On April 26, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened it’s doors in Montgomery, Alabama. According to it’s website, it is the nation’s first official memorial dedicated to the remembrance of enslaved and repressed African Americans. When I read that I couldn’t help but feel a sense of discomfort due to the perplexing irony found in the close proximity between the Charlottesville rally in August 2017, which in case you’ve forgotten was a rally that violently opposed the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue (who has become a Confederate icon), and the long overdue arrival of the first U.S. slave memorial. Initial discomfort aside, I am extremely glad that this monument is finally able to open it’s doors and remind us all of the horrific events (past and present) that many of us are so willing to forget.
I’d like to acknowledge that the memorial is a large piece of artwork created in response to the longstanding complacency towards anti-black violence in the U.S. that has merely shifted shape through generations rather than conclusively eliminated. I propose that this specific piece of art is intended to be a model for one potential way that we could allocate care towards the ongoing racism on U.S. soil, with its roots as deep as slavery. According to this New York Times article by Campbell Robertson, the exhibit is in part meant to be mobile rather than stationary. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (the nonprofit organization backing the memorial), says that duplicate pieces of the memorial are available to counties where lynchings occurred on the condition that they have made real efforts to “address racial and economic injustice.” The performed diaspora of these monument pieces must be an intentional nod towards the African diaspora, calling into question the origins of both anti-black violence and appropriate reparations made in the name of this violence. In the lifelong balancing act of processing the both/and, where do these two binaries begin and do they ever end? Maybe this monument is the first attempt at somehow blending these binaries for a better, less catastrophic future.