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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,915
May 3, 2018
New National Lynching Museum
By Mike McManus

An astonishing new museum has opened in Montgomery, Alabama which provides evidence there were about 4,400 lynchings of African Americans in 800 counties across the South from the Civil War up to the Civil Rights era.

Officially, it is called the National Memorial for Peace and Justice ( Informally, it is known as the National Lynching Museum. There are 800 weathered steel columns hanging from the roof - each of which represents one of the counties where Negroes were lynched. Each lists the names of those who could be identified, plus others whose names were unknown.

The columns, which are about the size of coffins, meet visitors at eye level as they walk in. They are like the headstones that victims were rarely given. As a visitor walks past the columns, the floor descends so that they soon appear overhead.

Visitors can look through the columns, down to the Montgomery skyline, dominated by the Capitol, which was once the Capitol of the Confederacy.

There could be no more appropriate place for the National Lynching Museum. In fact, it stands on ground where slaves were once bought and sold.

To its credit, the Montgomery Advertiser published a front page editorial, the headline which was "Our Shame." Its opening words: "We were wrong."

"On the day when people from across the globe come to our capital city to consider the sordid history of slavery and lynching, and try to reconcile the horrors of our past, the Montgomery Advertiser recognizes its own shameful place in the history of these dastardly murderous deeds," the editorial read.

"The Advertiser was careless in how it covered mob violence and the terror foisted upon African-Americans from Reconstruction through the 1950s."

"We dehumanized human beings. Too often we characterized lynching victims as guilty before proved so - and often assumed they committed the crime."

I am unaware of any newspaper which so clearly acknowledged its sordid culpability with lynchings. It deserves credit for belatedly acknowledging its sordid role of encouraging this horrific violence against African Americans.

In the 1950s I lived in Montgomery and delivered the Advertiser's sister paper, The Alabama Journal. From 1955-57, I was proud to have increased my route from 51 papers to 152 subscribing customers. I read the paper every day, so that I could market it to potential customers.

Dr. Martin Luther King was a local pastor who inspired a boycott of city buses which forced Negro passengers to sit at the back of the bus. I remember seeing hundreds of African American maids walking to work - rather than ride the buses. The boycott began Dec. 5, 1955 and lasted until the bus company gave in a year later on Dec. 20, 1956, and removed the racial line in the buses.

However, I do not remember stories in the Journal or Advertiser about King's leadership of this movement - his first major civil rights initiative. Clearly, his leadership was ignored.

One inspiring aspect of the new Museum honoring the 4,400 people who were lynched - is that it has created a replica of each county's steel column that lists the names of those who were lynched. The Museum will give the replica to every county whose leaders ask for one.

For example, there were 23 Negroes lynched in Iberia Parish (County), Louisiana. It was the fifth largest number lynched among the state's counties. I suggest that the elected leaders of Iberia Parish ask for its replica of the column in the Museum, that it could place in front of the county courthouse to educate current residents.

I asked Don Shoopman, the editor of The Daily Iberian, which publishes my column, what he thinks the reaction would be of Iberia's leaders to such an initiative. He told me, "I think it will be well received by our Iberia Parish government."


That is what should happen in each of the 800 counties where there were lynchings.

It is time to educate the descendants of those who carried out lynchings - what happened in their community.

It will be an important learning experience.

As the Montgomery Advertiser put it, "We were wrong."


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.

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