Student Reflection on The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

October 25, 2018 | Bruna Fernandez Rodrigues Silva is an undergraduate cultural anthropology student at UWF. | casshcommunications@uwf.edu

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, courtesy of the Equal Justice Initiative

“Thousands of African Americans are unknown victims of racial terror lynchings, whose deaths cannot be documented, many whose names will never be known. They are all honored here.” - Message on the wall of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice  

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, small talk disappeared as people approached the first sculpture and read the signs on the metal black walls that surrounded The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial told a story of America’s history of violence and marginalization that killed many of African Americans through acts of racial terrorism.

A mile away, silence took over at The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, where visitors walked toward prison cells, located to the right of a dark ramp. 

In each cell, a hologram tells the story of different enslaved person. Built in a warehouse that was used to keep African American enslaved men and women, the museum uses technology to tell individual and collective stories from slavery to mass incarceration.

On Oct. 6, Dr. Gregory Tomso, director of UWF’s Kugelman Honors Program, organized a trip to Montgomery so students could further understand the impacts of racism, slavery, and race-driven violence in today’s society. Despite this event being for a freshman honors class, I was invited by Dr. Jocelyn Evans, the associate dean of the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, to attend the trip and contribute to an article that Dr. Tomso is writing. The article will focus on the memorial’s successes and shortcomings with communicating the legacy of lynching in the United States from a cultural anthropologist’s perspective.  

The museum and the memorial are part of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that, according to the website, “is 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.” EJI is a non-profit organization that works to decrease inequality through producing materials that expose the legacy of racial violence and inequality today. 


 "Each person is given a story, a voice, and a place. In the memorial, individuals receive closure and their deaths are recognized as a result of racial terrorism." - Bruna Fernandez Rodrigues Silva


The museum and the memorial in Montgomery shows us history from a different perspective. They show us the way different parts of our society function together and impact individuals. Each person is given a story, a voice, and a place. In the memorial, individuals receive closure and their deaths are recognized as a result of racial terrorism. Each person who died is honored and no deaths are in vain.  In The Legacy Museum, we see present and past violations of human equality that are a result of the same racist beliefs. Both start a crucial dialogue regarding the recognition of our past and the need for action regarding the need to repair social injustices.

My advice for anyone visiting the museum is to allow yourself to see history and to get involved with each of these stories. These spaces force us to see the past and its consequences on present day inequalities, give a voice to those who have been silenced, and provide a respectful environment for those who were not treated with human dignity during their lives.

 


 

Bruna Fernandez Rodrigues Silva

Bruna Fernandez Rodrigues Silva is an undergraduate cultural anthropology student at UWF. She is involved with various research areas with the intent of discovering her passion before graduate school. She wrote this article to highlight the importance of both attending museums and understanding history through its many sides.  As a cultural anthropologist, Bruna believes in the power of individual stories told in a broader historical, social and economic context as a form to illustrate the reality that many people experience. She believes that every story and every person counts. Her future goals are to work with human rights organizations to create a more equitable world.