The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama is a memorial to the more than 5,000 black people who have been lynched in the United States and places lynching within both the historical context of the Middle Passage, Slavery, and Segregation and black resistance to white supremacy and racial oppression. I believe I’ve visited the National Memorial three times since it opened in 2018 and have been haunted and sobered each time I entered what the Memorial defines and I accept as its “sacred space.”
Today in the FloridaPhoenix, there’s a great article by Diane Roberts on the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, combining references to incidents like the 1894 lynching of Jack Brownlee, contemporary racial violence, and the vote suppression politics of Mississippi and Texas governors Tate Reeves and Greg Abbott. Given police murders, on-going lynching cases (“There’ve been eight suspected lynchings of Black men and boys over the past two decades, the most recent in 2019)”, and the everyday discrimination and threats faced by Black-Americans, the legacy of lynching continues into the present.
At the same time, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a part of a culture of Civil Rights and Civil Rights commemoration that’s become a focal point of Official American Culture. Of course, the primary personalities and events being honored are associated with the Black Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s with the Martin Luther King’s Birthday federal holiday, the iconic status of Rosa Parks and John L. Lewis, and the observances for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, March on Selma, the Freedom Riders, and the Lunch Counter Sit-Ins. Of course, there’s been a number of Martin Luther King streets and boulevards while the city of Atlanta is awash in Civil Rights commemoration of Martin Luther King, Andrew Young, and others. Likewise, there’s Rosa Parks Highways, Avenues, Streets, and Boulevards in Montgomery Al, Nashville TN, Patterson NJ, Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and no doubt other places.
Civil Rights commemoration also reaches goes back in time. There are so many references to the 1852 Fourth of July Speech by Frederick Douglass that I’m not completely whether Douglass or Thomas Jefferson is the figure most associated with the Fourth of July. There are also more local commemorations like the statue to murdered black voting rights activist Octavius Catto at City Hall in Philadelphia.
Given the unique place of black people in the Civil Rights Movement and the traditions preceding the Civil Rights Movement, there can not be much surprise about Black Americans being front in center with Civil Rights Commemoration. At the same time, the Civil Rights framework now encompasses much of the feminist, gay rights, Native American, disability rights, and immigration rights movements. There are already commemorations of major events in feminism like the passage of the 19th amendment and LGBT rights like the Stonewall commemorations. Likewise, a number of factors like to an uptick in Native American recognition during the Trump years. Civil Rights provides a broad, inclusive, and increasingly important framework for national commemoration.