for Peace and Justice
Established in Alabama
Honors Victims of
By Uriah J. Fields
Let me begin this article stating that like the Montgomery Bus Boycott establishment of the Memorial honoring victims of lynching is another achievement to occur in Alabama that pleases me and I believe all African Americans. Although I am currently a resident of Virginia, the state that had the first slaves in 1619 and more slaves than any other state, 243 years later, at the beginning of the Civil War. I am a native of Alabama, having lived there the first seventeen years of my life and after serving four years in the military during the Korean War I returned to Montgomery where I resided for the next ten years. I salute my fellow Alabamians for this feat. Bravo!
On April 26, 2018, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a memorial to honor thousands of victims of racist lynching opened a museum to the public in Montgomery, the Cradle of the Confederacy, that explores history from enslavement to mass incarceration. This is the nation's first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people terrorized by lynching, African Americans intimidated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt, rage, police violence and inequity.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the vision of Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a non-profit organization which is a legal advocacy group in Montgomery, Alabama, that documented the lynching of thousands of African Americans across the South from 1877 to 1950 (73 year of lynching.) The memorial is located on a six-acre site with 800 six-foot monuments symbolizing each county where lynching took place and engraved with names of victims. Collected soil is part of the museum display with each jar labeled with the name of a lynched person.
The memorial is located about three miles from the EJI and about the same distance from Bell Street Baptist Church that I served as pastor for nine years, before, during and after the bus boycott. This church was bombed by racists during the bus boycott.
Bryan Stevenson said that less than fifty percent of the $20 million cost of the museum had been raised. Bryan is also author of the best-seller, riveting and shocking book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2015). I am a member the African American Authors Book Club (AAABC) that discussed this book during a monthly meeting at Barnes and Nobles Book Store a few months before AAABC members were among the overflow audience at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, that listened to Bryan deliver a powerful lecture that focused on the incarceration of black men, including some sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. His efforts helped to free some of them.
The museum is a memorial to the victims of 4,400 "terror lynching" of black men. Some of them were hanged and others were beaten to death or drowned. Often at these sites of lynching of black men by hanging white people, men, women and children, gathered at these lynching sites and celebrated these lynchings. All but about 300 of these 4,400 lynchings were in the South, and prosecutions were rare in any of these cases.
The North and Federal Government were parties to these Southern lynchings because they refused to take action to prevent them. Had the Federal Government took action to prevent lynching in the South, there would have been fewer lynchings of black men and more prosecutions of those who committed lynchings. However, instead the Federal Government withdrew military troops from the South and refused to arm African Americans so they could have protected themselves or at least eliminated some of the lynchers.
The Ku Klu klan (KKK), founded December 24, 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, was the leading racist group engaged in lynching African Americans. Klansmen became so powerful that they were able to have legislators, some of whom were Klansmen, to enact laws, known as Black Codes, that denied African Americans their constitutional rights as mandated for all citizens in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
The Executive Branch of Government, President after President, refused to enforce laws that guaranteed all citizens their constitutional rights.
The 1896 "Plessy v. Ferguson" case was a landmarked decision. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation, viz., "separate but equal"(that was unequal even inhumane) as the law of the land. That decision gave States the right to enact laws that denied African Americans the rights enjoyed by white Americans. This "separate but equal" doctrine remained the law of the land until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. During the eighty-eight years between these two Supreme Court decisions there were more than 4,400 lynchings of black men, Jim Crow, segregation and disfranchisement that characterized the lives of African Americans.
The Armed Forces, even in the North above the Mason Dixon Line, practiced segregation the same as the South. In 1948 I enlisted in the Army, left Alabama where I had lived all my seventeen years and was transported to New Jersey where I was assigned to an all-African American company. About four months later, on July 26,1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 mandating integration of the Armed Forces. The Order stated "The policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency of morale." It was not until June 1950, at the beginning of the Korean War that I was assigned to an integrated military company. Had not there been the Korean War it is likely that it would have taken several more years to fully integrate the Armed Forces. Integration might be considered one good thing that resulted from the Korean War. Surely we are aware of how long, after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education it took for schools to integrate in the South.
On behalf of all African Americans and all Americans who believe in "justice for all," I salute and express my heartfelt thanks to Bryan Stevenson, supporters of the Equal Justice Initiative and everyone who contributed to establishing The National American Memorial for Peace and Justice that honors victims of lynching. Hopefully, even prayerfully, that many Americans will visit this museum, not once but many times, especially young people who will determine the future of America as they work to eliminate racism in America that was the reason for the lynching of 4,400 Black men from 1877 to 1950.
To learn more about the Memorial visit.
Copyright 20018 by Uriah J. Fields
Note: To read other writings by Uriah J. Fields, visit: uriahfields.com.