Lonely Planet Writer

Alabama’s new museum and memorial shines a light on its darkest history

On 26 April, Montgomery will open two new attractions appealing to visitors with an interest in history and justice; the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum. The capital of Alabama is the fitting home for both new attractions. In the 1850s it was home to the second-largest slave population in the country – despite being the 75th largest city – and was one of the major hubs for the slave trade.

Montgomery has a long and chequered history of slavery and the fight for civil rights. PhotoStock-Israel/Getty Images

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice has been making headlines as the country’s first memorial for the thousands of African-American victims of lynching. The Equal Justice Initiative began work on the project in 2010 when they began researching the number of lynching victims, many of whom were undocumented. They found more than 4000 recorded cases, at least 800 more than previously thought.

The names of the victims are engraved in more than 800 steel columns, one for every county where a lynching took place. The space is designed to offer a sober and reflective space for people to reflect on the history of racial inequality and also includes information on the slave trade, civil rights era through to modern police violence.

Located just a short walk away is the Legacy Museum. Located in a poignant position in the city, it’s near one of the most prominent slave auction houses in the USA, a transport station where thousands of slaves were trafficked and the site itself used to be a warehouse where slaves were kept.

The museum is designed to try and invoke a sense of what it was like to stand there waiting to be sold off. There are first-person accounts of former slaves and of people who suffered under the Jim Crow era. There is also extensive research into how mass incarceration in the USA carries a legacy of racial bias and injustice.

Modeled on similar projects in countries which have suffered human rights abuses, there are also a number of specially commissioned artworks and films. To mark the opening, there will be a two-day summit including an opening concert featuring artists like Usher and The Roots and a schedule of talks covering everything from education, environmentalism and criminal justice.

In a statement, the Equal Justice Initiative emphasised that “publicly confronting the truth about our history is the first step towards recovery and reconciliation. A history of racial injustice must be acknowledged, and mass atrocities and abuse must be recognized and remembered before a society can recover from mass violence. Public commemoration plays a significant role in promoting community-wide reconciliation.”

You can begin planning your visit, purchase a ticket or donate to the work of the Equal Justice Initiative online.