November 18, 2019.
After we left Knoxville we headed further south trying to stay ahead of the imminent cold weather of late fall. On the way, we made a stop in Montgomery, AL at the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Peace And Justice.
There aren’t a lot of pictures from this stop since photos weren’t allowed inside the Museum, only at the memorial. I thought I might lump this visit in with our Knoxville post but then I started looking at the pictures from the memorial. By far this museum and monument were two the most moving places we have ever visited. I decided that our experience in Montgomery needed its own post.
Both the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice are part of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization “committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”
Both sites are located less than a mile from each other in downtown Montgomery. Tickets to the museum are timed, allowing people entry every 30 minutes. We bought a 9 am entry (the first entry of the day), making it a combo ticket for both the memorial and museum.
There were just a handful of people waiting to get in when we arrived at the 11,000 square-foot museum. Located on a site where enslaved people were once warehoused, the museum chronicles the history of Black Americans in the United States from Slavery to Mass Incarceration.
One of the more arresting exhibits in the museum takes you from the lobby to the main exhibit hall. You walk down a dark corridor past replicas of slave pens. As you approach each pen a life-sized video hologram of either a man, woman or child comes to life and speaks to you in hushed tones. You have to stand very still and close to the enclosure to hear their stories describing what it is like to be separated from their families and to wait and be prepared for auction.
In the main exhibit hall, interactive displays, art, video, text, and pictures continue to take you through the rest of the story from the domestic slave trade through reconstruction, lynching, racial terrorism, Jim Crow laws, segregation, civil rights protests to mass incarceration. We spent 3 hours in the museum and by the time we left it was packed.
After the museum, we did a short walk to the memorial. I hope my pictures convey just a little bit of the gravity of the memorial.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
For us the museum and the memorial added to an unexpected theme that has been running through our travels at many of our stops since we left Atlanta this past October – slavery and its legacy of hatred and injustice that continues today. In contrast to the rocks, ruins, and roadside attractions we gravitate to in the west, our travels this fall/winter have been a lot more reflective and much more real in understanding and relating to the world we currently live in.