Lynching memorial organizers plan slavery museum expansion

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The organization that created the nation’s first memorial to lynching victims has announced a major expansion of a museum designed to trace the impact of slavery and racism through the centuries.

The Equal Justice Initiative announced Tuesday that it is moving and expanding its Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, which explores the consequences of enslavement, mob violence, and Jim Crow laws.

EJI’s Executive Director Bryan Stevenson said an understanding and appreciation of that history is needed “if we are going to evaluate contemporary issues in a thoughtful way.”

“A bold aspiration of the museum is to help create a world where our children’s children are not burdened by the legacy of slavery, where racial bias and discrimination are not factors how people can live and grow, to get to a place that feels more like equality and justice and freedom,” Stevenson said.

“To achieve those lofty goals, we have to understand the nature of the problem with much more clarity and much more specificity than I think most of us understand those problems.”

The nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative is a legal advocacy group in Montgomery. In 2018, it opened the museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice which remembers lynching victims. The museum and memorial was the nation’s first site to document racial inequality in America from slavery through Jim Crow to the issues of today, the organization said.

The existing museum had become crowded at times, sometime limiting visitors’ ability to interact with exhibits including a slave pen exhibit. There viewers see haunting holographic projections of enslaved people describing their lives.

The new space will expand that exhibit and include new exhibits about the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Reconstruction, the civil rights era, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, resistance to racial integration and the history of voter disenfranchisement. Contemporary issues including policing, immigration and incarceration, will be explored.

The Transatlantic slave trade is not discussed in detail in the current museum. Stevenson said the new space will explore the role of northern U.S. cities in slavery, the impact of both American continents as well as the horrors of the Middle Passage.

The museum will be relocated to another part of downtown Montgomery in the same building that currently holds EJI’s Legacy Pavilion.

“The museum is really designed help people to learn things, understand things that they weren’t taught in school. Most people come out of our site and the first thing they say is,' I just didn’t know all of that,'” Stevenson said.