Early on Friday morning, a diverse group of about 90 Charlotte residents boarded buses and settled in for an eight-and-a-half hour journey to discover America’s complicated history and ongoing story of racial injustice and social change. The destination was Montgomery, Alabama, and specifically, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Legacy Museum, and Rosa Parks Museum.
During the bus ride, the group watched An Outrage: a documentary about lynching in the American South. Participants also heard from Willie Green, staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, about the historical context for lynching and specific acts perpetrated against blacks in Mecklenburg County. “We have to learn our history, ” reflected one participant, “so that we can pass it on to our children.”
The first stop was the Rosa Parks Museum and historical marker. A short walk down the street was the Dexter Ave King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor for six years and which served as the headquarters for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The courage and determination of those who participated in the boycott was particularly apparent. How many of us would be willing to make similar sacrifices today?
On Saturday, the group visited the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Each tells a powerful story about the legacy of enslavement, terror, and humiliation inflicted upon African Americans by racial segregation and violence, including the more than 4,000 documented racial terror lynchings between 1877 and 1950. Moments of hope were also highlighted in the stories of brave individuals and communities who rose up to defend the rights of others and to demand social change. “Moving”, “no words”, and “powerful” were the typical responses as people left in quiet reflection.
Every day at Crisis Assistance Ministry, we see the impact of the legacy of racial segregation and discrimination in the lack of opportunities and barriers to economic mobility facing people of color. We are grateful to our co-sponsors of this trip, the Arts & Science Council and Levine Museum of the New South, for their efforts to educate the community on these issues.
Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) who created the museum and memorial, is also organizing a Community Remembrance Project to collect soil from lynching sites across the country and erect historical markers. Stay tuned for more information on how Charlotte will honor its two documented victims of lynching – Joe McNeely and Willie McDaniel.