By Emily Stewart

Last week 21 students, faculty and staff involved in the ACRE-Duke partnership participated in the opening of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The invitation to attend came from the FHI Practitioner-in-Residence Catherine Coleman Flowers, who also serves as the Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, and the Director of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise.

The opening included a Peace and Justice Summit of talks and performances by scholars, producers, musicians, poets, politicians, preachers, lawyers, and activists who Bryan Stevenson described as some of the most “woke” people in America. The list included Michelle Alexander, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jelani Cobb, Rev. William Barber, Gloria Steinem, Marian Wright Edelman, Michel Martin, Ava DuVernay, Anna Deavere Smith, Elizabeth Alexander, Former Vice President Al Gore, Steve Bright, Brittany Packnett, Common, and Sen. Cory Booker. The conversations focused on the importance of telling the truth about our history, in order to see how the legacy of slavery and racial terror are still alive in our society today.

There was a powerful combination of mourning, reckoning and hope throughout the two days as people engaged in conversation at the Peace and Justice Summit, honored Civil Rights leaders like John Lewis and Claudette Colvin at the opening ceremony and lifted their voices with musicians like Sweet Honey in the Rock, Usher, Brittney Howard, and Stevie Wonder at the Concert for Peace and Justice. Stevie Wonder challenged everyone present at the concert to take a year of atonement for the horrors in our nation’s history, and Ava DuVernay offered that “Every American who believes in justice and dignity must come here and bring their children”.

On Saturday, the group visited the Legacy Museum: from Slavery to Mass Incarceration, which sits on a site where enslaved people were warehoused. Among the many exhibits is a wall of remembrance where families have collected soil from the places their loved ones were lynched and placed them in jars with their name and the county where the lynching took place.

Photo by Eric Barstow

Students learned that there were over 120 documented lynchings in North Carolina, six in Chatham County, one in Orange, Wake and many more throughout the state. In the National Memorial for Peace and Justice each county is represented by a metal pillar, and the names of the individuals who were lynched are written on the front. As you walk through the Memorial, the pillars begin to rise. A replica of each pillar is laying in the Memorial for each of the 800 counties where lynchings occurred. The Memorial’s public display calls counties to take a replica back home and publicly display it in order to honor the individuals who were lynched and make visible this horrible part of our nation’s history, so that we never forget or repeat it.

This is one of the many ways people are being asked to carry with them the experience and share it with their friends, families, colleagues, and neighbors. In the blog posts below, students reflect on their experience participating in the opening events, and what they are bringing back. FHI also intends to create a video to share with the Duke community, and you can view some of the images on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Please feel free to contact us with questions or if you want to learn more.

Read reflections from some of the students who participated in the opening of the Legacy Museum.

Bryce Cracknell, ’18
“The memorial and museum present a true reckoning of American history and many of the patterns of that time can still be seen today.”

Paula Ajumobi, ’19
“This past weekend at the Equal Justice Initiative’s Peace and Justice Summit was an incredible experience that made me rethink what activism truly means in the time we are in now.”

Elizabeth Allen, ’20
“The things I saw on our visits to the Legacy museum, lynching memorial, and Lowndes County homes were a wakeup call if there ever was one. “

Onuoha Odim, ’20
“Chattel slavery did not just put African Americans in bondage; it took away their bodies and was designed in such a way that took away their children’s bodies and their children’s children’s bodies.”

Gino Nuzzolillo, ’20
“Pilgrimage, usually defined as a journey to a sacred location, felt like the most apt word to describe my trip to Alabama.”

Morghan Phillips, ’18
“It was refreshing to hear from various Black women throughout the conference, and recognize the trauma that we face as Black women in the age of mass incarceration.”

Hailey Prevett, ’19
“It was incredible to be around people at the summit, at the concert, at the museum and monument, in Lowndes County who want to see us continue to move forward.”