birmingham, AL

In Montgomery

Monday morning, 8:20 AM. Plenty of cars but almost no one walking on the streets.

I have a theory about why the downtowns are deserted. It’s because life is lived in the suburbs, not in the city. And what life there is in the city is not downtown. And in some cities, like Montgomery, the gentrification of downtown is not complete. It’s underway but it’s not complete.

Boarded-up house, Montgomery
Sculpture representing Selma to Montgomery marchers for voting rights

I walked over to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. It was built by the Equal Justice Institute and opened in April 2018. It’s set on a hill.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

The memorial had a shattering effect on me. It’s a forest of corten steel columns, one for each county where a racial terror lynching took place from 1877 to 1950. Each column is engraved with the names of the lynching victims in that county and the dates the lynchings took place.

Lynchings were done for all sorts of reasons and justifications including standing around a white neighborhood, “scaring” a white girl, voting, passing a note to a white woman, attaining economic success, protesting other lynchings, and many others. They were often “festive” events attended by hundreds or thousands of people and documented with photos.

The columns go on and on over all four sides of the memorial. As you go further, the floor slopes down so the columns are higher and higher until the columns tower over your head.

The hushed atmosphere is very much like the official Israeli Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem.

Columns
Columns overhead
Duplicate monuments for installation in the counties
I’ve spent a lot of time in Palm Beach County

There were some African Americans lynched in the north and west too, and their counties are included. Orange County, New York is among them.

Sculpture by Dana King representing women walking during the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Raise Up, sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas, protesting police brutality and bias in criminal justice
A separate monument to lynching victims of the 1950s

Because of the memorial, the lynchings have come out of the shadows and into light. As part of the research for the memorial, EJI identified 800 more lynchings than had previously been recognized.

The memorial is everything you have read. Powerful, dignified, effective, and appropriate. Beautifully designed and carried out.

Blood drenches this fair nation.

Went to the Legacy Museum, also established by EJI. Its topic is the history of racial inequality in the United States, from the importation of slaves through the present day. At the end it pointedly raises questions about the present time. Should we abolish the death penalty? Should we spend more on rehabilitating prisoners?

Went to Montgomery’s riverfront. To get there, you go through a pedestrian tunnel under active rail tracks.

On the Alabama River
Flood gauge

I went to the Kress on Dexter, a former department store touted as part of a downtown revival. It’s mostly empty. They haven’t rented much of the space.

A monument to the Confederacy in downtown Montgomery. The inscription says that orders to fire on Fort Sumter were transmitted from here, and Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President of the Confederacy.

In Birmingham

Drove to Birmingham, a short drive. At 3 PM I got to my hotel, the Hampton Inn Tutwiler, a grande dame built in 1914.

The Hampton Inn Tutwiler

Walked over to the 16th Street Baptist Church where on Sunday, September 15, 1963, four girls aged 11 to 14 were killed in a bombing by white supremacists. The bombing was one of the events that increased national awareness of the civil rights movement.

The 16th Street Baptist Church
Sculpture of the four girls by Elizabeth MacQueen

Civil rights is an unfinished revolution.

Had dinner at Saw’s Soul Kitchen, a renowned six-table hole in the wall.
Had the sweet tea chicken sandwich and fries. The sandwich was fantastic.

5 thoughts on “Day 13: Blood drenches this fair nation”

  1. Glad you were able to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. It sounds deeply moving.

    1. I meant fair in the sense of beautiful, not fair in the sense of just. I still have hope for the United States.

  2. This day’s post really moved me. Thank you. I am curious however about why the memorial only addressed lynchings from 1877 to 1950. I couldn’t find any explanation in Wikipedia or larger web search.

    1. Reconstruction ended in 1877. Prior to that, federal troops occupied the South. And around 1950 the Civil Rights Movement started.

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