memorial stones

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, NCF was planning a pilgrimage to the Civil Rights sights of the South, including The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (aka the Lynching Memorial) and the Legacy Museum. Last week Carolyn Vance and Karen Hogenboom went to Montgomery, AL to experience the memorial and museum. I asked Carolyn to share her reflections, that we might enter their experience through her eyes. -Renée

Micah 6:8  He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.

The first day we spent about 3 hours in the Legacy Museum, getting only part-way through it. (We would spend another 5 hours there the next day.)  After lunch, we headed to the outdoor memorial, it being, as it turned out, our only dry day.

We saw 800 hanging metal pillars, identified by county, displaying the names and death dates of lynching victims from those counties. Initially we could read every pillar, but as the pathway though the memorial descended, it was possible to read only the name of the county on the bottom of the pillar hanging from the high ceiling above.

Illinois is represented by 3 of the pillars and 56 of the 4,400 documented lynchings. Forty of those lynchings occurred in St. Clair County (the home of East Saint Louis.) Two lynchings have been documented in Sangamon County and one in Vermilion County.  I also made note of a pillar for Cohoma County, MS (13 lynchings.)

As we walked into the Legacy Museum, a wall of ocean waves moved towards us, waves that in earlier times transported kidnapped Africans to North and South American shores as slaves; waves that were the graveyard of 2 million kidnapped Africans that never made it to the Americas; waves that led to lives stolen, used, exploited, tortured and killed.

The purpose of the museum is a truth-telling of our country’s past and present through displays, text, art, audio, holograms and video narrative.  As Holocaust museums continue to tell the horror of the Holocaust, this museum and memorial tell the story of the terrorism inflicted on those first Africans and their descendants. It isn’t over. It’s just evolved. The museum is a call to recognition and action.

In Joshua chapter 4 we are told that God instructed the people of Israel to choose stones as memorials so that they could remember the stories of God with them. The museum and memorial in Montgomery, AL serve as another kind of remembrance. There are so many false narratives about African Americans, about slavery, about history, about freedom.

Equal Justice Initiative has created a beautiful, painful memorial that tells the truth about the African American experience in the United States. It tells the truth about us as a nation. It tells the truth about the complicity of the American white church.  

At the end of the museum are words something to the effect of “What will you do?”  A young man I talked with at the memorial said to me, “Reparations have to happen.”  Our ongoing reparations conversation is part of what we as NCF are doing.  

In the future your children may ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you will tell them that the water of the Jordan was cut off before the Lord’s covenant chest. When it crossed over the Jordan, the water of the Jordan was cut off. These stones will be an enduring memorial for the Israelites. Joshua 4:6b-7

Carolyn Vance, March 2022

3 Comments On “memorial stones”

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    I hope to visit. I very much want to be there.


  2. A memorial we (Paula and I) want to visit also.
    Glad you made the trip. Reparations? Read on.

    Not all states lynched people. Alaska, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut had no reported lynchings between 1882-1968. Even among those states that did have lynchings, seven states did not lynch any blacks: Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin. Delaware is the only state in which a black person was lynched and no whites were lynched. Of the 44 states in which lynchings occurred, 23 (52 percent) states lynched more white people than black.

    “The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950” states that, contrary to present-day popular conception, lynching was not a crime committed exclusively against black people. Between the 1830s and the 1850s the majority of those lynched in the United States were whites. From 1882-1968, some 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States (not all lynchings were recorded). Of these, 3,446 or 73 percent were black and 1,297 (27 percent) were white. In other words, whites were the victims of more than one-fourth of all lynchings in the United States. The vast majority (79 percent) of lynchings occurred in the South. Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings from 1882-1968 with 581, Georgia was second with 531, and Texas was third with 493. For blacks, most of the lynchings occurred in the South. Of the lynchings that did not take place in the South, most occurred in the West, and these were often lynchings of whites, not blacks. Note that for whites, it was equally likely that they would be lynched in Colorado (65) as Kentucky (63), Mississippi (42) as California (41), or Oregon (20) as West Virginia (20). Ninety percent of whites were lynched in nine states mostly in a swath from Montana, to Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. Ninety percent of blacks were lynched in the four Southern states of Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana. Whites and blacks were lynched in “relatively equal” numbers in New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri.

    The worst year for whites was 1884 when 160 whites were lynched. For blacks, the highest number of lynchings occurred in 1892 when 161 were lynched. Three-fourths of all white lynchings occurred in the 14-year span from1882-1895. It took 28 years (1882-1909) for three-fourths of all black lynchings. There seems to have been a relative decline in lynchings generally beginning in 1901 .


  3. Thank you Carolyn. EJI has done an important thing for our country. I appreciate you sharing your experience in the memorial.


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