August 1, 2021

RETURN TO MONTGOMERY

Montgomery was the hometown of three close college friends—Mary, Connie and Sylvia—and years later, of my coworker friend Andrea.  I’d not spent a night here since college days, but on our 7-day Southern road trip, Heather, Charlotte and I stopped off in Montgomery overnight.

I was thrilled to pose beside this bronze sculpture of Rosa Parks on a downtown sidewalk.  The youngest sister of my Lipscomb friend Connie, Clydetta Fulmer, was commissioned to create this sculpture several years ago.  Every detail is perfect.  Newspaper interviews said Clydetta talked with people who’d known Mrs. Parks for input on her hairstyle and facial expression. 

This hot Sunday morning, as we made our way to The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, we passed several historic churches.  At Old Ship A.M.E. Zion Church, the oldest African American church in Montgomery, two women in white dresses and hats were making their way up the steps.  One was bent and old, moving painfully and slowly, steadied by the arm of her younger companion.  She almost seemed to be crawling up the steps. Watching them, I was touched by this church mother’s determination to go to Sunday worship—and thankful for all the women of the Black church down through the years who have been so faithful to pray and worship no matter what.

The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration was created by Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative in 2018.  On the site of a building where enslaved people were warehoused, it is near the dock and rail station where so many were trafficked in the 19th century and just a block from one of the country’s largest slave auction sites. The museum is across the street from the Equal Justice Initiative offices.

We then drove out to the 6-acre hilltop site of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

The stories of racial terror and lynching (over 4,400 between 1877 and 1950 identified by the Equal Justice Initiative) are told through sculptures, quotes, and most prominently, the 800 six-foot hanging columns of steel.  On each column are engraved the names and dates of lynching victims from a specific county. Chilling details of some of their stories are given—and the silent hanging columns bear witness to the thousands of families that were terrorized by lynchings, many of which took place in my lifetime.

After wandering through the columns with named victims, Charlotte reflects at the water wall which honors the “thousands of African Americans…unknown victims of racial terror….” We can never know the whole story, but thankfully Bryan Stevenson has created these museums and memorials to reveal to us the brutal truth. It’s a new and more honest Montgomery.

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